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 Post subject: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: April 26th, 2012, 4:25 
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Joined: April 26th, 2012, 1:52
Posts: 392
Location: Chicago, USA
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I was at my buddy's inner-city dump apartment and we decided to convert the (A&E's hoarder style messy) bathroom into an impromptu clean-room. Clean enough to operate on a hard disk!

Granted we cheated a little, and used lower density WD 60GB drive. A standard desktop drive, a child of the early 2000's to be sure. We choose this because it is "loud", the heads move with a certain style of slowness, it is big, and impressive. Impressive for a standard-size desktop drive that is. Impressive when compared against a modern solid. And with the low density, we figured we'd have good success with any lingering dirt getting jammed in the heads. And it responds well to acoustic management software, software that changes a setting (temporarily) in the hard disk to slow the heads to a sinusoidal accelleration pattern as opposed to a bangbang square wave pattern.. ah, yeh, well now once the cops cleared out of the other unit we got started.. you know..

First a few key things first, we cut up the food containers till we got a sheet of plastic the size of the drive, we lined the edges with silicone sealant, and plugged the extra holes (save for one) with silicone as well. Also, I kept the drive's internal air filter sealed and working, though the external one, the one that lets pressure equalization happen, I replaced with a wad of cotton stuffed in the corner, ventilated through a screw hole, and sealed with more silicon.

We made the bathroom room steamy and blasted the dirt out with window fans and pressure nozzle from the air compressor tank. And I worked on the drive upside down. Any dirt trickling down through the air didn't have much chance to hit the platters. Well, it all works cool. I worked upside down laying in the scum on the bathroom floor. We screwed in the screws as if we were mounting the drive; but used that as an anchor point for some twine. We suspended drive, like a helicopter rescue basket thing from the exhaust fan. We suspended it upside down, so that the platters and exposed innards were facing down. This was another precautionary measure against dirt. I don't know of any dust particles that have pilots and jet engines saying whooooaaa there's a hdd platter, punch it! Dust and crap in the air would fall harmlessly around the drive and not reach the insides.

I cut out a sheet of plastic material from the half-eaten meal and scrubbed it down quite thoroughly. I cut and trimmed it according to an outline I made from the removed drive cover. I lined the edges with silicone sealant and pressed it onto the hard disk. I used a silicone sealant that has no acetic acid outgassings. Such products are hitting the market now, at the low-end consumer level like wal-mart and such. And are still cheapo at under $5.00 a tube! In fact, I had gotten the stuff without realizing it! I applied it and wondered where the stink was, and said to myself this is great! I snorted it quite a bit in trying to detect the odour. No acid to erode the metals..! So if I can't smell it, neither can the electronics! Either way, a few cycles of the drive and running it warm would dissipate any malodorous fumes anyways.

I thought of using RTV-732, but a ghetto dwellers woudn't generally have access to that stuff, so I limited my materials shopping to wal-mart. Remember, this *IS* a low-class budget mod.

I was also sure to power-up the drive with it in the suspended position. Again, for dust protection, any material that might have accumulated on the plastic clear cover stayed there. But when the drive spun up, the air currents whisked it away, at breakneck speeds, right into the pillow filter. We tapped it and bumped it around, relying on the inner air currents to carry away any stray particles. I also massaged and pumped the drive a bit to release the silicone glue outgassings. Not to hard as to effect major air pressure changes, thus changing the flying height. Nice and gentle.

Later on .. I have had the drive running the ultimate defrag all morning long, and so far it has 4+ hours of non-stop copy-delete operations going on. It even loads Stella Atari 2600 VCS gaming emulator and I was playing Slot Racers and Bowling!!! Games from 1978!!! It passed mfg surface certification too. I ran the WD diagnostic utility. And also synced up a bunch of files. So looks like a successful project. The point of doing this in slum project housing was to demonstrate that anyone can do it, anywhere. Really. Anywhere. Anytime! Would I trust my important data to it? Absolutely yes. With appropriate backups. As should always be the case.

Here's a general list of materials and the cost breakdown.
For about $10 - $15 you can do this!
$4.95 - black silicon adhesive
$6.00 - greasy meal from a fast-food joint
$3.00 - screwdriver and scissors
$0.99 - cotton from the dollar store
$2.00 - soap and water to wash the plastic
$1.00 - vaseline to knead and smooth the bead of silicon sealant nice and pretty.
$6.75 - optional stuff, I used furniture polish and glass cleaner to spiff-up and buff the window to a shine!

If you are really on a budget, you can just purchase the silicon adhesive. Imho that is important. You could scrounge around for some used packing tape from the packages being delivered, but the finished product won't look as nice. Remember, you need a good air-tight and particle-tight seal. You can borrow your neighbors tool set, wash the parts at gas-station restroom, if your pad don't have running water. And you can use spit on your finger to smooth out the silicon seal. The silicon is essential, so if you have to save up a couple of paychecks for it, then do it! If you can't afford a fast-food meal for the container, just wander around outside for a while. A suitable piece of debris will blow into view sooner or later. If your neighbor's tool set doesn't have scissors you can fold and bend the plastic till it breaks, it results in an almost clean edge too. In place of cotton, you can wad-up some newspaper. When you're done, power it up see if the disk spins, if so you are good to go.

For the upscale version of this project, you can put lights inside the drive, work in a real cleanroom, wear one of them spacesuit bunny outfits, use a polycarbonate tempered plexiglass window, cut with a Dremel using a diamond bit, and when finished, run SpinRite and the mfg's surface certification test suite. You can print youself out a certificate of authenticity using Acrobat X. Don't forget HD-Tune. Print out the performance graphics and make it look really official. Then you can do your own environmental testing too. Run it outside, run it inside. Copy some files for real-world testing. Try it with different interfaces and operating systems. The whole 9 yards! Cool! I do expect the drive to last a long time.. why wouldn't it? It has been running defrags, file copy ops, SpinRite, and mfg diags now for like a day straight! I fear I'll wear it out before something related to this mod-related rears up..

The above two pics are of the finished drive, any dirt you see has quickly settled outside the drive, the inside *IS* class-1 cleanroom quality or better!!

The upshot of modding it this way is that you get a full widescreen view of the drive, complete, you see everything from all angles, unlike the WD Raptor. The window on that drive hides half the viewable area. AND the thinner plastic material used in my project provides for better heat dissipation. Additionally the drive is a little louder, you can hear the swirling air so much better.

Not only that, this is extremely educational, you can see the head move and access the $MFT, and then your files. Look at the track and sector accesses! You do the ultimate defrag and put your operating system files on the outer edge of the disk for faster access, and your least used zip files and .pdf's toward inner part by the spindle, the slowest part of the disk.

When running a surface test you can see the head move slower than the minute hand, but yes you can really really see it move even then. Far better than any drive activity indicator light!

Typically some of my demo lectures discuss swapping platters, people always ask about taking platters from one drive and putting them into another drive. You gotta get the custom (for the set of platters in your drive) data from the flashrom too, that has to be input into the new controller. Sometimes this works *IF* the drive revisions are close enough. It really is a case by case basis.

Either way, the controller somehow needs to know the physical specifications of the platters and servo markings and defect mappings. Each drive is unique, and some are more similar than others. So sometimes it could work, sometimes not. You really have to match version numbers (of the drive) closely. Take a data rec class to learn all about this! Blahh blahh blahh..

In many cases, it might be simpler and easier to just swap the controller board. As there is little (if any) actuator arm data stored in the flashrom. Yeh like so. But that is changing with the piezo actuators situated right at the heads, and temperature controlled flying height feedback loop. Ok! Yeh, neat stuff. Piezo actuators to control left and right movements. These are built in right at the head. These are nearly microscopic and can follow tracks that are a little off center and wobbly. They can also position the head dead center with amazing precision. This is in addition to the standard voice coil which is used for gross movements. Furthermore they can eliminate angular skew errors. Imagine a train on a twisty track, the cars are not all going straight ahead. Now, with the new heads, the cars magically stay in a straight line while the track jiggles and shifts side to side. Now the read head is always directly behind the write head. Not a little to side or off center.

And what I think is best is the bi-metallic strip used to control the angle of attack of the heads, tilting them up and down like an airplane wing to raise and lower the flying height of the GMR heads. Heat from current passed through the bi-metallic wires cause them to expand at different rates, and curve or straighten; thereby changing angle of attack. As a result, the heads can fly higher or lower and compensate for changes in air-pressure. This is to allow a closer tolerance to the disk, and provide a more dense packing of yo'datta!! That and the air temp system that changes the air pressure by using a heating element to change local density of the air. Like an airplane flying on a hot runway.

Next up, but I won't talk much about this now, is the laser assisted hard disk. The laser simply heats the metal a little, allowing the magnetic domains to flip faster with a weaker current. This has been tried before, but not with the precision machining of today. So the next time this is tried this it will work. It is in development for the 4TB drives due out soon enough.

And one more thing, I am selling clean room air. You get a few of these cans and open them up near your hard disk while working on it. No need for expensive equipment, the cannisters "leak" fresh air all over the place when in use, thus pushing away harmful contaminant. You can then work for about 10 or 15 minutes while purified air leaks out and forms an invisible barrier, this is like a portable clean room in a bottle! No chemicals, you are getting only genuine Nitrogen and Oxygen with trace elements. Totally safe and breathable too! Guaranteed! I charge $8.00 per canister. PM me if you want some.

Allow me to re-iterate that in our project, working while holding the drive upside down in a humid environment made a huge difference, the humidity congealed the dust particles and they fell to the ground. It also eliminated static charges big-time. And working upside down was like having a dust shield around everything! I haven't known dust to all-of-a-sudden make a U-turn and go back up into something just for fun. When you first turn on the drive, most particles are whipped away in the first few revs and get slammed into the filter bag. The disk initially isn't going fast enough to cause a head crash yet anyways. And newer drives are running at full-speed (hence all dust and non-sticking surface particles are whipped away) before the heads load onto the platter. So you have double protection on the initial start-up.

So you see! Most particulate matter that causes head crashes is airborne and gets wedged in the air cushion. Fingerprints and glue and stuff that sticks to the platters is a different class of contamination. That is real easily avoided too. But that is worse! And a topic for another discussion.

All in all it was a fun deal. Look at the attention to detail. This mod was done in a cleanroom, with good tools, good materials, and sound practices. How you handle what you have to work with makes all the difference in any project. You can put an idiot in a clean room and ruin every drive in sight. Or you can use common sense and play with the materials at hand carefully and have a good spurt of fun.

A good spat-O-fun like this one data rec op I took part in. This is a true story. The deal is this:
This one idiot got so excited about getting a drive upgrade that he changed it in the parking lot of the computer store. And he was an asshole, I later found out, and insistent that this work right away, at the computer store. Hence his haste at swapping the lappy's drive immediately. He was nice to me though so I just charged him recovery media materials and 2 hours time. Even though it was a 6 hour job. 1 of which was dis-mounting my jeep winch - which was integral to completing this job. That was the most funny op I had done in a long while.

We all know there there are tricks and software that can be used to fine position the heads if you need to. Here it was as as simple as a screwdriver jammed into the axis of the voicecoil and yanked to one side to adjust the geometry. We're talking micrometers here!! I had to drill a hole in the drive casing one time, and put a screwdriver in the bearing axis of the head actuator. I put the drive in a vise and tied a bungee tiedown cord to the handle of the screwdriver. I tied the other end to a crank wheel assembly. I ran the software and for about every 300 or so tracks I had to turn the crank handle of the jeep winch about 1/8th turn to keep a good tension going. But not all the time. I got everything off this drive in about 4 hours. That particular hard drive was left on the boot of a car, the owner drove off and the drive hit the asphalt. It was a hot HOT day, the asphalt was soft, but the casing was microscopically bent out of shape, still.. We were rolling with laughter at the silliness of it all.

Later I encountered a situation where I would try my skills at fpga programming and made a controller board that was easily (and made for such work) programmable. I've got it going to where I could use a joystick to jockey the heads into position. You can watch the data-stream for each track fade in and out as you knock the heads off center with this type of tool. It was a fun project.

Sometimes it's a simple undelete with freeware, and sometimes it's design-your-own-tool day.

Finally, to update you on the modded drive..

This drive is still operational. I use it, now, mostly to illustrate the differences between solids and spinners. It is too small to be used for backups anymore, other than perhaps quaternary iterations. I keep in several extremely important text files and a Journal on it.. Just a meg or two. That and the demo files for my lectures which total a few gigs. It gets tossed around in my bags quite a bit and sees a couple of hours of power-on and defrag operations every now and then.

Steady as she goes!


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 Post subject: Re: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: May 26th, 2012, 12:42 
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Joined: April 26th, 2012, 1:52
Posts: 392
Location: Chicago, USA
An update, this disk is still functioning and I'm keeping it as a full-time demo disk during lectures. Someone had suggested it be put into Lucite. But I have no idea how that may be done.

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 Post subject: Re: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: May 28th, 2012, 12:33 
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Joined: March 17th, 2011, 13:14
Posts: 49
Location: California
Great stuff, but I would strongly discourage any amateur users thinking about setting up something like this if they actually want to make sure that their data can be retrieved safely.

Otherwise, way to go all "Tool Time" here. I wonder if ghettodatarecovery.com is still available? :D

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 Post subject: Re: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: May 28th, 2012, 14:06 
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Joined: February 27th, 2009, 3:26
Posts: 1707
Location: French Polynesia Tahiti
This is fun stuff alright but also dangerous if others read this here. They will think they can do as you have done and in the end loose all their data. Considering you did not care so much for yours this one is OK for what you have done. But others here think that this will help them to get off their data in the end. :lol:

OH well if they follow this advise it should come with a major warning in the end. I think you should actually warn people that this is not to be done by everyone and if you do this do it at your own risk that is all.

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 Post subject: Re: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: June 7th, 2012, 10:17 
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Joined: June 7th, 2012, 10:11
Posts: 6
Location: Italy
Fun stuff, but don't do this at home :)


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 Post subject: Re: How I modded my HDD in a ghetto and funny data rec op!
PostPosted: June 24th, 2012, 19:52 
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Joined: February 13th, 2012, 5:29
Posts: 50
Location: United States
On the contrary. Do this at home and to your entire home. Cigarettes, dust, and so on are driving me crazy right now. Oh, you mean to the drive. ;)


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