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!
- The hardware returned to the client is exactly 100% the same! Not a single component was changed.
- Apparently nothing was done about the problem.
- 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 😉