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If you have an IDE hard drive that is totally trashed, you can attempt a low-level formatting. You may be able to recover enough of it to work, or to use it for temporary storage of your MP3 files until you burn them onto a CD-R.

First, a disclaimer:

DO NOT LOW-LEVEL FORMAT AN IDE DRIVE UNLESS IT IS ONE YOU DO NOT CARE ABOUT. BY ATTEMPTING TO RESURRECT IT, YOU CAN CREATE AN UNDEAD DRIVE THAT EATS YOUR DATA. NO, THIS IS NOT A JOKE.

When an IDE drive is made in the factory, it is low-level formatted. The formatting finds the "dead" spots in the drive during a burn-in process, and this defect map keeps your system from putting data into a black hole. The defect map is not created through the interface, but directly through the IDE system and the factory testing hardware.

IDE drives are very intelligent. If your computer does not have the exact proper setting for that particular hard drive, the IDE electronics automatically translate the physical characteristics of the actual drive to the virtual settings of the computer. When you low-level format an IDE hard drive, you can accidently kill the factory defect tables. For this same reason, never change the interleave settings on an older BIOS for an IDE hard drive.

Through the BIOS on some systems, you can perform a low-level format. This may make a hard drive with a large amount of defects usable again, at a much reduced capacity. I've had 1 gig drives lose 400 megs, but the remaining 600 worked for years after the process. Your drive may lost 90%, or it may lose 5%.

If your system does not support low-level formatting, boot from a bootable DOS diskette that has FORMAT, FDISK and DEBUG installed. To format the hard drive, at the DOS prompt type DEBUG. The prompt will change... this is OK. Type in G=C800:5 to start the formatting. What this command does is start a ROM program located at address C800:5. In this case, it is the low-level format command. The drive will chunk away until it is formatted. If you are in the DEBUG shell, type Q to quit back to the regular DOS prompt.

Now, just FDISK and FORMAT /S as usual. Run a few tests with big and little files to verify the drive has no major holes. Remember that this is a "temporary" drive, so don't put your operating system or important files on it unless you are so lacking in funds you have to chance it. Keep it as a temporary storage unit. I do have one resurrected drive on a 486-based Linux box, and it's been working for over 4 years with no return of the voodoo zombie data-eating defects. I'm sure there must be a Linux and UNIX version of this procedure, so please add them to this node.

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