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Chapter 3. Troubleshooting Storage Devic... > Troubleshooting Serial ATA (SATA) Ha...

Troubleshooting Serial ATA (SATA) Hard Disk Drives

Serial ATA (SATA) hard disks are slowly starting to replace ATA/IDE hard disks in new desktop computer systems, primarily mid-range and high-end models. Figure 3.9 shows a typical SATA hard disk.

Figure 3.9. The power and data cable connectors at the rear of a Seagate Barracuda SATA V hard disk.

Compared to an ATA/IDE hard disk, an SATA hard disk has a much smaller data cable and a wider, thinner power cable connection.

What causes an existing SATA hard disk to “disappear” from the system so you can't boot from it or access data on it? Any of the following might take the blame:

  • The hard disk is not connected to power or the power cable is loose. If the hard disk doesn't have a reliable connection to power, it never spins up and is never detected by your system. During installation of the drive, be sure to firmly connect the drive to a power cable coming from the power supply. If you use an adapter to convert a 4-wire Molex connector to SATA, make sure the adapter is in good condition and is firmly connected to the power cable and to the hard disk.

  • The hard disk is not properly connected to the SATA host adapter on the motherboard or add-on card. If the hard disk isn't properly connected to the interface, it won't receive the command to spin up when the computer is turned on, and your system won't boot. The SATA cable and cable connector are keyed, preventing reversed connections, but it's possible, particularly with the original SATA connector shown in Figure 3.9, for the SATA signal cable (see Figure 3.10) to fall off the hard disk.

    Figure 3.10. Power and data cables connected to a Seagate Barracuda SATA V hard disk.

  • Damage to the signal or power cable can also cause an SATA hard disk to appear to fail. Replace SATA signal cables that have been creased or folded. Replace SATA signal or power cables that have cracked or torn wires or insulation as well as those that have cracked connectors. Note that an SATA data cable should never be folded; folding can damage the small data and signal wires inside the outer jacket.

Figure 3.10 illustrates correct connections between the SATA drive and its data and power cables.

As we noted previously in this chapter, you can cause problems with an existing SATA hard disk if you need to open your system, remove a cable or two to perform a different upgrade, and forget to plug the cables back in. What about a brand-new SATA hard disk installation?

You can have problems with a loose SATA signal cable or power cable during a new drive installation, but don't overlook these possibilities:

  • The SATA host adapter on the motherboard might be disabled in the system BIOS. Although many recent systems include two or more SATA host adapters, many vendors disable them by default, as shown in Figure 3.11.

    Figure 3.11. If the onboard Serial ATA host adapter isn't enabled, your SATA drive is not going to work.

  • You forgot to install drivers for an add-on SATA host adapter during Windows installation. Restart Windows, watch for the prompt to press F6 to install a third-party SCSI or RAID driver, and provide the SATA host adapter or chipset driver disk.

Check out Chapter 1 to learn how to give your BIOS some help in detecting your SATA hard disk.

Now it's time to learn how to fix problems with recognizing your SATA hard disk.

Checking the SATA Hard Disk Power Connector

SATA hard disks use an edge connector (refer to Figure 3.9) to connect to the computer's power supply, although a few might also support a Molex connector. Although many new power supplies include leads with SATA power connectors, the power supply in your PC might not. For that reason, many SATA hard disks and motherboards with onboard SATA host adapters include a Molex-to-SATA power cable adapter (see Figure 3.12).

Figure 3.12. A typical Molex-to-SATA power adapter.

Although the SATA power cable slides easily over the SATA power connector at the rear of an SATA hard disk, it takes some force to plug the Molex connector end into the Molex connector from the power supply. Make sure the power cable adapter is plugged tightly into the Molex power lead. Whether you use a built-in SATA power cable or an adapter, make sure the SATA power cable is plugged securely into the hard disk.

If somebody (hopefully not you!) steps on an SATA power connector and cracks it, get a replacement. A cracked power connector is not going to be reliable.

Leo Says: Damaged Cables Belong in the Trash, Not in Your PC

Installing a cable with a damaged connector is like installing a kind of hardware virus with an unknown trigger. You know your system's going to crash sooner or later, it's just a question of when. Murphy's Law—whatever can go wrong, will go wrong—applies double when you install a broken piece of hardware. Don't do it!

Checking the SATA Data Cable

The fact that SATA data cables are much thinner and use a much smaller connector than ATA/IDE cables can sometimes be a mixed blessing. They're so small and thin that it's easy to break them!

An SATA host adapter uses the same L-shaped connector as an SATA hard disk. The L-shaped keying makes it impossible to reverse the cable, which is a definite advantage over its ATA/IDE ancestors. Figure 3.13 shows you how much smaller the SATA motherboard connector is than an ATA/IDE motherboard connector.

Figure 3.13. An ATA/IDE motherboard-based host adapter (top) compared to a pair of SATA host adapters (bottom).

Leo Says: Got a SecureConnect Hard Disk? Get SecureConnect Cables!

Some of Western Digital's recent SATA hard disks feature a better way to secure the SATA data cable. WD calls this feature SecureConnect.

SecureConnect uses the same power and data connectors as standard Serial ATA, but it adds plug-in mounts on both sides of the standard connectors that are designed to mate with a wide one-piece connector. If you use Western Digital SATA hard disks that feature SecureConnect, I suggest you seriously consider ordering the special SecureConnect cables from the Western Digital online store; see http://www.wdc.com for details.

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