Death/Resurrection of an Amiga 500 Hard Drive

Amiga 500 Hard Drive Death/Resurrection
Originally published February 5th, 2017

*My video on my GVP A500+ hard drive death and resurrection
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It’s a really strange kind of depression; losing your hard drive. You can back them up as much as you want; you’re still going to be depressed… Is “less depressed” even a thing? In the end the act of replacing a hard drive and putting your data back on it is no different than many other non depressing events. You may upgrade a hard drive to a newer model with more space, you may be doing a fresh install or moving to another computer; the steps taken are pretty much the same no matter what… But when the hard drive dies on you?

Enter “selective depression”. This is not going to affect your day to day life, unless you never backed up your stuff and it’s your main computer holding decade’s worth of memories. I mostly dedicate this back room in my house to classic computers and consoles. The way the depression touches you is that you no longer wish to enter that room… Or dash to the other side with the consoles… You don’t even want to watch videos of that system for fear of being reminded of the thing you “have” to deal with… Someday… That’s what makes it all different; an upgrade is a choice, death is thrust upon you.
^In better times; taken not too long after I got the hard drive

Amongst the classic beauties in this room is the love of my life; the Commodore Amiga 500. While I mostly keep her fairly original, I had to get myself a hard drive add on for the power using I was getting into. The hard drive is a GVP A500+. Inside the bay contained a non factory hard drive from Apple/Quantum with 500 megabytes of storage, as well as an 8 megabyte RAM expansion. I’ve had the drive for at least 7 years or so and it has received a good amount of use in that time. I regularly backed up the drive and was prepared for what might happen.

Perhaps not as much as I should have been though. A good month or more before the drive died I had started to notice the boot up sounds had changed. If you get used to how a drive sounds when it starts up, it should really never change. Seems like whenever I notice a hard drive sounding different, death follows… But you react to it and listen carefully. Things seem to be okay and everything runs just fine. It didn’t sound “bad”, it just sounded “different”. Before you know it that new sound becomes the normal sound and you question if it ever sounded different.

Turn the Amiga on one day; The worst noise imaginable. The head was bumping up against something… Reset it and it stopped making the terrible noise but it sure was not doing anything. I was instantly thrust into depression. I turned the Amiga on to have fun, not to have to deal with this crap!

Now I got to figure out what I’m going to replace the thing with… Another SCSI drive? How new of a drive can I get and have it work on the Amiga? SCSI has been around for a long time but they’ve gone through some changes, will these other versions work on this hardware? Should I convert the drive to IDE, as I’ve got boxes full of those? Should I be like everyone else and rip myself from the real hardware feel (get a flash card – answer – immediate no). When I figure all of this out, should I just use my last backup and mark whatever little changes occurred as gone?

I had been working on a review for a big Amiga game with a saved game. I didn’t want to lose that. I at least wanted to get that sucker up long enough to grab a few files from it! There are lot of tricks to getting a few extra pulses out of a hard drive. More often than not, with the old drives, is that the head is getting stuck. I’ve read this is a huge problem with Quantum drives due to the use of a rubber part. I was convinced that in the event I could get it to boot, it would stay running.

So I cracked that sucker open! Don’t knock it till you tried it folks! I opened it up, I played around a little, touched some parts, hell… Maybe I even banged it around a little… Kept hooking it back up and getting nowhere… Kept repositioning the drive in various angles and playing around some more… Then wouldn’t you know it; finally it sprang back to life. I made sure various programs and games still worked and loaded up Amiga Explorer. I first grabbed the files that wouldn’t have been in my last backup… But then I said what the hell? Why not go for the full thing?

Running nonstop for two days 99% of the files were recovered; exceptions of a couple adfs that caused read/write errors when copying. Yes; opening that drive up and screwing around with it made all the difference. It did no harm. You want to know how little harm it did?
^ Only a true nerd knows how to massage a hard drive (left) – Ran just fine afterward (right)

That’s how little harm it did. To make a point I went ahead and touched the drive quite a bit in my video on this subject. Sucker ran just fine upon reset. I already had a backup, I have quite a bit of experience in dealing with hardware, and I really don’t take myself or anything very seriously. That’s for the people who think they know about computers but don’t seem to know too much…
So how about the new drive? I really didn’t feel like getting an era specific drive. I wanted it to be somewhat newer. I read that the Amiga 500/Workbench 1.3 can only handle up to 4 gigs. Is that 4 gigs per partition or 4 gigs total? The converters to turn a SCSI into an IDE are outrageous in price and the flash cards are just as terrible! I had to read up on newer SCSI drives, but I still didn’t want it to be “too new” for fear a large drive simply wouldn’t work. I bought two drives; a 4gb Quantum with a newer plug and play like connection, and a 4.3 gb IBM drive with yet another different connection. Figured I’d test the waters concerning storage limitations and perhaps someday I could go even bigger!
^Top left; org Apple drive. Top right; org drive with two newer SCSI drives with adapters. Bottom pics; testing new drives

I tried out the 4gb Quantum first. With the adapter I got it working and installed Workbench… But it was just too damn loud… It does not say on the label but it had to have been at least a 7,000 RPM drive, perhaps even 10,000. I think it had been for server use. The larger drives seem to cause the Amiga a boot initialization delay of a good 30 seconds. Combined with this terribly loud noise I decided to test the bigger IBM drive.
^Setting up my “new” IBM drive

Still had that boot delay, but it sounded nice and quite and with only a minor partition set up issue I got that 4.3 gig drive working at full capacity. I plan on making a separate guide on installing hard drives for the Amiga, so you’ll have to wait if you’d like to get into that. I installed Workbench onto the drive and tested a few other things before preparing for the transfer of my old files.
^We have life! Good old Blue…

I ran Amiga explorer and started the transfer process. Again; a couple days later it had completed. Upon reboot I had my old Amiga back and it felt great! All programs, all the games working nice with the save files just as I’d left them. The nightmare was over. Depression lifted… Well… Until a month later when my DOS/Windows98 machine lost a drive for itself… ugh… But for a brief period of time I felt immense satisfaction for having beat the hard drive destroyer god’s.

Hope everyone will check out my video on the subject where I describe those emotions felt and go through my process for bringing that drive back to life and having everything be all right!

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^ Setting up for transfers… Long transfers… But in end I got her back just as I left her…

And they lived happily ever after… The End…


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