Getting the Jumper on Hard Drives

Bare OEM drives are far from being a user-friendly consumer product.

For most of us, the exact details of hard disk evolution is a mystery. So we find it difficult to understand why a feature like jumpers still exist. Perhaps they are a vestigial organ, much like the tails and webbed feet that occur with surprisingly frequency in the human population. However, for ordinary users and even storage vendors, they can be a pain in the neck.

I was reminded of this problem with a recent message from Michael Adberg, one of the owners of TiVo upgrade specialists As you can imagine he deals with many different drives from a number of manufactures. And his customers also add an even wider range of disks to the upgrade kits.

Adberg complained about the difficulties jumpers present to his customers. Or more precisely, the level of support for the settings. He pointed to the Western Digital Caviar drive among others.

"Have you ever taken a look at the Western Digital Caviars jumper settings? The single or master setting is no jumper, and the single with a slave setting requires the jumper in the middle position."

"So if I buy an OEM Western Digital drive, it comes cable select, and if I want to run the drive as master, I have to pull the jumper. But if I later want to add a slave drive, I have to put the jumper back in. Now, I happen to be in a business where I handle hundreds of drives a week, so jumpers are not a problem for me. But for an average guy, theres no way I could find the jumper after I pulled it out," Adberg said.

He added that online support documentation can also prove difficult for novices.

"Now the diagram on the website shows a neutral (park) position for the jumper, but the label [on the drive itself] does not. Its very difficult for us and our customers to deal with jumpers on these drives. We had similar issues with the Samsung Electronics SpinPoint drives, which had upside-down pictures of the jumper configurations. (Fortunately, this has recently changed, the jumpers have been simplified and the pictures corrected.)"

I can report a similar feeling after purchasing Special Edition Caviar last year that I put into a FireWire enclosure. The "special" here means a 8MB cache. The Caviar is an excellent product, with great performance. But unlike most consumers, I am a storage geek and have a generous supply of jumper shunts littering the bottoms of a drawer or two.

And Western Digital isnt at all unusual in how it presents the jumper settings for its OEM drives. Almost all manufacturers do the same. For example, a Fujitsu page of jumper settings in English links to details in Japanese (or so I assumed since my knowledge of the language is limited to speaking a few phrases that mostly help in ordering beer).

What can you say about an industry that presents a business opportunity for an encyclopedia of jumper settings? Hardware consultant Phil Croucher sells the Hard Disk Database, a $28 hardcopy volume that provides the CMOS and jumper settings for almost 6,000 drives.

Manufacturers have always considered OEM drives the provenance of system builders and storage vendors. The after-market consumer is supposed to purchase drives in cases, not bare drives for upgrades and do-it-yourself external enclosures. So theres no need to accommodate a change in switching technology or in support.

Yet the market for these bare drives has increased over the past several years, with the rise of consumer applications that need greater capacity, the prime candidate being digital video. FireWire has also facilitated the growth. PVRs will just add fuel to the fire.

Perhaps its time for manufacturers to admit the market has changed and switch to an easier switch.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.