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I'm resigned to RMA/replacing at this point, but for educational purposes, how does a SATA controller "die"?

A few nights ago, my home-built workstation was idling and froze. I restarted by holding the power button on the PC case; the OS wouldn't boot, and now here I am. The BIOS won't recognize any SATA devices except the DVDRW drive. None of my HDs or SSDs are visible. The BIOS will recognize USB devices, but the boot loader will not. I don't have an IDE port.

OS = Ubuntu 12.04, kernel 3.13.5 updated 7 days prior to crash

Mobo = AsusP8Z68-VLX BIOS = American Megatrends ver 4105 (most recent) CMOS = reset by reseating battery (tested at 3.0/3.0 V)

RAM = 4x 2Gb Kingston DDR3 1600 MHz - verified working in BIOS

Drives

2x Western Digital 500 Gb SATA HD - verified working
1x OCZ 30 Gb SATA SSD - verified working

SATA Ports

2x 6 Gb/s - verified working
4x 3 Gb/s - verified working
BIOS will recognize my DVDRW in any port, but will not recognize any other drive. It also sees my SMI multicard reader, but won't recognize any media in the reader.

SATA Configurations

AHCI = drives undetected
IDE = drives undetected
RAID = drives undetected

BIOS Configuration

UEFI = drives undetected Legacy = drives undetected

Power

Coolmax 850W = verified working
Surge protected Belkin power strip on 120VAC, 15A circuit with 6 other small consumer electric devices (on the whole circuit, not the strip)

Command Results (from Ubuntu live CD)

lsusb = shows all devices
lspci = shows all devices
lsscsi = shows DVDRW, card reader, all USB
fdisk -l = returns nothing
gparted = /dev/sda1 3.73 GiB (this is the DVD holding the .iso)

So, the BIOS won't see any SSD/HD. I'm resigned to RMA/replacing at this point, but for educational purposes, how does a SATA controller "die"? Or, what else might have happened?

closed as too broad by Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007, Tog, Kevin Panko, Shekhar, kmarsh Mar 18 '14 at 17:27

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Same things that can kill any electronics; Heat, age, defects, design flaws, etc. Might not be the controller itself, may be supporting hardware like voltage controllers, capacitors, etc. Could just be a busted trace on/in the motherboard. Impossible to say, in general or specifically in your case. – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Mar 13 '14 at 19:39
  • How does a light bulb die? How does a tire go flat? Etc., etc. There are probably hundreds of reasons. – joeqwerty Mar 13 '14 at 20:22
  • techie007 is right, but I've seen this happen on home systems most often with power anomalies & no UPS in place. – Debra Mar 14 '14 at 8:02
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SATA controllers on motherboards are actually separate control chips that manage I/O to the drives via buses on the board. These chips are much like other chips and are susceptible to failure via bad solder joints, bad chips, a broken bus, etc. There are also other components involved such as capacitors, etc that complete the circuit so there are other players involved that could have failed.

Try using one drive, and moving it from SATA port to SATA port to see if it is recognized (powering down when moving of course, DO NOT HOT PLUG SATA HDDs...) If a single drive works on all ports then it could be a power issue with the Power supply. Also try moving the DVD drive to another port to see if that is recognized. To test whether the issue is your board's controller you could plug the drives into another machine and see if they are recognized. If the other machine recognizes the drives then it may be a controller issue.

  • Most SATA ports support hot plugging why wouldn't somebody take advantage of that? – Ramhound Mar 13 '14 at 23:06
  • This is a good suggestion. It's one of the first things I did! Verified the drives on another machine, then tested the DVDRW in all 6 ports, then tested the SSD alone in all ports, then the HD. I powered down between switches, although every port is supposed to be hot-swappable. The DVD works in every port, the HD/SSD don't work in any of them. – rghpkp Mar 13 '14 at 23:47
  • Have you tried a different power supply or verified the power is good and stable on your current one in that machine? If you have a power supply tester see if the SATA power is correct. @Ramhound, as "most" is not a certainty I never hot plug SATA ports in the event that they are not compatible with doing so. Not knowing if that board supports it, I'm not recommending it. – Mike Naylor Mar 14 '14 at 13:03
  • There is a power monitoring system in the BIOS. According to that, there isn't any measurable drift (<.1 mV). I tried measuring power off the plug pins with a digital VM, but couldn't get good enough contact on those tiny pins for a reliable reading. – rghpkp Mar 18 '14 at 4:53
  • Something like this tester would probably work better. If your power supply is dropping voltage or is over-volting one of the lines this could also be part of the problem. If you don't want to purchase one and have a spare power supply laying around you could try powering your drives off of it separately. To turn the supply on you can short the Green wire and a black wire on the 20 or 24 pin connector, just be careful as you are dealing with electricity... If the drives spin up and are recognized then its the power supply. – Mike Naylor Mar 18 '14 at 13:34
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Start by pulling all the drives then try putting each drive in one-by-one. Use a Live CD to boot. If none of the drives work, try a different SATA port.

Is it really the controller that has died? It might be one of the drives or maybe even one of the SATA cables.

If you have a PCI SATA card or could borrow one, you could try that too to confirm whether it is the SATA controller or some other component on the motherboard.

I'm assuming that you didn't recently to a BIOS or driver upgrade?

  • No recent upgrades, just the linux kernel 7 days prior. All of the hardware had been working fine for 2.5 years. The SATA PCI card suggestion is a good one. I'll try that as soon as I can pick one up. – rghpkp Mar 13 '14 at 23:49

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