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10 October 2010

Hard Drive Exhumations

I have a lot of hard drives lying around, because no matter what happens to the other parts from a decommissioned computer, the hard drive always gets stored.  There's too much sensitive data on there for me to let anyone else get their hands on it, and for many years I have been stashing hard drives in the basement with the intention of "one day" zeroing out all the sectors and disposing of them... somehow.

Today I decided to take an inventory, and it was an interesting-but-dusty trip through the last 13 years of building and destroying the computers that live in this house.  I have no fewer than 19 decommissioned hard drives that I know of.  Here are a few of the more dramatic highlights:

  • There are two 250GB Western Digitals that I pulled out of the LaCie BigDisk external USB drive enclosure after it died.  I bought those back in the halcyon days of Mad Dog Software as a backup solution, because I could fit the contents of all the computers in my house on just one of them.  The intention was to get two of those enclosures and keep one off-site.  That fizzled, but it did give me an excuse to write a trickle-transfer utility to run on Linux and send backup files to Dan's house for storage.  That was my first serious Linux project.
  • There are three 60GB Maxtors of which I have no guess the purpose... but one of them has a post-it note that reads "noisy" in Diane's handwriting.  I can only imagine how all this came about.
  • There are four 60GB IBM Deskstars dating back from the dead-drive catastrophe of 2001 (or was it 2000? not sure now).  I decided to build the Mother of All Machines, so I bought four of these hot-running high-failure-rate data bombs and put them in RAID 0+1.  Maximum PC rated them Kick-Ass at the time, so they seemed like the best choice.  Little did I know I had just purchased drives that would be the subject of a class-action lawsuit a few years later.  The thing about RAID 0+1 is that, in theory, it has the speed of RAID 0 (striping) with the data safety of RAID 1 (mirroring).  But in practice, it isn't that fast and it isn't that safe.  Especially when you have two drives fail simultaneously, like I did.  The four I have now include two warranty replacement drives, so I think they all work.
  • Last spring I built my grandmother a new PC from leftover parts I had lying around, replacing one that was refusing to boot.  I took the dead hardware with the plan of figuring out what the problem was, but didn't even crack the case until today.  Inside I found three hard drives.  They proved to be resistant to my charms and I was in a hurry because I was expecting a phone call.  Can't wait to get back to them and see what sort of complicated storage scheme was dreamed up on those.
  • Buried deeply in the random-hardware boxes and covered in dust, I found a 6GB (yes, six gigabytes) Western Digital from 1998, and a circa-1997 Fujitsu that gave no size nor cylinder information whatsoever.  Wow.
Sitting here next to my desk is a fully functional Windows PC of fairly recent vintage that has no keyboard, monitor, or mouse - just power and network.  I know I had a reason for not moving this thing down to the basement, but I couldn't say what that reason was.  In any case, I'll use that machine to clean these hard drives one at a time over the next million years or so, all so that I can safely dispose of them.  I may dual-boot it to Linux first, just for fun, I don't know.

Diane suggested I look at FreeCycle as a way to give away stuff to people who want it... I can't wait to see who wants a 10GB IBM OEM hard drive from 1998.

1 comment:

  1. Or just bury them all in the backyard and give future archeologists something to ponder.