Reviving a stuck hard drive

Back in the late 1980's, a common problem, especially with some Seagate drives was something called "stiction". After not spinning for a few days, the drive head would become stuck to the platter, so that the hard drive was unable to spin up.

I thought stiction was a thing of the past, until I recently tried to power up an old laptop computer I hadn't powered up for five years. I could tell that the hard drive in the laptop was not spinning.

I had nothing to lose, so I tried my old trick of getting drives unstuck - by vigorously twisting (shaking in an angular kind of way) the whole laptop computer. You can shake a removed hard drive much better than a whole computer, but shaking of the computer was enough with in this case.

For PC's, its best to remove the hard drive. Grab the hard drive as shown, then vigorously shake it back and forth. The shaking should be a twisting motion rather than a back and forth. The twisting should be such that the laptop hard drive stays in its plane. Imagine if it were lying flat on a table - turning it back and forth while still on the table - that sort of motion, but not on the table.

If you aren't confident, you might want to do this over a couch or a bed, just in case it slips from your hands. It should only take a few shakes back and forth to get it unstuck.

Only do this to hard drives that won't spin up. You can always hear a bit of a whine, and a bit of vibration out of a drive that is spinning, but if you don't hear that, then its not spinning, and you might want to try this.

Finally, stiction only happens if the hard drive has NOT been used for at least a day. So if the hard drive spontaneously won't spin anymore, its something else.

Reflowing the solder

Having the solder connections crack and lose connectivity is one of the more common failure modes of electronic devices. This is especially true for small devices that tend to get banged around a lot.

The solder failure problem has gotten a bit worse since everyone switched to lead free solder about 10 years ago. The problem with lead free solder is that it just isn't as ductile as the old solder with a little bit of lead in it.

I had a USB to IDE adapter that ceased working on me. With nothing to lose, I figured the odds of the failure being a solder problem was not improbable. With nothing to lose, I used my heat gun, and heated up the area where most of the connections were quite a lot. And by quite a lot I mean hot enough that the plastic connectors started to melt. But remember, the chips are designed to withstand the kind of heat that melts the solder - that is after all how the thing was put together in the first place.

You could also try to heat your circuit boards up in a toaster oven. But you'd have to remove any wires and plastic parts first before doing this, whereas the heat gun is a bit more localized.

In the case of this board, this barbaric technique got it working again.

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