Breaking SATA Connectors

I’ve just broken my second SATA connector. This isn’t a lot considering the number of hard drives I’ve worked with, but it’s still really annoying as I generally don’t break things.

The problem is that unplugging a SATA cable requires pushing a little clip, this isn’t overly difficult but it unfortunately doesn’t fit well with habits formed from previous hardware. The power cables used for hard drives based on the ST-506 interface which was copied for the IDE interface was large and had a fairly tight fit. Removing such a cable requires a significant amount of force – which is about the same as the amount of force required to break a SATA connector.

When I first started using PCs a reasonably configured AT system cost over $5,000 (maybe something like $10,000 in today’s money). With that sort of price hardly anyone had a set of test PCs. When hardware prices dropped such that hard drives of reasonable size became reasonably affordable on the second-hand market I bought more disks and used some for extra storage and some for testing software. As there was nothing like VMWare for testing OS images the way to test a new OS was to plug in a different hard drive and boot it. So I got a lot of practice at removing IDE power cables with as much force as was necessary.

Now I own a pile of test PCs, SATA disks less than 100G are free, I use Xen for a lot of my testing, and generally I have much less need to swap hard drives around. In most situations in which I would swap hard drives in the 90’s I will now swap PCs and I have piles of PCs ready for this purpose. So I haven’t had enough practice with SATA disks to develop habits for safely removing them.

So far this lack of habit development has resulted in damaging two disks due to changing drives while not concentrating enough. Fortunately duct-tape works well for holding a SATA connector in place when the plastic that attaches to the clip is broken.

3 comments to Breaking SATA Connectors

  • Tobias

    Maybe you should invest in some of those quick-swap bays?

    They are about 20 € here in Germany, probably less if you use no-name stuff…

  • etbe

    Thanks for the suggestion, however the problem with that is that most of my test machines are cheaper desktop systems which have only one 5.25″ bay which is for a DVD drive. As I need that (many of them fail to boot from USB so I need to install from CD) I don’t really have an option.

    Also 20E multiplied by the number of systems in my test pile is a fair amount of money. As long as I can continue to only break small and cheap disks it would be cheaper to just lose a disk occasionally – although so far I haven’t even broken a single disk so badly that it became unusable.

  • Tom

    “The power cables used for hard drives […] required a significant amount of force – which is about the same as the amount of force required to break a SATA connector.”

    *ggg* Great one. Hope, I may quote you, occasionally.