Just How Poorly are IDE Cables Made?

LS-120 and IDE cable imageSince I’m working on two new books, I have, once again, gotten into my LS-120 backup habit. I have been copying files down to a Super Floppy on that one machine for a while now. The other day, when I had family type obligations, I decided to apply updates since I didn’t really have time to get into writing mode. After the updates were applied I decided to make one more Super Floppy backup for off-site storage. A good backup system utilizes both on-site and off-site storage. No, I don’t backup to “the cloud” because that is insecure. So what if I’m not writing missile guidance systems? I don’t want some hacker stealing my stuff, or worse yet, trashing it because they are bored.

That extra backup set off what became a two day journey (around family obligations) to track down why my trusty LS-120 sat there bumping the disk instead of spinning it up and reading it.

You bet, the first thing to get the evil eye was the updates. I had visions of some 12 year old “package maintainer” deciding since they had never heard of an LS-120 it shouldn’t be needed, then deleting support for it. Not an unrealistic thought since internal fax modem support died in a similar manner in Ubuntu. In that particular case the “package maintainer” lived in a country where it was illegal to sell or ship faxmodem hardware so the maintainer couldn’t test anything.

So, I dug out a Linux-Lite DVD and booted from it. Since that was well before any current changes and it worked in the past, if the updates were the culprit this would be the quickest way to find out. LL found the drive but the media just sat there getting bumped. Being a bit pressed for time and not thinking clearly, I booted some other DVDs. The PCLinuxOS Live DVD couldn’t find the hardware. An older Ubuntu distro found the hardware and achieved the same results.

After getting back from a family gathering I opened the case and installed a new LS-120 drive which had never been installed in a machine. (I still have one more virgin in a box and no, it is not for sale.) Exact same result, even from the live DVDs. This, however, revealed the power supply was starting to make some noise and the noise was getting louder. I have had power supplies die a slow death before. Getting too weak for the machine instead of having the decency to just die. Once more into the case.

Removal of the power supply and all of its connections showed that this particular motherboard had an actual IDE connection. It had just been hidden behind the mobo power connection. This meant I didn’t need the add-in card so I took it out while installing the new power supply. Yes, I keep spares. Power supplies usually die right when I’m trying to get something done for a client and I live rural. Getting a new power supply is not a 10 minute trip.

Like an idiot, I put the cover back on the case. I figured a new power supply with a new LS-120 would be fine with the existing IDE cable. I mean that cable was brand new when I put it in. If you can see the image for this post you can see the actual cable and the once virgin LS-120. Sure enough, same problem.

Now, LS-120 and floppy drives historically had a problem with screws. If a screw was a bit too long they could come in contact with the drive causing drag and preventing them from spinning up to speed. I had remember this when putting the virgin drive in and used even shorter screws.

Desperation ultimately becomes a source of logic. I dug through my box of cables and found my last brand new IDE cable. It was an old school IDE cable, pre-blue-connector era. I even put back in the original LS-120 this time and all was right with the world.

Over the past 5 years I’ve had quite a few IDE cables “partially fail.” It’s odd since I have so few IDE drives anymore. IDE cables seem to be notorious for this. Just a pin or two goes bad in them making it seem like it couldn’t possibly be the cable. Sadly, it is almost always the cable, not the drive.