Fix for Disappearing WD15EARS

I recently bought a new 1.5TB Caviar Green Western Digital hard drive to serve as a backup for my music, movies and photos.  This replaced two aging 7200RPM drives that had started showing chkdsk errors.  I decided to go with the “Green” edition since I didn’t need stellar performance at the cost of more heat, noise, and energy usage.  When Newegg had it on sale for $95, I pulled the trigger.  When it came, everything worked perfectly: benchmarks checked out, chkdsk reported no errors, and the AHCI driver booted faster than it had before.

Everything seemed peachy until I resumed my system from sleep and noticed the drive was mysteriously missing.  It didn’t show up in My Computer, in Device Manager, or in the Disk Management section of Administrative Tools.  I assumed that either the SATA data or power cable had somehow come unplugged.  I turned it off, and opened the case–cables were fine.  I turned it back on, drive reappeared.  Weird.  The next day, I had the exact same problem, though only after I resumed the computer from sleep.  When I restarted the system, it reappeared.  Weird.

I knew that it probably wasn’t a cable problem because SATA is hot-swappable, so I poked around on Google and found a few other people with the same problem.  Eventually I found this post, which claimed that installing a hotfix from Microsoft fixed the problem.  Apparently, Windows normally throws a stop error if a hard drive takes longer than 10 seconds to spin up after resuming from sleep.  The hotfix prevents this behavior.  Checking the S.M.A.R.T. data from the drive, the disk claimed that it had a spin-up time of 5967 milliseconds–a far cry from the 10 second threshold used by Windows.  Even though everything didn’t entirely make sense, I installed the hotfix to see if it would work.

Success!  The drive hasn’t disappeared since I applied the patch.  I suspect that the “GreenPower Technology” in the disk’s controller delays or lengthens the spin-up time to use less power.  This trips the 10 second limit imposed by Windows, and the drive disappears in a puff of smoke.

See Microsoft Knowledge Base 977178 for more info.  I can’t say for sure, but this fix probably also applies to any cases of disappearing WD10EARS or WD20EARS drives as well.

Use the same Windows 7 key when dual-booting

For everyday computing, I use Windows 7 Professional 64-bit on my Acer Timeline laptop. This has worked out great in pretty much every regard except one: my DJ MIDI controller. My Behringer BCD3000 uses two drivers, one for audio in/out and one for midi in/out. The audio driver is 64-bit compatible; the MIDI driver is not. Thus, I cannot effectively DJ on my 64-bit operating system.

In the past I got around this by installing Windows 7 Release Candidate 32-bit on a second partition.  When I wanted to DJ, I just restarted and booted into the new partition.  This worked great until this February when the release candidate began to force a restart every four hours, later every two hours.  Ugh.  Would I need to use another one of my MSDNAA keys on a computer that already has a legit license?  Or would Microsoft let me install and activate the 32-bit version?  I knew that when reformatting, Microsoft can check used keys against the original hardware configuration.  I just didn’t know if it made the distinction between 32 and 64 bit.  I gave it a shot.

Success!  Activation of Windows 7 Professional 32-bit worked even when I had already used that key on a 64-bit install on the same machine.  I wasn’t sure if this was intended so I called their tech support.  Amir told me that this is fine.  This is indeed a rare happy ending in the annals of DRM and product activation.

Must-Have Desktop Utilities: Launchy and AutoHotkey

I frequently get asked questions about some of the desktop utilities I use.  I’ll run through two of them here: Launchy and AutoHotkey.

Launchy

Launchy is an application launcher with the polish and look of modern software that has not forgotten its command-line roots.  It indexes specified directories, and provides easy access to any applications, shortcuts or files in those directories without having to touch the mouse.  Pressing [Alt] + [Space] brings up the main window, from which one can type in the (partial) name of any Start Menu item.  Launchy lists the most relevant result, and a quick [Enter] launches it.

Launchy

By default, it indexes all the items in the Windows Start Menu.  I also added a folder of shortcuts that sits on my desktop.  Whenever software adds shortcuts to my desktop, I move them into this folder.  This directory also includes shortcuts to every Control Panel item so that they’re indexed as well.  The end-result of indexing all these folders is a comprehensive, searchable keyboard-based program launcher.


Launchy with Runner searching Wikipedia

The most extensible features of Launchy are its plugins.  I use two: Runner and GCal.  Runner creates shortcuts that are executed as they would from the “Run” window.  The power lies in its ability to handle arguments by pressing [Tab] after typing the Runner shortcut.  I use this feature to quickly use a search engine without having to switch to my browser.  For example, I can run a Google search from any program by pressing [Alt] + [Tab] to start Launchy, type “google” then [Tab] then “France” then [Enter] to open a new tab in Firefox with a Google search for the query “France.”  I have this set up for Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Dictionary.com.  I also have shortcuts to GMail’s defaut compose message page and Google Calendar’s default new event page.

Launchy Runner configuration

GCal hooks into the Google Calendar API to allow you to add events to your calendar from the command line.  Using the Quick Add format, typing “gcal” then [Tab] then “Meeting with Chris at SciLi tomorrow at 3PM” automatically adds an event to my Google Calendar with the proper name, time and location filled in.  This makes it even easier to replace a traditional written calendar by having the ability to add an event so quickly.

Launchy is free and open source, for Windows and Linux.  Runner is included with the regular installer, and GCal can be downloaded from the forums.  I use the SE7EN skin.

AutoHotkey

AutoHotkey

While AutoHotkey (AHK) is an entire scripting language unto itself, I programmed a few very simple but extraordinarily helpful shortcut keys.  I found that I frequently copied and pasted text into the same search engines over and over again.  Just like with Launchy, the top four were Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and Dictionary.com.  To save time, I created an AHK script that would search each of these sites with my computer’s clipboard text as the query.  For example, after selecting and copying the words “Vancouver Olympics” to the clipboard, I can press [Win] + [G] to search Google, [Win] + [Y] to search YouTube, [Win] + [W] to search Wikipedia, and [Win] + [S] to search Dictionary.com.  After getting the hang of it, I noticed a real boost in speed when researching a topic on the web.

Dan's AutoHotkey Script

In my script I also included two extra shortcuts.  The keys  [Win] + [N] start Notepad and [Win] + [Insert] start Calculator.

AutoHotkey is free and open source, for Windows.  You can also download my short script.