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SE hard disk problems

Questions and answers culled from Internet mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. Note that some of these comments may apply to other Macs.


I have a six-year-old Mac SE with internal hard drive. Problem is, the computer won't recognize the hard drive on startup. I can get it to run with a system floppy. I've tried reinstalling the hard drive but the SCSI number has disappeared. It's as if the hard drive has vanished.
ANSWER 1: Sounds like your drive has fallen victim to stiction, a trait common in old hard drives (especially the 20 and 40MB mechanisms in SEs). There is no solution to it, really. Replacement is the only recourse. If you do manage to get the drive to spin up one more time, back up all of your data immediately - the next time the drive loses power, you probably won't be able to get it going again.

If you need to get the drive going "one last time", you may have some success by removing the mechanism from the computer, holding it in one hand parallel to the ground, then abruptly twisting your hand. This will cause the platters to spin just a little bit and should break the stiction-affected head free. Reinstall the drive ASAP and attempt a startup. I get about a 50/50 success rate with this.

ANSWER 2: You could also try heating up the drive with a hair dryer. I've found this to work. Or leave it on its side on a sunny windowsill.

ANSWER 3: On some of the older drives, if you look down from the circuit board side, you'll see a small slotted area that you can use a flathead screwdriver to turn, and that usually will free the heads.

ANSWER 4: Sometimes when a hard drive is powered on but does not spin up, waiting a while is the simplest solution. I used to have a drive that sat silently at first, but then sprang into life. It could take five minutes or an hour, but it fired up eventually. This went on for months. Another drive would never start up the first time you powered it on, but always did the second time....

ANSWER 5: If this is one of the original old Miniscribe 20MB drives that shipped with the SE new, you may have a drive that's suffering from "stiction". That is, the drive platters are not spinning up when it is powered on. It should be fairly easy to tell if the drive is spinning up just by listening. These early SCSI drives made a considerable racket, especially at startup time while they were doing their self-test. We used to call these drives "washing machines" for all the noise they would make while doing head movement.

Regardless of what kind of drive it is, listen carefully for the tell-tale spin-up sound (whirring) when the Mac is powered on. You may even want to temporarily jam the Mac's cooling fan with a toothpick or some such so that the only internal sounds will be that of the drive. This won't hurt the fan nor the Mac - just don't drop the toothpick in if you can avoid it!

If the drive seems to be spinning up properly, look for a flashing activity light on the front of the drive itself. If it blinks only once every second or two then it's probably just getting polled from the Mac SCSI controller, but is otherwise heathy in terms of the drive hardware itself. If the light stays on all the time or flashes in groups of two or three (or more) consecutive blinks with pauses in between, then you've got a (drive) hardware failure.

So then, if the drive sounds OK and is blinking slowly or not at all, you may have a case of hosed SCSI drivers or a trashed DDM (Device Descriptor Map). Running a recent version (3.2 or later) of Norton Disk Doctor could expose this type of problem and possibly even fix it. Even if it can't fix it there are file recovery programs with the Norton Utility suite that can pull lost files out from the bog.

Whatever you do, if there are important files contained on this drive, don't do any kind of reinitializing or reformatting. In the US call DriveSavers 800.440.1904 toll-free.

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