Mistaken Identity — Piezo Actuators Not Test Pads

One hard disk recently failed in the EEVBlog laboratory’s NAS. Keeping true to his catch phrase, [Dave “Tear it Apart” Jones] opened it up and gave us an inside tour of a modern hard disk drive. There are so many technological wonders to behold in modern HDDs these days — the mechanical design, electronics and magnetics, and the signal processing itself which is basically an advanced RF receiver — that we can forgive [Dave] for glossing over a system of piezo actuators thinking they were manufacturing test points. Even knowing they are actuators, you have to stare at them and think for a bit before your brain accepts it.

Later realizing the mistake, he made a follow-up video (down below) focusing on just the disk head actuator arms and this micro-actuation system (or perhaps they are milli-actuators). The basic concept is a pair of piezoelectric transducers mounted on either side of the short arm holding the read head. Presumably they are driven out of phase to flex the arm left or right, but the motion is imperceptible to the eye — even under magnification, [Dave] was not able to discern any motion when he pulsed the transducers. When you consider that these micro-actuators are mounted on the main actuator arm, which itself is also in motion, the nested control loop arrangement to maintain nanometers of accuracy is truly amazing. Check out this 45 second explanatory video by Western Digital which has a good animation of the concept.

If you want to see your HDD in operation without taking it apart, check out the transparent drive we wrote about last month. And to read more about esoteric actuators, check out this article from 2015 which contains one of the longest words to appear in our pages — magnetorheological. If you’ve experience a hard disk failure, which thankfully is becoming rarer these days, do you chunk it or tear it apart?

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The Hard Drive MIDI Controller

[shantea] builds MIDI controllers, and after a successful first endeavor with a matrix of buttons and knobs, he decided to branch out to something a little bit cooler. It’s called Ceylon, and it’s effectively a turntable controller built from an old hard drive.

As a contrast to the first MIDI controller, this would be a stripped-down build, with just three faders, LEDs for eye candy, a pair of pots for gain control, and a hard disk surrounded by six anti-vandal buttons. The hard disk is the star of the show, acting as a rotary encoder.

When manually spun, the hard disk generates a few phases of sinusoidal waves. The faster you spin it, the higher the amplitude and frequency. These signals are far too weak to be sampled directly by a microcontroller, and for digital control – as in, MIDI – you don’t need to read the analog signals anyway. These signals were turned digital with the help of an LM339 quad comparator. With two of these comparators and signals out of the hard disk that are 90 degrees out of phase, quadrature encoding is pretty easy.

The software for this MIDI controller is based on the OpenDeck Platform, a neat system that allows anyone to create their own MIDI controllers and devices.  It’s also a great looking board that seems to perform well. Video below.

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PCI I-RAM Working Without A PCI Slot

[Gnif] had a recent hard drive failure in his home server. When rebuilding his RAID array, he decided to update to the ZFS file system. While researching ZFS, [Gnif] learned that the file system allows for a small USB cache disk to greatly improve his disk performance. Since USB is rather slow, [Gnif] had an idea to try to use an old i-RAM PCI card instead.

The problem was that he didn’t have any free PCI slots left in his home server. It didn’t take long for [Gnif] to realize that the PCI card was only using the PCI slot for power. All of the data transfer is actually done via a SATA cable. [Gnif] decided that he could likely get by without an actual PCI slot with just a bit of hacking.

[Gnif] desoldered a PCI socket from an old faulty motherboard, losing half of the pins in the process. Luckily, the pins he needed still remained. [Gnif] knew that DDR memory can be very power-hungry. This meant that he couldn’t only solder one wire for each of the 3v, 5v, 12v, and ground pins. He had to connect all of them in order to share the current load. All in all, this ended up being about 20 pins. He later tested the current draw and found it reached as high as 1.2 amps, confirming his earlier decision. Finally, the reset pin needed to be pulled to 3.3V in order to make the disk accessible.

All of the wires from his adapter were run to Molex connectors. This allows [Gnif] to power the device from a computer power supply. All of the connections were covered in hot glue to prevent them from wriggling lose.