I know that I have at least a couple computer-people that read this blog. So for y’all I have a question.

One of the advantages of SATA hard drives over IDE hard drives is supposed to be that the former are “hot swappable” while the latter are not. I understand “hot-swappable” to mean that the computer will accommodate adding or removing a hard drive with the computer still on without any ill-effects (unless a file on a removed HD is open).

This is how USB Thumb Drives work. You put it in there and the drive appears. You take it out and the drive disappears. Does “how-swappable” mean something different when it comes to SATA drives?

I ask in part because I have a SATA hard drive that is somewhat blinkered. It seems to sporadically cut out. I have a USB external drive that cuts out, too. When the latter cuts out, the drive simply disappears and reappears and as long is nothing on it is open, there’s no problem. Even if something is open, typically the worst that will happen is an error message or two. The SATA, though, throws Windows XP into fits. If you so much as open Windows Explorer, the app will freeze even if you’re not trying to access data from that particular drive. Even if you don’t open explorer or try to access the drive the system itself will intermittently freeze for about 5-10 seconds every minute or two.

I was willing to attribute this to a faulty drive that was doing more than cutting out. Somewhat unrelated to this problem, I purchased a front-loading SATA bay wherein you can put the HD into the system while it’s on and take it out. The SATA drive connects to a port that connects to a SATA port on the motherboard. The box says in large letters “HOT SWAPPABLE!”, so I assume that I am not doing anything that this particular device did not intend.

Yet the behavior is identical to the faulty HD. If I take a drive out, the system throws fits. If I put a drive in after it’s booted, it doesn’t show up. The documentation I’ve seen on Windows says that XP and Vista both are hot-swap-capable for SATA drives, though maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. I haven’t actually seen all that much information beyond “Hey, isn’t it cool that it is capable of this?!”

So the two questions I have are:

1. Do I not understand the meaning of the term “hot-swappable”? If so, what does it actually mean?

2. Is there something in particular I have to do within Windows to enable this? Is it like USB drives in Windows 2000 where you have to tell it you are about to disconnect a drive? I haven’t found any information on this whatsoever.

Category: Server Room

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One Response to A Hot-Swappin’ Question

  1. Webmaster says:

    Answer: it depends on your motherboard manufacturer. A lot of MB manufacturers are putting in a SATA controller that treats the SATA drives the same as it does the PATA channels (read: only enumerates them on boot).

    Secondary answer: when “hot-swapping” SATA drives, you have to be VERY careful to use the stop-hardware utility before removal. Reasoning: Windows sees them as a hard drive rather than external storage, and thus loves to “index” them randomly. Lose a drive while windows is crawling it to “optimize” searches, and it’ll freak out because it had files “open”.

    Best Suggestion if you’re doing a data recovery: purchase a Sata-to-USB2.0 external enclosure and let Windows see the drive that way, so it won’t freak out as much (it’ll view it as a USB device rather than an on-motherboard device).

    Your “hot swappable” bay is, alas, simply a somewhat expensive pass-through cable 🙁

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