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Heatstroke warning for older Acorn kit

By Chris Williams. Published: 21st Jun 2005, 23:43:00 | Permalink | Printable

DiscKnight developer says hard discs in RiscPCs could melt

A thermometerThe author of disc recovery tool DiscKnight has warned that the UK's soaring temperatures are likely to finish off old hard discs. Aging Acorn kit, such as RiscPCs, with hard discs older than 5 years are highly susceptible to failure, says the ARM Club's David Ruck.

"Every year as soon as we get the first hot days of summer, I get a large number of reports of drive failures," said Dave, who claims multi-slice RiscPCs especially have "quite poor cooling". For the cynics, Dave's recent warning over heat based failures isn't to scare people into getting DiscKnight, which is useless for a melted drive. He explained, "DiscKnight cannot recover any data from drives which have failed completely."

Hard discs tend to tolerate temperatures in the range of 40°C to 50°C. To avoid loss of files, it's recommended that people replace tired old discs and take regular back ups. Some users can fit their important data onto a writable CD or DVD, although others may need a removable hard disc to back up large amounts of data. Dave says he uses a caddy system from CJE Micros and DirSync to back up 20GB of files at a time. He suspects, however, that the additional circuitry involved is affecting the IDE bus in his Iyonix, which occasionally reports temporary disc errors.

Dave told us, "The air coming out of the Iyonix feels quite cool, and it's certainly never needed to use the fan at high speed so far.

"My RiscPC on the other hand did get hot, you could feel the heat through the bottom of the case where the main hard drive lives. It didn't help that it's a 3 slicer with 3 main hard discs, a Syquest drive, PC processor, a CD reader, a CD Writer, 4 podules, 3 IDE bus cables and 1 SCSI bus cable. So that single fan in the PSU isn't going to cool everything."

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Discussion

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In reply to dr: I do not like this kind of messages. Better Acorn has warned us about this in the past, i couldn't find anything in the application notes from them, neither any Acorn or RISC OS dealers in the UK has talked about this, why ???

 is a RISC OS Userdatawave on 22/6/05 12:47AM
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Interesting article. From an experienced user standpoint, this would be common-sense. You can't really blame Acorn, third-party manufacturers built such hard-drives. In any case, time has moved on, today's systems dissipate heat in a much better way. DR has a point - how can one fan remove all the heat from such a bloated system?

You can't think of everything when futureproofing a machine, such as global warming!

One other factor is how over the years, dust and filth build up in various locations inside the machine, which can also lead to overheating.

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 22/6/05 2:15AM
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I'll come off sounding like a Yorkshireman, but... I live in Australia, and my RiscPC has a hard disc (the boot drive, but no longer used for anything else) which just had its 10th birthday. Only one slice, and no cards (though I do have a UniPod to put in when I next go back to Base,) but I can't imagine a UK summer being enough to kill an old Conner if 10 Australian ones have failed to kill mine. Actually, I can't imagine a UK summer at all... :-)

P.S. I do live in a cooler part of Australia than most, so your mileage may vary, particularly if you Northerners decide to come to visit. Indeed, we prefer kilometres, so perhaps your kilometrage will vary.

 is a RISC OS Userarcher on 22/6/05 4:47AM
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That Dave man should just remove the PC processor :-) Another solution is opening the upper side. It's so easy that one can really leave it open. Another one: place the machine vertically, laying on the LEFT side. Vents and component position will not suffer as much hot as before. Also leaving unused podules slots open (w/o the metal lid) helps.

Final solution: get A/C :)

 is a RISC OS Usernodoubt73 on 22/6/05 7:49AM
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Well, it looks like the 2GB harddisc in my RPC is having problems which only recently began, when temperatures rised... ofcourse I've made a backup now. So this article really pops up handy, thanks Dave and Chris!

Ofcourse, this RPC was given for free from a guy who was known for his 'not-so-gentle' ways with his computers... (repeatedly switching it on & off when something goes wrong) So it might not be the heat after all ;)

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 22/6/05 9:56AM
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The norm for cooling a computer is blowing air into the machine, so this also blows dust into it, which can coat the electronic components and cause them to run hotter, so run a vaccum round the inside once in a while. The RiscPC has this horrible design where the air is first blown through the hot power supply before it reaches the motherboard, ive wondered if this does more harm than good, modern computers also appear to do this.

When you switch the machine off this turns the fan off and even though the electronics are now off they still have heat in them, which can cause them to suddenly overheat even though they have no power in them, then finally cooling to ambient. The solution can be to simply never turn your computer off, once again this is a bigger worry with modern power hungry computers.

 is a RISC OS UserFuzzy on 22/6/05 10:08AM
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I can guarentee that Acorn would never have had to have thought about aging RiscPCs, as they were going to have a new machine 3-4 years after the launch of the RISC PC.

it's a detriment to them, that I am still using mine. but it is about time we jsut got newer machines...there seems to be a nice variety now :)

For reference My RISC PC was the only server running over the last few days...all the other's had been switched off due to the heat.

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 22/6/05 10:23AM
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To never turn your computer off because it's hot sounds a lot like "are you running and feeling a heat stroke coming on? don't stop running!" :)

I think the best solution would be to reverse the PSU fan so it blows outward, and then installing a second fan elsewhere blowing air into the chassi, so you get a good air loop.

 is a RISC OS UserHenrik on 22/6/05 10:54AM
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In reply to Henrik: We have an machine at work that is basically a big computer controlled machine worth 100,000 pounds and we have been told by the manufacturer there is a specific problem with the motherboards failing due to this sudden heat increase when the machine is turned off, so we have been told to leave it running all the time. Im not kidding you its a real problem that exists that a lot of people are not aware of.

I have also done experimentation as a separate exercise on other equipment and was shocked by the percentage increase of temperature when you demonstrate it.

As for your analogy, if you keep running you keep cool by the flow of air that passes over you, when you stop you then overheat without the airflow and heatstroke can then really hit you worse, thats why people then need to fan you.

Sorry im ranting ;-)

 is a RISC OS UserFuzzy on 22/6/05 11:15AM
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It is worth noting that many newer hard drives (and esp many SCSI discs) run much hotter than older discs. Even a 5400 speed drive in my RPC gets up to 40+ degrees and that's in a dedicated cooling bay (Coolermaster cool-drive). Thus druck's point is extremely pertainent - it is VERY common for hot weather to result in aging RPCs to struggle/crash etc. I used to experience it most summers from about 2000 onwards til I replaced the most troublesome machines with RISCubes.

As such, if druck's warning helps *one* person avoid catastrophe/data loss, it has been a worthwhile and significant excersise.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 22/6/05 11:21AM
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Maybe I was just unlucky, but my (2 slice) RiscPC has gone through 2 hard drives so far. The second time I had data loss, although fortunately I didn't lose too much 'important' stuff I'm actually quite concerned about it now. I try to back up onto CD, but getting it into a suitable format is such a pain that I don't do it nearly often enough. It would be nice to have a system to protect against failure automatically, perhaps RAID or something

 is a RISC OS UserLoris on 22/6/05 11:33AM
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For a while I was starting to run out of hard disc space, and therefore getting new ones, quicker than their expected lifespan. My last one started making strange noises (but still seemed to be working), so I replaced it anyway before it died for good. I've never had one completely fail (yet).

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 22/6/05 12:07PM
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If you have access to a PC, you can put the drive that makes strange noises into it and run the drive diagnostic software of the manufacturer, wich is usually available from their websites. The best one I have come across is the one from Hitachi, called DFT (Drive Fitness Test). This is the best way to determine if the drive should be replaced.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/6/05 12:24PM
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Hitachi drive fitness is 0% from day 1. They're the worlds worst hard drives.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 22/6/05 12:54PM
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A native RISC OS tool to read the S.M.A.R.T status of an harddrive would be nice.

 is a RISC OS Usernetec on 22/6/05 1:33PM
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In reply to archer:

In the original email Dave said he was referring to hard discs >10GB and machines with more than one slice.

 is a RISC OS UserIvanDobski on 22/6/05 4:23PM
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I referred to drives over 5 years old, which are generally under 10GB incase you can't remember how old yours is. The more slices in a Risc PC, the less air from the fan will pass over the main drive located in the tray at the bottom, so is likely to prove more problematic than a single slice machine.

But don't get complacent, drives can fail at any time no matter how old, so the first thing to do is get a backup strategy in place that is quick and easy to perform, which will allow you to do it more often. The drive in my DVR has just failed completely, it was only 6 months old, and an 80GB Maxtor like in my Iyonix. Typically it happened at the worst possible time - just after getting back from holidays with lots of unwatch programs on it. :( But luckily I'd backed up all the films that were on there to DVDs just before leaving.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 22/6/05 4:41PM
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@imj: I did not say anything about Hitachi drives, only that their test software ist very good. It also used to work with non-Hitachi drives (don't know about current versions).

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/6/05 5:04PM
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My Iyonix maxtor died after about 2 months. Seems quite common for maxtors to die - esp the high speed ones. So far my failure rate on maxtors has been about 9 dead drives out of 12 or 13 purchased. Not good. I won't sell them to customers. I think they are in iyonixes because they are the cheapest drives to buy ususally.

Hitachi bought IBM's old disk business. The later IBMs were known as "Death-Stars" (rather than DeskStars) cos of the high failure rate. I must admit I haven't dared try Hitachis after the DeathStar fiasco.

That tends to leave Samsung, Seagate and Western Dig. Those drives tend to be ok, and they now give pretty good warrantees on their drives. Samsung is 3year, Seagate is 5 year, Western Dig varies depending on drive. 1 year warrantees on other drives are commonplace. Whilst warrantee doesn't mean anything per se, it does show how confident the suppliers are in their products. There are usually quoted Mean-Time-Between-Failure (MTBF) figures which determine warrantees etc.

Whilst this advice isn't gospel, it may be useful to someone considering replacing drives.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 22/6/05 5:15PM
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IME, Maxtors have been absolutely superb. I have a dozen or so, of varying sizes, all running wonderfully. Had around the same number of Deathstars die. WesternDigital also seem to be good.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 22/6/05 5:22PM
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I can vote for the modern ranges of hard drives that come with 3 or 5 year warrenties, instead of the normal 1 year. They're often slightly more expensive, but certainly a hell of a lot better. My current favored hard drives are the higher-end WD Caviers and the chunkier Maxtors. If you buy the cheaper Maxtors, they can be quite delicate.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 22/6/05 5:45PM
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When buying hard discs for a RAID, try to avoid using drives that all come from the same batch. We had a drive fail (Maxtor) and within a day, the other half of the mirrored RAID died (also a Maxtor). They were bought at the same time from the same supplier.

I can't vouch for Maxtors but I can vouch for remote backup procedures.

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 22/6/05 6:20PM
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Re: arawnsley

I seem to remember that we were told the drives in the Iyonix were chosen because they were one of the quietest available. Was it due to Fluid Bearings ?

I purchased another larger drive of the same Make/Model range, through my work place, to add to my Iyonix to keep it quiet. The drive was not cheap, even at trade price.

I have not had any problems so far, touch wood.

 is a RISC OS Userajb on 22/6/05 6:25PM
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I also had problems with a few (about six or seven IIRC) IBM DeathStar drives, but none failed completely, I was always able to rescue the data from them. When they stopped working, I always got them working again with the DFT software, copied the data off them and then only used them in computers where it would not matter if they failed (like networked Windows PC wich kept all the user data on a fileserver). All except one are still working fine today.

After that I avoided IBM and Hitachi drives for a while, but started using newer Hitachi drives again when I started to use watercooling for HDDs. I have never had any problems with Hitachi drives.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/6/05 6:40PM
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We have about a hundred Fujitsu drives running day and night in telecom equipment. Altough they are often to hot to touch there are only 1 or 2 replacements a year.

 is a RISC OS UserJaco on 22/6/05 8:32PM
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ajb - i have never heard of maxtors being described as quiet drives, but I'm prepared to be proven wrong. The quiet drives (of the iyonix generation) were the seagate units. I know the Mpro3 author switched his maxtor for a seagate to reduce system noise. Samsungs are also pretty quiet. Western dig introduced fluid bearings too, but I never really noticed a significant noise reduction. I do notice that different drives (even from same range) seem to vary considerably in noise levels, so I think it is hard to pinpoint this stuff. Sorry to bang on about the maxtors - it may just have been several bad batches of the 7200rpm drives that i've come across.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 23/6/05 1:01AM
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I was alerted to this problem of RPCs in Australian summers, by Mal McLenaghan, who advised some simple case mods which appear to keep the drives quite cool. If anyone is interested I can email the mod description rather than take up room here. I assume that Mal would not mind.

 is a RISC OS Userhexa0503 on 23/6/05 6:04AM
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For just about any disc drive manufacturer you can name, some people will swear by them, and some people will swear at them. I think they've all been guilty of producing an unreliable series at sometime or another. Or they've pushed slighly too much from one generation before introducing the next, which leads to problems with particular sizes while the rest are trouble free. You should also note that several makes have now merged, such as Maxtor and Quantum, so the same drives may be sold under different trademarks.

I'll have to disable the fan in the caddy to compare the spinning noise level of the Maxtor DiamondMax in the Iyonix and the Segate Barracuda backup drives. The latter are certainly quieter when head stepping, and have faster seek times (a DiscKnight check takes half as long), but the overall transfer rates at various block sizes (using PowerTec's !Speed) are almost identical.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 23/6/05 12:16PM
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There is an artical in this weeks "Electronics Weekly" newspaper which mentions the effects of temperature on electronic equipment. It is actually about power supplies but the point made is "Every 10C rise in temperature halves system MTBF" which is probably valid for most devices.

 is a RISC OS Userjeffd on 24/6/05 8:24AM
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It's quite disturbing how hot hard drives can get, and surprising how often they aren't cooled properly, even though manufacturers state that proper cooling is the best way to prevent failure. If you don't want your data to go AWOL, back up regularly on to a different system or a web-based email account, and put any hard drives in a 5 1/4" fan-cooled caddy.

 is a RISC OS Userrpozz on 25/6/05 2:13AM
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rpoz wrote: If you don't want your data to go AWOL, back up regularly on to a different system or a web-based email account, and put any hard drives in a 5 1/4" fan-cooled caddy.

Unfortunately this can tripple the noise output of the Iyonix. The solution is to either keep the caddy unlocked which powers down the drive and the fan, but means you have to lock it and reboot if you want to access it. Or if its a backup drive you only need to use occationally, but dont want to have to reboot first, you can disconnect the fan in the caddy frame (and maybe also in the caddy too) and spin down the drive with SYS XADFS_PowerControl 2 5 0 in the boot sequence (the X for of the SWI will prevent an error if the drive isn't present). Remember not to run the drive for too long without cooling if you do this, and to issue the command to spin it down after use.

I tend to do both in my Iyonix, by keeping it unlocked most of the time, but I have also disconnected the fan and spin the disc down when it is locked. As the internal temperature of the Iyonix is quite low even with two hard drives powered up, I feel this is an acceptible risk. In the Risc PC I have left the fan connected in the caddy frame (theres also one it its usual caddy) as the cooling isn't as good, and as even with a quiter PSU fan fitted its quite loud so the caddy fan doesn't make much more of a difference. Remember with the Risc PC though, if you shut the flap it will make the caddy quiter, but it also wont get any airflow!

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 28/06/05 12:07AM
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