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Disappearing (and reappearing) 250GB HD

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June 4, 2006 11:28:20 AM

I have an Epox MB (KT600) based system, AMD 2800 cpu, 1GB RAM, Radeon 9600 graphics, and 3 HDs - 120GB and 250GB IDEs, and a 160GB sata. The system is a couple of years old but has always been plagued by stability problems, and is currently cooled by leaving the side of the case open and applying a large office fan to it! (Laugh away, but a 12" fan is actually very effective and fairly quiet...) The 250GB drive is the newest of the three, probably 18 months.

Anyway, a week or so ago I turned it off one night. Next day, the 250GB drive wasn't there. My main Windows XP boot was on it, and failed with 'ntfs.sys' not found. A look in Partition Magic suggested that the drive was there but 'unformatted', i.e. all partition info seemed to have vanished. I didn't managed to get it back, and ended up using a recovery program to get back a little data that hadn't been backed up. I then reformatted it back to the way I had it set up (2 primary NTFS partitions for Windows, and a couple of logical partititions for data and photos); and installed a clean copy of Windows XP (Pro).

At this point I should mention that the system was virus thoroughly checked by Panda AV2005, however that was due to expire, so I put Norton AV2005 on the new system and scanned the whole lot again. I then added Office and Activesync, and shut down, intending to back it up next day.

When I turned it on the next morning, it was again 'unformatted'.

I booted into a Windows partition on another disk and got on with some other work for a few hours. I then had cause to reboot. On a whim I powered off then on rather than restarting, and when I did, the partitions on my unformatted disk were back again!!

It sounds a bit virus-like to me, but having deep scanned with two different products I'm not sure that's the problem. Similarly, if it was loose wiring I'd expect the drive to disappear, not appear as unformatted. I did push the IDE cables hard after the first failure, too.

I've been messing around with PCs for many years, but I've never seen or heard of anything like this - anyone got any ideas?

Thanks!
June 4, 2006 2:29:07 PM

If your hd's are running hot & you have a small case with poor ventilation that might be the problem.

Run some diagnostics on your HD controller. Swap the HD locations move ide 1 to 2 etc. since you have been having stability issues ,,,, tho I suspect that might be a heat/cooling or ram related issue.
Assuming all that turns out good,, souds like your HD is going to fail on you.
Most drive manufacturers have diag utilities on their sites.
I suggest you download it & run it on your drive & do any necessary repairs it can do for you.

OR,,, you could use a windows 98 boot disk & use fdisk to prepare the drive & also recreate the master boot record "fdisk/mbr" command, then do a scandisk.
It is important that you do this with a windows 98 (fat 32) boot disk.
scanning the entire disk will take a very long time but the most important part is at the begining of the disk first 4-5 Gb. Scandisk will repair or flag any bad sectors & the drive will not use them.

If everything is ok there then you can use XP to prepare the disk for use again (with ntfs) if you like.
June 4, 2006 3:39:22 PM

encountered the same problem once with my 160gig.

since you were having stability issues, try to remove the other 2 hdd and get some diagnostic programs and run them for a couple of hours. if everything seems fine, then the problem might not be in your drive but your mobo since its a bit aging. try to connect the sata/ide cable to different slots. replacing CMOS battery may help (actually this fix my own version of this problem in my msi kt6v)...

and if still, you encounter problems... you might have a failing board or hd....
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June 4, 2006 5:13:49 PM

Thanks to both.

I don't have temperatures for the disks, but I doubt if it's a problem - the case is a large tower with the side not fitted. With the 12" fan running the cpu typically runs at 47c even when it's been at 100% for a couple of hours. Cool air floods the whole case and comes out the front and back vents, so it should cool everything in here. However the problem drive does site at the bottom of its cage, so there could be an issue with heat buildup underneath. Anyway, lots of leads for me to follow.

(Speaking of running at 100%, I've been using the following technique for testing the thermal effects of loading a cpu for some years, but never read about it as something known about in the community: open windows explorer and right click on any file or folder in the right hand pane. As long as the menu is visible, your cpu will run at 100%. It works for most versions of Windows!)

The suggestion struck a chord is the cmos battery - that would explain why it loses the disk when first turned on (and both mornings were quite cold), but picks it up later when warmth has given it a bit of a boost. So that'll be the first thing I try.

Thanks again!
June 5, 2006 1:09:12 AM

I could bet my life its not the battery. If it was ,,, usually you would be getting a message about battery low or cmos default has been resett or something like that.
June 5, 2006 1:33:26 AM

yes go get a new on actually you should just be able to pull one out of an old board that should work fine.
June 5, 2006 2:31:40 AM

For your system's instability.....possible heat and possible insufficient power.
Try plugging in just the main hard drive (the one with windows installed on it).
Whats your CPU and North bridge temperatures like??
Like you said, its a few years old.......a clean up also might do the trick if you are not in the habit to do so.
Old systems are usually plagued with dusts on heatsinks and causing air flow blockages.
Another thing some old systems experience is the deterioration of power supplies......which in your case with all the hard drives and the AMD (K7...I am assuming) will require some juice!!!!
June 8, 2006 7:38:11 AM

Thanks for all the various comments. Sorting this out is likely to take a while, as is the nature of intermittent faults. Since I first posted this, the HDs have all been fine - but this morning it hung during memory testing. Could be a coincidence, or it could be the same problem. I changed the battery but its voltage and power were as new so it probably wasn't that. The psu is only 340, it seemed lots at the time but could be the problem, particularly if they can lose power over time. Oddly, the memory problem vanished after I unplugged one of the HDs, but after plugging it back in, everything is now working fine. That could suggest a psu issue, which was resolved by it warming up a little... so maybe a new and more powerful psu is the best bet, as suggested.

cpu temperature is 47c with the desktop fan regardless of cpu load, and around the same when idling without the fan. Loading to 100% without the fan can tip it over 60c, especially on a warm day. I've no idea about the Northbridge temperature, but as the desktop fan keeps everything else well cool, I doubt it's a problem.
!