Western Digital Caviar 2850 850MB hard drive

Western Digital Caviar 2850
Western Digital Caviar 2850
850MB hard drive

These hard drives are kind of cool. They are slow, of course, since they are pretty old, but not so slow as not to be useful. And they are not very capacious, but again, they are not so small as not to be useful. You can, for instance, set up a small Linux server with / on one of these and swap and /var on another.

Computer shop, 40 Mill St, Bedford
The computer shop that
used to sell these drives

There is a computer shop at 40 Mill Street, Bedford, opposite Jesus and St Cuthbert's Church. It is not the shit kind of computer shop like PC World that only sells a few expensive brands of brand new stuff and is staffed by people who can't tell shit from breakfast. It is the cool kind of computer shop that sells second hand stuff as well as new stuff and fucks about with it for its own purposes and puts the bits it has no use for in a big bucket that you can root through and buy random bits of computer shit for a quid a pop.

It seems that at one time fuck loads of computers were fitted with these drives, and accordingly a few years later fuck loads of these drives began to appear in the computer shop's bucket. I used to enjoy popping down there occasionally for a root around, and whatever other piece of interesting shit I found - there was usually something - it was a rare occasion when I didn't find one of these drives as well. Some of them, of course, were there because they were actually fucked. But by far the greater part had nothing wrong with them at all.

This I found extremely useful. Instead of buying a large capacity hard drive for a lot of money ("large capacity" being 20GB or so back then), I could simply buy loads of these drives for a quid each, and some extra-IDE-port cards for not much more, and set up a dirty great bank of drives in LVM. Of course they wouldn't all fit inside the computer, nor did the PSU have that many hard drive power connectors, but that didn't matter; I just piled them up outside it with flattened bog roll tubes in between to stop them shorting out, and had a load of Y adaptors to split the power.

It worked great, as far as the drives were concerned. The only problem was the sodding Y adaptors - ie. the simplest things in the whole setup, apart from the bog roll tubes. These gradually fucked up and became unreliable. Fuck knows why, since they weren't operating in a corrosive atmosphere or anything, but they did. So after a while I would find that one of the drives in the stack was getting glitches in its power supply and the filesystem would get corrupted, or even the drive itself would start developing bad sectors at wherever the heads happened to be when the power supply glitched. This, of course, was a great big cunt. But fortunately I never lost anything vital, and with the passage of time a new source of cheap storage became available - high speed SCSI drives and shit-hot SCSI interface cards began to appear at computer fairs for a few quid. So I was able to upgrade without too much of a problem.

These drives do have a tendency to do weird shit in respect of the IDE master/slave business. Normally you would expect to be able to set the jumpers on one drive to "master" and the other to "slave", plug them onto the cable whichever way round you happened to pick them up, and that would be that. Sometimes you can with these drives too, but a lot of the time you can't.

Essentially what happens is that the jumpers do do something but what they do changes at random once you have two drives on the same cable. So you can't rely on the jumper designations to tell you what to do. You just have to run through all the possible settings - master, slave, cable select, and no jumper at all - on both drives. It also makes a difference which way round the drives are on the cable - it shouldn't, of course, but it does - so you have to try both possibilities there as well. That makes 32 different possibilities and you have to go through them all one by one until you find one in which the drive is detected, and correctly, by both the BIOS and the OS.

Even that may not be enough since you sometimes find a pair of drives which just will not work together on the same cable no matter what the fuck you do. Either will work on its own or as one of a different pairing but work together they will not. So this entails another lot of swapping stuff around to try and find a working combination.

Sometimes even that is not enough because the occasional drive will decide that it just won't share a cable with anything, so you have to use that one on a cable on its own. And it may not have finished with you yet. I have encountered drives that insist on stupid things like being on the middle connector with nothing on the end one, or having the jumper put in sideways and fuck knows what that does.

All this shit is a pain in the arse. So how come I find myself liking these drives instead of posting a swear-filled rant about how shit they are? The answer is that the pain-in-the-arsery is only incurred when you set the system up. Which of course you don't do very often. What you want to do is set it up and then leave it like that while you use it, and for that, these drives are great. Once you have fucked around enough to find a functioning arrangement, and assuming that you don't have the power coming through shitey Y adaptors which fuck themselves up for no reason, then you can use that arrangement for years and years and it will just go on working.

I have retained my predilection for meeting my storage requirements by amassing lots of cheap drives and using them in LVM, and I have had a lot of the things fail when they bloody well shouldn't. I had a rack of eight 73GB SCSI-320 drives and I thought that would last me for bleeding ever. It lasted quite a while, but then the drives all started packing up and the thing just sits there now being useless. I sometimes get the impression that hard drives don't like me. But these Western Digital 850MB things, which are ancient to start with, and were chucked in a bucket and bashed about before I ever got hold of them, just keep on going. Maybe they appreciate my patience in sorting out their idiosyncrasies when other people would have given up once they'd tried all the options that made sense.

So there we go. I admit that this page may be something of a waste of server capacity, but it's my fucking server so I don't give a shit.

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