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Controller board replacement, never again

Last response: in Storage
December 12, 2012 3:33:44 PM

This is my report of an attempted disk controller replacement. It may be useful to other readers.

I have a defective 640 GB drive Samsung HD642JJ rev A, 16M with controller board Trinity R006M rev05, BF41-00184B. It just went dead at power-up. No noise, no smoke, nothing.

Posted a question on this forum a while ago about replacement of the controller board. The board was clearly dead, ice cold and drawing no power. The surge protection diodes were ok. The DC/DC converters gave no output voltage. This pointed to a failed component on the PCB, most likely the spindle motor control chip.

Decided to give board replacement a try. Here goes the story:

- Found a replacement PCB at, ordered it and received a model BF41-00184A instead of the BF41-00184B that was on my drive. Assumed this was of no importance.

- Mounted the board on the HD, powered up to BIOS... drive recognized, but as a 500 GB model instead of my 640. Windows said 'please format'. Clearly this board was not ok.

- Contacted DonorDrives; they said a ROM chip transplantation was necessary. The leaflet included with the replacement board said that chip transfer was not necessary for this drive type; this was also the opinion of fzabkar on this forum, in answer to my question.

- Replacing surface mount parts requires special tools that I don't have. So I was now forced to send the PCB back to DonorDrives for (free) adaptation. More international shipment costs...

- Shipped the PCB along with the defective board and, on their request, the hard drive, so they "could test it and determine if there was damage to the drive itself". Sounds reasonable, so I did it.

- Got message from DonorDrives: the chip transfer was successful, but (citation) "Unfortunately we determined that is [the drive] also had suffered from a head failure". Attached to the e-mail was a price offer for Data Recovery, price $950.

- Asked for a bit more precise info than "suffered a head failure". The answer: "We use professional tools and software".

Current status: I have no drive, no controller PCB, no data and many questions.

Such as: Would a correct board have required any adaptation at all? Can the failure of the spindle motor control chip cause damage to the heads? What does this 'head failure' mean? Looks like a one fits all explanation. Can two unrelated components fail at exactly the same instant? Any positive/negative experiences with DonorDrives?

Any answers/comments welcome!
a c 289 G Storage
December 12, 2012 4:01:50 PM

I can only address one of those questions. As each drive is manufactured, the tracks are laid down and very specific (servo?) information, that is now unique to the drive, is generated and stored. You need that information. Is it in a transplantable chip? I don't know.

Please note that I am from the camp that says that home replacement of controller boards is 99% unlikely to work. There are people here who have done it with success.
a c 288 G Storage
December 13, 2012 9:15:26 AM

The proprietor of Donor Drives goes by the name of "porthas" at the HDD Guru forum. AIUI, porthas is a data recovery professional, so he should be well placed to understand the compatibility requirements for HDD PCBs.

That said, I have seen several disputes at HDD Guru between the professionals in regards to Samsung PCBs. I personally have witnessed threads where firmware transfers were necessary and others where they were not.

In WD, Seagate, and Hitachi drives, the PCB stores "adaptive" calibration data which are unique to each drive, and which must be transferred to the donor PCB. I believe that Samsung drives are different in this regard, but I'm not certain. In any case, it does appear that one needs to match the firmware version, at least in some cases. Donor Drives states that "Chip transfer / swap or similar services could be required for newer models".

In fact the firmware is usually stored in two places. A small amount resides in the flash memory (aka "ROM") on the PCB, while the bulk of the firmware (except in the case of Toshiba drives) resides in a hidden System Area (SA) on the platters. The firmware modules in the SA and on the PCB need to be compatible.

The following site has firmware dumps from the SA and ROM of various makes and models of HDD:

To illustrate what can happen when the firmware modules are mismatched, see the following threads where several unfortunate individuals have bricked their Samsung drives after attempting to upgrade their retail firmware by applying Dell's OEM firmware update.

In the first case the OP's drive's model number changed from HD103UJ to HD753LJ, and the data were no longer accessible.

In the second case "alpinemobile's" model number changed from HD642JJ to HD753LJ, but he was able to fix the problem by replacing the PCB, even though the replacement "differed a bit".

The above cases illustrate that a straight PCB swap may work if the firmware is matched, but may cause recognition problems otherwise.

In your case, the initial symptom after the straight board swap appears to be consistent with a firmware mismatch. It also suggests that the drive was able to access the System Area. That said, the SA is stored as two redundant copies on two discs, so it could still be that one or more heads are/were faulty.

As for your question regarding the motor controller chip, it contains the PWM control logic for the DC-DC converters. If the PWM controller fails in such a way that the MOSFET is switched full on, then maximum voltage will be delivered to the load. It's a very unlikely scenario, but it's not impossible. The motor controller does in fact control the negative supply to the preamp ...

As for my opinions regarding PCB matching, I am solely guided by what I have read at professional forums such as HDD Guru.

In fact if you are referring to this thread ...

... then I did not actually offer any opinion. Instead I wrote ...

"Your PCB does not appear to have a discrete serial flash memory IC. Instead it appears to be embedded inside the Marvell MCU. That said, I don't know whether the flash memory contains drive specific data. Some models do while others don't. At least that's what I infer from the following guides:

You might like to ask donordrives for their opinion. In any case they offer a free PCB adaptation service".

Your question regarding Donor Drives is a fair one. The reason I tend to trust the company is that they offer a "PCB adaptation service" for free when other data recovery professionals charge as much as US$2K for the same 5-minute job. I can also confirm positive testimonials at various storage forums. In fact yours is the first negative one that I have encountered.

You could ask your question at HDD Guru, but be aware that the pros treat every little snippet of information as if it were an industry busting secret. Morever, porthas's free services don't sit too well with many of the "gurus" ...

If I were you, I would decline the data recovery and see whether the replacement board allows the drive to identify itself to BIOS, as it did without the firmware transfer. If it doesn't, then the "head fault" will have happened sometime since then. It could also be that your shipping company may have treated your package like a football ...
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a c 79 G Storage
December 13, 2012 8:07:15 PM

I'm with WyomingKnott on this issue, in fact I just don't see the point of going through all that hassle when a hard drive fails (or it's PCB fails).

Keep backups of your data and a backup of your Windows installation on at least two separate physical drives.

When a hard drive (or part of it) fails, just bin it and replace it.
December 14, 2012 8:29:25 AM

phil22: couldn't agree more. But this HD was not mine, it's from a friend I tried to help out. Non-technical users have no idea how fragile their digital data are.

fzakbar: thanks a lot for your helpful answer.

Clarification: Donordrives did make a (free) chip transfer but it didn't work. They blame the heads, I doubt it. The drive was well packaged with sufficient padding, so it could even have survived a football game :)  There surely are other possible hypotheses such as a power surge at a DC/DC converter output while the motor control chip was dying. Anyway I measured the voltages and they were close to zero (range 0.1V). My hypothesis is that a board swap with a (slightly) different board type may work or may not work. In my case it did not.

January 19, 2013 3:07:40 AM

If the data is important, you'd better send it to professionals.

I got the EEPROM swapped out from the PCB I got from a month or two ago and it was a SUCCESS! Couldn't be happier!
June 10, 2013 3:25:03 PM

Absolutely! With the complexity of today's storage devices, SSD and HDD alike, it isn't worth the time time or trouble to be a-fixing these things. Always roll with backups and when a problem develops, just trash the bad drive and save yourself hours of mucking with tools that you have no idea how to use.

Treat the modern SSD & HDD like a black box!