The strange case of the resurrected drive

When you have a few different vintage Macs to maintain, and not enough space to keep them all set up all the time, you have to perform routine check-ups to see if everything still works or if some Macs have started showing signs of old age and need attention.

A few days ago I reconnected everything in my Power Macintosh 9500/132 system after borrowing display, keyboard and trackball for other projects. The original setup of this Mac included two internal hard drives, a 2GB Seagate and a 540MB Quantum Lightning, the latter being the startup volume. After acquiring an external SCSI 4GB hard drive, I even managed to enjoy a triple-boot system for a while, with Mac OS 9.1, Rhapsody Developer Release 2, and Mac OS X 10.2 Server (installed with the help of XPostFacto).

Sometime around 2012, however, both internal drives died at the same time while trying to boot the Mac. After repeated, unsuccessful attempts at retrieving data, I took them out of the machine and, in turn, put them in an external enclosure to see if I could mount them on other vintage Macs and perform further diagnostics. I soon realised that the 2GB Seagate was a true goner after hearing the kind of mechanical noises it made after powering it up. The other drive was just silent, it didn’t even spin up. Since I didn’t know where to drop it at the time, I ended up putting it back inside the Power Macintosh 9500. The surviving drive was the external 4GB unit running Mac OS X 10.2 Server. I deleted the installation and reinstalled a fresh copy of Mac OS 9.1, and that became the startup and only volume for this Mac.

Remember, this was happening four years ago. In the following years, I’ve used the Power Macintosh 9500 on several occasions. The 540MB internal hard drive never gave the slightest sign of life, to the point that I genuinely forgot about it.

When I switched on the Mac a few days ago, it had problems booting, and appeared to get stuck at the ‘Happy Mac’ screen. It also sounded noisier than I remembered. Then I glanced at the external drive enclosure and noticed that it was turned off. So why was the Mac trying to boot anyway? And where did that noise come from? And then I remembered the dead internal drive… I switched on the external drive, force-rebooted a couple of times, and finally the Power Macintosh completed the startup process successfully. After installing a newer version of the excellent FWB Hard Disk Toolkit, here’s what it presented me after an initial scan:

#alttext#

The 540MB Quantum Lightning drive was detected on the SCSI chain. I selected it, told Hard Disk Toolkit to mount it, and it appeared on the desktop a few seconds later. Then I ran Disk First Aid. It reported minor problems that were promptly repaired. Finally — and still quite amazed — I proceeded to browse the contents of the ‘lost’ drive and everything was there, just like four years ago. I have booted the Power Macintosh 9500 several times over the past few days, and now the internal drive I thought dead years ago consistently mounts on the desktop and appears to be working properly.

This is not the first time in my long experience when a drive or peripheral goes back to functioning after an apparent death, but it is definitely the first time that such resurrection has happened four years later. I still can’t believe it.

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