Initialising ATA storage devices

Initialising ATA storage devices

One problem I've had with PCMCIA hard disks is that strange things happen if you don't initialise them correctly. Be warned that simply partitioning a new disk with your favourite version of FDISK is not sufficient; if you do this, you will most likely get a drive that can be read and written to perfectly happily, but cannot be made bootable, despite the apparent success of a SYS or FORMAT /S. You have to initialise the disk using the initialisation utility.

I made this mistake a while back with an IBM 40MB Type III drive (FRU 71G6426). The first thing I did with my new drive was partition it - wrong! The machine would simply hang after POST with a flashing cursor at the top left of the screen. After a day or two hunting, I found the following file on the IBM PC Company download library. Having unpacked it onto a diskette, I found a pile of early card services drivers for the ATA disk, and a program called PCCINIT.EXE for initialising the drive.

Here's the link to that diskette image:

file area: IBM Portables, Notebooks, Laptops 

(590253 bytes, 03-22-94) 
File System and HDD PCMCIA Disk - ThinkPad 

When I ran PCCINIT, I was prompted to format the drive, which I did, then SYSed it. Voila - it booted!

In order to do this, you must make sure that either:

  1. your PCMCIA device is included in the startup sequence, so it becomes visible as an IDE device; or
  2. you load the appropriate PCMCIA card & socket services drivers under DOS to support ATA storage devices

this is necessary so that the initialisation program can find the drive!

Strangely enough, FDISK indicated no difference in the drive partitioning, so PCCINIT must have worked on the boot sector, or even drive logic, in some way that FDISK and SYS normally do not. I was happy to be mystified by my working drive!

I had a similar experience with a new Maxtor MXL171 drive I purchased recently. So, off to their web site I went, and sure enough, there was an initialistation program for their PCMCIA ATA hard disk drives.

Here's the Maxtor initialisation program:

MXLINIT.EXE 04/18/97 21k How to initialize the MobileMAX PCMCIA drives (in ATA Mode) - SEZ

Recently, I had trouble with my  bootable partition on this drive and ended up running PCCINIT after using the Maxtor initialisation program, and it sorted the boot problems out. I can therefore conclude that PCCINIT is suitable for more than just the IBM drives...

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Written by Daniel Basterfield. Images found on the internet. Enjoy!