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Mysterious SATA Hard Disk Problems Solved

SATA Cable

Photo Credit: Aaronage

One of my clients has been having a really weird hard disk problem on their office PCs. The computers will randomly hang with a BSOD and it has been going on for weeks!

The problem is intermittent. Apparently its favourite time to appear is when I’m not attending this client. Needless to say, it causes a lot of strain on both me and the client because it consumes my time as well as theirs.

One consistent information that I gathered every time this problem happens is that whenever the computer is rebooted afterwards, the hard disk cannot be detected by the BIOS. And whenever I changed the SATA port it’s connected to, the problem will go away… at least until it decides to resurface again; which is usually less than 24 hours later.

I told the client, that it may be due to a motherboard fault as I’ve diagnosed no apparent errors with the hard disk itself. And as much as I’d like to take money off them by charging them for a new motherboard, I told them to go to the vendor they purchased the PC from and claim the warranty since the PC is quite new, about a year old.

They did, and the very same day they got the PC back, the same problem happened again! I was called again and this time I decided to take a closer look at the PC. What I discovered shocked me!

  1. The hardware returned to the client is exactly 100% the same! Not a single component was changed.
  2. Apparently nothing was done about the problem.
  3. My client bought over a dozen computers from this vendor and I’m appalled by the way the vendor handled this issue.

OK, I then went through the routine that was now second nature to me when it comes to this client. Popped out the casing cover and attached the hard disk to a different SATA port.

Rebooted and the PC now works as normal. When Windows loaded, I became more disgusted with the vendor my client bought the PCs from. Why? It seems the only thing they did was to reinstall the OS, which is almost never a cure for computer problems; especially when it is obviously unrelated to the core problem!

Nevertheless, I decided to try and replicate the problem again (since I was there anyway). I rebooted the PC about five or six times and everything went well. I then stared at the open casing and looked at the SATA cable. Hmm… perhaps that’s the problem.

I decided to slightly move the cable a bit. I haven’t even moved it for half a centimetre and Windows coughed out the ever so familiar BSOD onto the monitor. So that’s the culprit, a faulty SATA cable… who would’ve thought?!

Went to the nearest computer hardware shop only to find out that they don’t have SATA cables in stock. Unsurprising because they almost never go faulty.

Since the cables are not 100% spoilt anyway and I have no replacement cables in hand, the hacker instinct in me told me this might be fixed in a more cost-effective way, at least in the short run.

The SATA cables were tangled and twist-wired together with the other cables in the casing. Most likely for cosmetic reasons. However, the cables are bent and twisted so badly that I’m sure the copper strands in them might be damaged.

Took out the cable, straightened it and grabbed a few pieces of scrap paper along with a roll of cellophane tape. I wrapped the paper around the SATA cable and taped it in place. Walla! Instant SATA cable straightener! Plugged the cable back in and the PC now boots properly. Wiggled the cable a bit and Windows didn’t crash. A good sign at last!

Mind you, I’m still getting my client a proper SATA cable, but this hack is just a temporary solution until my next visit.

Moral of the story:

  • Sometimes the most irritating problems are caused by the smallest and seemingly irrelevant parts
  • And yeah, make sure you buy PCs from reputable vendors; perhaps a company like HTNet Solutions 😉

15 responses to “Mysterious SATA Hard Disk Problems Solved”.

  1. JW Says:

    Well well, I have very similar bad experience as well. Problems like:
    1) Cannot detected SATA drive.
    2) On & off kind of problem like what you’ve mentioned.

    Finally, I realized that SATA cable is the culprit. Why is the quality of this SATA cable so lousy?? Does it happen frequently? Or I’m the unlucky person who kept on bump into this stupid thing.

  2. papajoneh Says:

    My friend… what a coincidence. I had the same problem … solved on my once-in-a-lifetime-friend who called me only when he has pc problems. He called me yesterday night saying the hard disk not found by the BIOS but recognized in others pc. Best thing was he is an expert who happened to diagnose his other friend’s pc at home. He called me to ask for the remedy and of coz he got all the credit lah. LOL.
    yes, all due to the colored SATA cable being faulty. After he story telling me the whole kahuna, I just told him check the cable, if you have spare, change. In few minutes, he called solved. Hahahaha.

    The part I hate in your story is the hardware vendor. Yes we have a few here. Cilaka, all tipu customers one. It happened to me once and damn I scold them for good. I end up with one good different better MOBO to bring home. 🙂

    Nice story here friend. 😀

  3. PandanKia Says:

    wait until the piece of paper catches fire inside the hot cpu and you will be more genius than einstein.
    noob! apparently no one told you never to use too easily flammable items inside a pc. so proud of it and blogged about it too! ha!

  4. Site Admin Azmeen Says:

    @JW: I think the cables aren’t really lousy. They’re just not built to tolerate too much bending and folding I guess.

    @papajoneh: Yeah, vendors like them give “Computer Guys” a bad rep. The worst thing is that they’re just plain lazy. Why be in the business if you’re not going to put in 100% effort, right?

    @PandanKia: Thanks for the compliment but really, I’m no genius. However, I do know that paper burns at about 230° C. And if any of your PC components even reach half that temperature, you have a much bigger problem than pieces of paper taped to a SATA cable. Noob 🙂

  5. Joel Long Says:

    Hmm, it seemed that you could very well be helping me out here because *my* PC had the exact same problems…

    1) Sudden BSOD
    2) HDD cannot be detected by BIOS
    3) Change slot helps until the next blackout (usually 4 months later in my case, it happened twice and today’s the second time)

    I’ll post here again if I manage to buy a replacement SATA cable, but for now it seems I’ll have to deal with a blacked-out PC (and on Christmas Eve no less >.>!)

  6. Niloy Says:

    My 320 GB SATA just blinked dead today.

    Nothing. And the BIOS doesn’t detect it either. Changed cables with the other SATA HDD that’s working fine. Still nothing.

    Will try the HDD on a friends PC, after freezing it, of course, when I get another HDD tomorrow.

    Half the photos of my first year with an SLR are in it. Data recovery guys quoted $1600 to recover them. Can’t afford it now, but I plan to save the disk for years down the road when I’ll actually be able to pay that money.

    Is it gonna be okay? If the DATA inside is still goodish now?

    Plz say something. Kinda need assurances now at the moment. …

  7. jeff Says:

    got the same problem! I have my sata cable twisted to have neat cable arrangement without knowing that this might cause a big problem with my h-disk. Thanks to you.

  8. Viswam Says:

    I have a few experiences with SATA cables so far. The lessons I seem to have learnt so far are:
    1. SATA cables are too delicate to handle. Always try to be as straight as possible with them. Even a small kink can make one erratic.

    2. Erratic! That is in fact even more problem than being completely dead. Because you would not be able to reproduce the problem and you will not know when it will get reproduced on its own. Better be completely dead than waking up like a zombie and going back when least expected.

    3. The ones without clips are much more bad. Most of the problems I had were with those simple (without clips) cables. Apart from the absence of a tight fit, they also seems to have inferior electrical contact even while properly seated in.

    4. In a good PC (means with a well stabilized OS), it is possible that after having a SATA detection trouble, even if it is fixed, the data transfer rate may be set down pityfully by the OS. The way to recover is to make the Windows uninstall the drive/ controller and reinstall it back again!

    Just thought of adding my two cents.

  9. Meidrian Says:

    Thanks thanks thanks, hehe, I am not alone in the world!!!
    I have been for two days now cleaning, defrag, reinstalling, uninstalling, the only reason I didn`t kicked my pc is because odds are always against you when something starts failing. I have a seagate 250gb 2 year old, and a WD 320gb 6 months, I had once the problem with the seagate, replaced the cable, everything ok. The funny thing is the newer hd started two days ago, I could hear the sound as it was like rebooting, the OS freezing (even when the OS is not on that drive) more and more frequently, then finally corrupted files and 10 bad sectors according to HDTune, superslow transfer rate whan not freezed (and I mean superslow from regular 100mb/max to 4.5mb/max)I learned the trick about deinstalling the drivers last time to improve this, but I tried changing the SATA connectors so the OS has to recognize them againt (I have 6 SATA ports) Well, then comes the funny part, yesterday I couldn’t have It fixed, and the older drive also starts with all this symptoms, NICE!!! that makes a total 3 SATA cables in less than 8 months than don´t work, after a desperate attempt I bought other SATA cable and changed the older drive recently replaced cable to the newer drive, and put the newer forth cable to the older drive… It’s like last two days never happened, again stable fast Hd drives. I don’t bend the cables a lot, I don`t force them, I don’t unplug them while energy on I try to have them straighter as possible. So, Having no doubt now that they are the problem, ¿Why are them so delicate? ¿Why manuals don’t say ¡HEY BE EXTRACAREFUL WITH YOUR CRYSTAL LIKE CABLES TO AVOID PROBLEMS!

    I am buying now a lot of replacements, you never know

    Hate those things

  10. my sata external drive or snapping out (on&off) Says:

    every time that i’m inserting the external drive it’s snapping out or it’s turning on and off… i can’t save anything on my hard disk. what will i do?

  11. homie Says:

    I had exactly the same problem. Except that everything was getting back to normal when I turned off the PC for about an hour. First I thought it was fault of the HDD, because it was quite old. I was short on disc space anyway so I thought I will buy a new HDD because it will solve the problems with BSoD’s and space. I replaced WD 250GB (can’t remember the model) with WD20EARS. The weird thing is that if I turn the PC on (I even unplugged the monitor cable and connected to my laptop) and connect my laptop to the PC using Windows Shared Folders (both in my LAN, laptop via Wi-Fi, PC via UTP) I sometimes get a crash… on my laptop! The PC is running just fine. I am sure that it’s the same case, because my notebook crashed only when I was transferring files from one to another. My second suspicion was that it is fault of the cable and this article ensured me that I was right. Thanks. I’m going to buy some proper SATA cable.

  12. Tomas Says:

    I have been having the same kind of problems since I assembled my uncle´s PC. It started as soon as I had assembled it. It hanged really often and I suspected SATA HDD. So I bought a new one (I thought that the second HDD may come handy as a backup storage anyway). And to my surprise the same problem appeared again. So I bought a new mainboard feeling pretty sure that this would solve the problem for good. Guess what? The same problem all over again. At this point I thougt it all over again and started suspecting SATA cable for the first time. So I replaced them and it looked well for some time. But after a few days it was back again. So straightening those cables is the only thing I have not done yet. So I am going to try it and will see…

  13. Ro Says:

    I have the same issue, I have swapped sata cables n stuff, same same, I believe it is because the crap quality of the motherboard sata connector, I have a gigabyte GA-VM900M motherboard = CRAP MBO!, I remember when I got my CPU and Mboard a few years back I was on a budget and told the guy at the shop just to give me a cheap basic motherboard, in my ignorance i justified this at the time by the fact that I just wanted good CPU performance not fancy ports and stuff. NEVER AGAIN WILL I BUY A CHEAP MOTHERBOARD! no point having saved $40 or $50 if you then get these crappy faults which seem to happen less randomly as right when your in the middle of something important and your in a hurry.

    Moral: Always buy a descent motherboard!

    And if you can see the hardware before you buy, also a good idea, as it is obvious when you look at this thing that it is cheap and crappy!

    So my next move is to buy a new MBO, this PC is pretty out of date now, and I hear you saying just replace the whole lot it won’t cost much more, but I can’t justify a full make over when the core 2 DUO E6600 still cranks 2.4G which is still comparable with many new CPU’s and as much processor power as I will ever need.

    ok so thats my input on this topic.

  14. Toastman Says:

    Our shops service hundreds of computers every week. By far the biggest cause of problems these days is caused by SATA cables failing to connect properly. This impacts the operating system causing all sorts of complaints which at first sight don’t appear related. It is the first thing all of our engineers look at when a PC is brought in.

    I am appalled at how disk manufacturers have moved from the reliable (but cumbersome) pin headers used on IDE drives to these incredibly flimsy and unreliable connectors. There isn’t a “better quality” connector – there’s only crap and REALLY crap. As a small chain of service shops, we can’t find a source of reliable cables. We have sourced hundreds, but at the end of the day it is the mechanics of the connector that are at fault.

    The only good thing is, we do make an awful lot of cash fixing computers that other service centers cannot 🙂

  15. andy Says:

    Oh yes, those SATA cables, my PET HATE!!!

    Toastman got the point exactly: there’s crap connectors and really-crap connectors.
    I confess I wasn’t born for handling SATA cables properly. I would have loved to keep using those IDE ones which (in 20 years!!!) never showed any flaws. Well, that’s quality!
    But back to the SATAs: I have 5 (or even 6) in stock in my home to always be able to replace them whenever this DAMN FUCKING 1/10 inch-wide plastic reed breaks off.
    Just have a case with not much room, replace your VGA card, “forget” to disconnect the cable from your controller card, and BOOOM – time for a new cable.

    And as you might have figured out thru the years, this always happens on Sundays or on holidays where you can’t buy any cables at all.

    I think it’s time for manufacturers to FINALLY produce SATA cables made of metal. Ah, you think they’d short-circuit the HDD? I don’t think so, if you use accurate isolation in the inside.

    You could also made those from (stiff) RUBBER. Rubber as stiff as your windshield wipers.
    But just get rid of that goddamn awful cheap plastic shit. Thanks.

    (and good riddance!)