A fairy tale about hard disk storage.

Once upon a time, in a computing industry far far away, there were many, many manufacturers of hard disks and other storage devices. Each remained competitive by advancing technologies used in their work, challenging each other to let us store away more and more of our precious bits and bytes while preserving reliability and overall product quality.

(Click below for Castle Thunder, then continue.)

Then, the kingdom was invaded by an evil horde of businessmen hellbent on consolidating every business, putting as many people as they could out of jobs, offshoring, and cheapening everything they could get their hands on. Eventually there were only three manufacturers left, all completely offshored for cheap labor. Innovation into increasing storage densities, reliability, access times, and data transfer rates stopped entirely as there was no longer any need to remain competitive whatsoever – customers simply had no significantly better options. Meanwhile, product quality slipped so badly that the industry began to cut warranties to shift the burden of replacing dead drives entirely to the consumer, occasionally deciding to lengthen them only to cut them short again weeks later. Some vendors even locked away the warranty return process behind a special software utility that issues an RMA code, but only … if it felt like it.

It’s nice to see this is only a fairytale.

Oh wait—
(Quite appropriate musical piece by Bob Orilee)

But this is the real world, so it’s nice to see that we don’t have to worry about things like the head stack on a hard drive being connected to the controller board by a dodgy little connector that touches a set of tin plated circuit board pads that corrode away just from things such as plastic fumes. Out here in the real world, the vendors at least give us a couple microns of gold protecting the connectors, right?

Colors enhanced to show the corrosion. The pads near the bottom turned piss yellow, the ones near the top are going purple and brown.
Piss pads.


The good news…. I have successfully saved a couple of drives by removing the circuit boards and cleaning those pads. The bad news…. on the drive I photographed here, it seems like the firmware may have gotten trashed. Cleaning the pads restored proper servo operation and keeps it from just giving up and spinning down, but it just ain’t workin’. The piss yellow corrosion comes off with a pencil eraser. Drive pictured here is a Western Digital, but I’ve run into the same issues on a Seagate. Interestingly, I’ve never seen the same problems on a Hitachi GST drive. While Hitachi GST is owned by Western Digital, they haven’t had their engineering division cut off yet.

Back in the day I remember when Quantum was bought out by Maxtor… there was a hilarious transition period where you could buy a Quantum Fireball drive with a Maxtor sticker and firmware ID string in it, or a Maxtor DiamondMax drive (still bearing many engineering themes from Miniscribe such as the UPLEVEL numbers and all that) with a Quantum sticker on the lid. Alas, now, there’s no need for those pesky engineering teams, because there’s nobody to compete with. It has truly come full circle— and the circle I refer to is the circular path traced by a flushed turd as it approaches the drain.

Through careful application of Piss-B-Gone...
Through careful application of Piss-B-Gone…

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