The Princess and the HDD: Poor Design Choices

You’ll all remember my grand adventure in acquiring a photocopier. Well, it’s been a rollercoaster, I tell ya. While I still haven’t found a modification worthy enough to attempt, I have become increasingly frustrated. From time to time, I like to invite my friends and family over for dinner, and conversation naturally turns to things like the art on the walls, the fish in the aquarium, or perhaps the photocopier in the living room. Now, I dearly love to share my passions with others, so it’s pretty darned disappointing when I go to fire off a few copies only to have the machine fail to boot! It was time to tackle this problem once and for all.

When powered up, the photocopier would sit at a “Please Wait…” screen for a very long time, before eventually coughing up an error code — SC990 — and an instruction to call for service. A bunch of other messages would flash up as well; Address Book Data Error, Hard Drive Data Error, and so on. In the end I realized they all centered around data storage.

Pictured: the author, in his happy place, at peace with the copier.

Now, I’d already tried diving into the service menu once before, and selected the option to format the hard drive. That had led to the problem disappearing for a short period, but now it was back. No amount of mashing away at the keypad would work this time. The format commands simply returned “Failed” every time. What to do next? You guessed it, it was time for a teardown!

Thankfully, photocopiers are designed for easy servicing — someone’s paying for all those service calls. A few screws and large panels were simply popping off with ease; completely the opposite of working on cars. Spotting the hard drive was easy, it looked like some sort of laptop IDE unit. With only SATA laptops around the house to salvage parts from, I wasn’t able to come up with something to swap in.

A bit of research (and reading the label) taught me that the drive was a Toshiba MK2023GAS/HDD2187. Replacements were available on eBay, but if I waited two weeks I’d probably be wrist deep in some other abandoned equipment. It had to be sorted on the night. In the words of [AvE], if you can’t fix it… well, you know how it goes. I yanked the drive and, lo and behold – the copier booted straight up! Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I churned out a few copies, and other than the continued jamming on all-black pages, everything was fine. Literally all it took to get the copier to boot was to remove the ailing drive. Suffice to say, I was kind of dumbfounded.

The hard drive a.k.a. the villain of the piece.

I’m happy to chalk up the win, but I have to draw issue with Ricoh’s design here. The copier is clearly capable of operating perfectly well without a hard drive. It will give up its document server and address book abilities, but it will still make copies and print without a problem.

Yet, when the copier’s drive fails, the unit fails completely and refuses to work. This necessitates a service call for the average user to get anything at all happening again — causing much lost work and productivity. A better design in my eyes would have the copier notify users of the lost functionality due to the failed drive and the need to call service, but let them copy! Any IT administrator will know the value of a bodged work around that keeps the company limping along for the day versus having a room of forty agitated workers with nothing to do. It’s a shame Ricoh chose to have the photocopier shut down completely rather than valiantly fight on.

Feel free to chime in with your own stories of minor failures that caused total shutdowns in the comments. Video below the break.

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Brushless HDD Motor Driver from 9V and Painter’s Tape

Hard drives work by spinning platters full of magnetized data while a read/write head very quickly harvests or changes bits as needed. Older (or perhaps cheaper) drives spin at 5400 RPM, better drives spin at 7200 RPM, and elite drives (that mortals like you never shell out for) spin in the 10k-15k RPM range. This spinning is thanks to a sweet combination of a bearing and a brushless DC motor.

Unfortunately you can’t drive a brushless motor without a brushless motor driver. Well, of course that’s not absolutely true — and [Tommy Callaway] has certainly hacked together a crude exception to the rule. He’s using a 9-volt battery and some blue painters tape to drive a brushless motor.

Brushless motors do their thing by placing permanent magnets on the rotor (the part that spins) and placing multiple stationary coils of wire around it. Brushless motor drivers then energize these coils in a vary carefully timed pattern to continuously push the rotor magnets in the same direction.

[Tommy] wired up his 9V to one of these coils and observed that it holds the rotor in position. He then began playing around with different ways automatically break the circuit to de-energize the coil at just the right time. This means using the spinning center of the hard drive as part of the circuit, with blue painter’s tape in alternating patterns to create the timing. Is this a brushless motor driver, or has he just re-invented the brushed motor?

If this workbench trick leaves you wanting for some hardcore BLCD action, you can’t go wrong with this $20 offering to push motors at very high speeds.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Orchestral Invention Defies Convention

Like many of us, [Laurens] likes video game music and bending hardware to his will. Armed with a Printrbot, a couple of floppy drives, and some old HDDs, he built the Unconventional Instrument Orchestra. This 2015 Hackaday Prize contender takes any MIDI file and plays it on stepper and solenoid-based hardware through a Java program.

A while back, [Laurens] won a Fubarino in our contest by using a MIDI keyboard and an Arduino to control the Minecraft environment with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time songs. The Unconventional Instrument Orchestra uses that Fubarino of victory to control the steppers of two floppy drives. He only needed three pins to control the drives—one to enable, one to set the head’s direction, and one to make it step once per pulse.

If ever you’ve been around a 3D printer, you know they make music as a natural side effect. The problem is getting the printer to obey the rests in a piece of music. In order to do this, [Laurens] used his software to control the printer, essentially withholding the next command until the appropriate time in the song.

The percussive elements of this orchestra are provided by a hard drive beating its head against the wall. Since it’s basically impossible to get an HDD to do this as designed (thankfully), [Laurens] replaced the control board with a single transistor to drive the coil that moves the head.

[Laurens] has made several videos of the orchestra in concert, which are a joy all their own. Most of the visual real estate of each video is taken up with a real-time visualization of the music produced by the software. There’s still plenty of room to show the orchestra itself, song-specific gameplay, and a textual commentary crawl in 16-segment displays. Check out the playlist we’ve embedded after the break.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Hard Drive Becomes Hard Drive Activity Light; Stores no Data

A while ago [Frank Zhao] built a computer in an aquarium. It’s exactly what you would expect – a bunch of parts stuffed into a container filled with mineral oil. Yes, there’s an i7 and a GTX970 in there, but there’s also a bunch of neopixels and a neat little bubbling treasure chest. That wasn’t enough for [Frank], and he wanted to add a HDD activity monitor. What’s the most absurd activity monitor for an SSD? An old platter-based drive, of course.

The build is relatively simple and something [Frank] put together from spare parts in a day. After cracking open an old PATA hard drive, the voice coil for the hard drive arm was connected to the motherboard’s HDD activity signal through a few MOSFETs. The platter motor is controlled by an MTD6501 motor driver, set to spin up when the circuit is on.

It’s a kludge as far as controlling the components of a hard drive go, but that’s not really the point. It’s just a neat project to show when the SSD in the aquarium computer is being accessed. That said, the activity monitor is currently disconnected because the old HDD is so freakin’ loud. It looks really cool, though.

HDD POV clock takes the best from those that came before it

hdd-pov-clock

The concept behind this clock has been seen before, but [Dieter] tried to combine the best aspects of several projects into his HDD POV clock (translated). The basic principle of the design is to cut a slot into the top platter of the hard drive. This will let the light from some LEDs shine through. By carefully synchronizing the LED with the spinning platter a set of differently colored hands can be shown to mark time. We’ve been looking at the project for several minutes now and we’re not quite sure if the lines marking the 5-minute segments on the clock are generated in the same way as the hands, or if they’re marks on a faceplate on top of the platters. Check out the clip after the break and let us know what you think.

Past HDD clock project include this one, or this other one. Some of the design improvements include a better motor driver (which [Dieter] pulled from an old VCR) and the inclusion of an RTC chip to keep accurate time without the need to be connected to a computer. We also think it’s a nice touch to sandwich the hardware between two picture frames for a nice finished look.

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Repurposing old HDD Components

hdd-stepper

[IronJungle] had an old hard drive taking up space in his workshop, so he took it apart and wrote in to remind us how useful these old pieces of hardware can be. Aside from offering up incredibly strong magnets and donut-shaped mirrors, HDDs also come with a reliable stepper motor in tow.

He pulled theold drive apart, wiring up two of the stepper motor pins to a pair of the drive’s header pins. This allowed him to easily access the signals produced by the stepper simply by hooking up a small JST connector to the back of the drive.

From there, he can use the drive for any number of purposes. For the sake of discussion, [IronJungle] used it to flash an LED as seen in the video below – something he willingly admits is no great feat. However, stepper motors can be used for in a wide array of projects, both simple and complex. Be sure to share your favorite use for salvaged HDD motors in the comments.

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Slick 16-segment POV hard drive clock

pov_hdd_clock

Hackaday reader [svofski] sent in a fantastic looking hard drive-based POV clock (Google Translation) created by a maker in the Sichuan province of China. The clock, like the one [svofski] built, relies on LEDs placed behind the spinning platter to create the POV effect.

Quite a few carefully placed cuts have been made to the platter, which make up the segments required to display both numbers and letters of the alphabet. This isn’t a simple 16-segment POV display however. The font uses a lot of sharp edges and odd segment lengths, so we’re guessing that quite a bit of care was taken in the production of this clock.

You can see a demonstration of the clock in the video embedded below, which shows off its ability to display numbers, text, as well as a handful of simple patterns. It looks like there are some details available on the designer’s site, however it is all in Chinese, and Google’s translation is questionable at best. If only we knew someone that could give us a hand with deciphering the inner-workings of this clock…

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