Wednesday, October 24, 2007

RIP, dear old Maxtor 71084A

I have an old computer, purchased in 1996, which has been serving for many years as our Internet gateway, firewall, DNS, and mail server. For an 11 year old computer I think it's doing pretty well. Aside from the CD-ROM, which died several years ago, it's held up pretty well. Until Sunday. Sunday, the primary hard drive, a venerable Maxtor 71084A manufactured in 1996, developed a handful of bad sectors, rendering the machine rather ill. One of the files affected was /bin/sh, which really hampered the usability of the machine.

The guy at Fry's was clearly amused when I told him I was replacing a 1 GB hard drive. The biggest problem I have replacing this drive is that IDE is on its way out; virtually everything is SATA now, and what IDE drives remain are, for the most part, superbig things over 200 GB in size. I'm not even sure that this old computer can handle a 200GB drive -- or that its motherboard would accept an accessory IDE or SATA controller. I mean, this computer has ISA slots, one of which holds a genuine 3C509B Etherlink III card complete with dual-media connectors (10-Base-T and 10-Base-2). Fortunately, it's still possible to get IDE drives as small as 40GB. The BIOS on this box can only see the first 8GB, but of course I'm a wise Linux admin and already have a small boot partition to hold the kernel and so forth, so I didn't have to cope with the issues that can raise. Recovery, after getting the drive, wasn't too hard: hang the old drive off my other Linux box, dd off the three live partitions (the fourth partition is a swap partition and can just be mkswaped) and the partition table, then attach the new drive, dd the partition table and the partitions onto the new drive, fsck each partition in turn, and restore any damaged files from backup. After doing all this, then, a little parted magic takes advantage of the fact that the drive is 38 times larger than it used to be, and now /home is 32GB instead of 0.5GB. Put the new drive into the old box, and it rebooted straightaway into Linux.

What truly amazes me is that this computer is the machine I used for so many years for GIMP development. And, for much of that, with just the 1GB drive that just finally died after 11 years of faithful service. If only all my hard drives would last so long.