Hardware Interlude

Dear future self.

Thanks for coming back and actually checking what you remember of the internals of your desktop box. In doing so, you’ve proven that you’ve gained just that tiny extra bit of wisdom. A wisdom that I did not choose to draw on when I needed to replace a hard drive last Thursday evening. Here are some notes to make it easier for you.

First, some context. I had the hard drive containing both my Ubuntu and Windows operating systems start reporting that it was close to death last Wednesday evening. It’s the first time I’ve seen a S.M.A.R.T drive do its thing and I’m impressed. Here are some pictures of Ubuntu’s Disk Utility tool doing its S.M.A.R.T. magic:

Disk Utility reporting an Imminent Disk Failure (001)

Imminent Disk Failure 001

Drill-down picture of Disk Utility reporting an imminent disk failure

Drill-down picture of Disk Utility reporting an imminent disk failure

Now, to the meat of this post. Yes, the box is rather nifty, but it can be surprising in what’s required to pull a disk out. There is a dedicated drive tray towards the bottom front of the machine that contains both drives. That tray is bolted into the frame of the box with 8 screws. In order to remove a drive, the only way to acces the screws that mount the drive to this drive tray is to slide the tray fully out. Here’s a reminder picture:

The drive tray, slid out to expose drive mount screws

Note also that the tray has a fan on the front, and a dust filter. The only way to clean that filter is to… you guessed it… fully unmount the tray and slide it forward (so the box isn’t perfect). Note also that the fan has a speed knob (yes, that little black bump in the bottom-front-left of the tray that you’ve no doubt once again forgotten exists). The knob, turned far enough will stop the fan running completely.

My favourite theory at the moment is that the drive that died (the top one as it turns out) was being cooked by the heat of it and its sibling. The sibling had the advantage of the hot air rising to cook the borked drive. The fan being off? Well, I’m looking at a very small boy who loves pressing buttons and twirling dials. A good habit to get into from here-on-in is to just shove a hand in front of that drive-tray’s grill every now and then to see if you can feel air being drawn into the case.

Note also that Ubuntu will allocate the two drives to /sda (the top drive) and /sdb (the bottom drive). If for whatever reason, the new drive isn’t allocated to one of these, please, please check again. If you reformat your external USB data backup drive mistaking it for /sda because it’s the same size again, you shall be very disappointed in yourself. I guarantee it.

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