A Look Back At The Xbox 360’s Hard Drive Security

Anyone who’s owned a game console from the last couple of generations will tell you that the machines are  becoming increasingly like set-top computers  —  equipped with USB ports, Bluetooth, removable hard drives, and their own online software repositories. But while this overlap theoretically offers considerable benefits, such as the ability to use your own USB controller rather than being stuck with the system’s default, the manufacturers haven’t always been so accommodating.

Take for example the removable hard drive of the Xbox 360. It was a bog standard 2.5″ SATA drive inside a fancy enclosure, but as explained by [Eaton], Microsoft went to considerable lengths to prevent the user from upgrading it themselves. Which wouldn’t have been such a big deal, if the Redmond giant wasn’t putting a huge markup on the things; even in 2005, $99 USD for 20 GBs was highway robbery. Continue reading “A Look Back At The Xbox 360’s Hard Drive Security”

Tiny Dongle Brings The Hard Drive’s Song Back To Updated Retrocomputers

Back in the “beige box” days of computing, it was pretty easy to tell what your machine was doing just by listening to it, because the hard drive was constantly thrashing the heads back and forth. It was sometimes annoying, but never as annoying as hearing the stream of Geiger counter-like clicks stop when you knew it wasn’t done loading a program yet.

That “happy sound” is getting harder to come by, even on retro machines, which increasingly have had their original thrash-o-matic drives replaced with compact flash and other solid-state drives. This HDD sound simulator aims to fill that diagnostic and nostalgic gap on any machine that isn’t quite clicky enough for you. Sadly, [Matthias Werner] provides no build details for his creation, but between the longish demo video below (by a satisfied customer) and the details of the first version, it’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on here. An ATtiny and a few support components ride on a small PCB along with a piezoelectric speaker. The dongle connects to the hard drive activity light, which triggers a series of clicks from the speaker that sound remarkably like a hard drive heading seeking tracks. A demo starts at 7:09 in the video below; the very brave — or very nostalgic — might want to check out the full defragmentation that starts at 13:11.

Sure, this one is perhaps a bit over-the-top, but in the retrocomputing world, no price is too high to pay in the name of nostalgia. And it’s still far from the most ridiculous hard drive activity indicator we’ve seen.

Continue reading “Tiny Dongle Brings The Hard Drive’s Song Back To Updated Retrocomputers”

3D Printer Upcycles Computer Case To DAS

Storage technologies are a bit of an alphabet soup, with NAS, SAN, and DAS systems being offered. That’s Network Attached Storage, Storage Area Network, and Direct Attached Storage. The DAS is the simplest, just physical drives attached to a machine, usually in a separate box custom made for the purpose. That physical box can be expensive, particularly if you live on an island like [Nicholas Sherlock], where shipping costs can be prohibitively high. So what does a resourceful hacker do, particularly one who has a 3d printer? Naturally, he designs a conversion kit and turns an available computer case into a DAS.

There’s some clever work here, starting with the baseplate that re-uses the ATX screw pattern. Bolted to that plate are up to four drive racks, each holding up to four drives. So all told, you can squeeze 16 drives into a handy case. The next clever bit is the Voronoi pattern, an organic structure that maximizes airflow and structural strength with minimal filament. A pair of 140mm fans hold the drives at a steady 32C in testing, but that’s warm enough that ABS is the way to go for the build. Keep in mind that the use of a computer case also provides a handy place to put the power supply, which uses the pin-short trick to provide power.

Data is handled with 4 to 1 SATA to SAS breakout cables, internal to external SAS converters, and an external SAS cable to the host PC. Of course, you’ll need a SAS card in your host PC to handle the connections. Thankfully you can pick those up on ebay for $20 USD and up.

If this looks good, maybe check out some other takes on this concept!

Building A Serial Bus To Save An Old Hard Drive

Universal Serial Bus has been the de facto standard for sending information to and from computer peripherals for almost two decades, but despite the word “universal” in the name this wasn’t always the case. Plenty of competing standards, including USB, existed in the computing world in the decades before it came to dominance, and if you’re trying to recover data from a computer without USB you might have to get creative with how it’s done.

[Ben] recently came across a 80486 with this problem, so he had to get creative to recover the contents of the drive. He calls it the “lunchbox” computer due to its form factor, and while it doesn’t have USB it does have a tried-and-trusted serial port to communicate with other computers. [Ben] wrote up a piece of software for both the receiving computer and the sending computer in order to copy the drive sectors one by one across a serial link to a standalone computer running Windows XP, and was able to recover the contents of the drive that way instead.

All of the code [Ben] wrote is available on his GitHub page for anyone looking to boot up a 30-year-old computer again. While it might sound uncommon, computers of this vintage are still around running things like CNC machines or old mainframes.

Backpack COVID-19 lab

HDD Centrifuge Puts COVID-19 Testing Lab In A Backpack

Throughout this two-year global COVID-19 nightmare, one thing that has been sorely lacking is access to testing. “Flu-like symptoms” covers a lot of ground, and knowing if a sore throat is just a sore throat or something more is important enough that we’ve collectively plowed billions into testing. Unfortunately, the testing infrastructure remains unevenly distributed, which is a problem this backpack SARS-CoV-2 testing lab aims to address.

The portable lab, developed by [E. Emily Lin] and colleagues at the Queen Mary University of London, uses a technique called LAMP, for loop-mediated isothermal amplification. LAMP probably deserves an article of its own to explain the process, but suffice it to say that like PCR, LAMP amplifies nucleic acid sequences, but does so without the need for expensive thermal cycling equipment. The kit contains a microcentrifuge that’s fashioned from an e-waste hard drive, a 3D printed rotor, and an Arduino to drive the motor and control the speed. The centrifuge is designed to run on any 12 VDC source, meaning the lab can be powered by a car battery or solar panel if necessary. Readout relies on the trusty Mark I eyeball and a pH-indicating buffer that changes color depending on how much SARS-CoV-2 virus was in the sample.

Granted, the method used here still requires more skill to perform than a simple “spit on a stick” rapid antigen test, and it’s somewhat more subjective than the “gold standard” quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay. But the method is easily learned, and the kit’s portability, simple design, and low-cost construction could make it an important tool in attacking this pandemic, or the next one.

Thanks to [Christian Himmler] for the tip.

Controller Swaps Can Save An HDD If You Do It Right

Hard drives are fragile and reliable all at once. It’s entirely possible to have a hard drive fail, even if your data is still in perfect condition on the magnetic platters inside. [Keith Sherry] was recently trying to recover data for a friend off a damaged hard drive, and demonstrated that modern twists on old tricks can still work.

The drive in question was an old 160GB disk that itself was being used as a backup. Of course, a backup you haven’t tested is no backup at all, and this one failed in the hour it was most needed.

The suspicion was that the controller board was the culprit, and that swapping the board out might bring things back to life. Back in the day, this was a common hacker trick. However, it often fails with modern drives, which store a great deal of drive-specific calibration data on the controller board. Without this specific data, another controller will be unable to access the data on the drive, and could even cause damage.

However, as [Keith] demonstrates, there is a way around this. A controller from a similar drive was sourced, albeit from a SATA version of the drive versus the original which used USB. A single chip is then removed from the original controller, containing the calibration data specific to that drive. Soldering this chip onto the new controller got everything up and running, and the files could be recovered.

If your data is invaluable, it’s likely worth paying a professional. As [Keith] demonstrates though, the old tricks can still come in handy as long as your techniques are up to date. DIYing your own data recovery can be done, it’s just risky is all.

Oh, and don’t forget — once you’ve recovered the files, throw the drive away. Don’t keep using it! Video after the break.

Continue reading “Controller Swaps Can Save An HDD If You Do It Right”

Transparent Hard Drive Gives Peek At The Platters

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are all the rage these days, and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean the era of the spinning disk is over, as traditional mechanical hard drives still offer a compelling value for mass storage applications where access times aren’t as critical. But the components inside these “slow” mechanical drives are still moving at incredible speeds, which [The Developer Guy] has nicely illustrated with his transparent hard drive.

Now unfortunately the technology to produce a fully transparent hard drive doesn’t exist, but laser cutting a new top plate out of acrylic is certainly within the means of the average hacker. The process is pretty straightforward: cut out a piece of clear plastic in the same shape and size as the drive’s original lid, put the appropriate mounting holes in it, and find some longer screws to accommodate the increased thickness.

Because this is just for a demonstration, [The Developer Guy] doesn’t need to worry too much about dust or debris getting on the platters; but we should note that performing this kind of modification on a drive you intend on actually using would be a bad idea unless you’ve got a cleanroom to work in.

In the videos below [The Developer Guy] records the drive while it’s in use, and at one point puts a microscope on top of the plastic to get a close-up view of the read/write head twitching back and forth. We particularly liked the time-lapse of the drive being formatted, as you can see the arm smoothly moving towards the center of the drive. Unfortunately the movement of the platters themselves is very difficult to perceive given their remarkably uniform surface, but make no mistake, they’re spinning at several thousand RPM.

Have an old mechanical drive of your own that you’re not sure what to do with? We’ve seen them turned into POV clocks, impromptu rotary encoders, and even surprisingly powerful blower fans.

Continue reading “Transparent Hard Drive Gives Peek At The Platters”