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Recently, one of my external drives failed. This drive is part of my two-drive rotation of off-site drives (one week here, one week off-site).The disk is a Western Digital “Flex” drive, which means the controller is on the outside of the drive and easily removable. This is so you can swap the controller – my controller has Firewire 800 and USB 2 ports, but other controllers – USB 3, eSata – are also available. The drive itself is a SATA 3 TB drive.

So in situations like this, the question is – is the drive or the controller dead? If it’s the drive, you can always order another, and stick it in the enclosure. If it’s the controller, you usually need a new enclosure. In this case, I have a second controller already, because the other drive in the rotation is the same as the failed one.

So I was hoping to test the drive in the case, since you can see the SATA ports on the drive once you take off the controller. Of course, the opening is just a tad too deep for my external test gear. I have a general-purpose USB to STA/ATA external controller, which you don’t want to use long-term, but is great for testing a drive,  doing a clone, or getting just some data off the drive.

I hook up the power and controller. The drive powers up, but there’s no indication of the drive on my Mac. I look in the Console log, and I see where the USB port is timing out trying to read the drive. Seems pretty conclusive, so I order another 3 TB drive and wait for it to show up.

The new drive comes in a couple of days. I hook it up to the tester, because I always check new drives out – I hate to go through the trouble of mounting them in a case to find out they’re DOA. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And what do you know – the new drive won’t show up on my Mac either! Great. Is there a problem with my test rig?

I grab an old drive sitting around – a 6 GB (yes, only 6 GB – from an old eMac). This drive works just fine. But it’s also an ATA drive – maybe it just doesn’t work with SATA drives? Or maybe the drive is really DOA.

While I’m trying to decide what to do, my other drive comes back from off-site. I decide to try the old controller with this drive – and it doesn’t work. I hook the controller from the off-site drive to the new drive – and it comes right up! Then I hook it up to the drive I declared dead – and it also comes up.

Then it finally hits me. My external test rig is somewhat old – it probably doesn’t support 3 TB drives.  So I put the old drive back in the case, and decide to just swap the case and use the one controller.

In the meantime, I order a new case for the new 3 TB drive, and I also order a new external kit (this one stating in the specs that it works on drives up to 3 TB). Sure enough, the kit works just fine with the new drive when it shows up.

So that’s what happens when you jump to conclusions. I should have waited until I had the second controller, but I figured my test gear was fine. And it would have been had the drive been smaller. Lesson learned (and hopefully remembered the next time…).

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