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PS4: How to repair extended storage that won’t repair

Posted in fixit, howto, video game console by commorancy on September 4, 2022

usb-hard-driveOccasionally, you may find the need to unplug your PS4 because, well, it’s hung. Or maybe, the whole system just crashed hard. It happens. When rebooting from these conditions, it causes all hard drives to need to a filesystem repair upon reboot. If you have an extended storage hard drive plugged in via USB, sometimes the PS4 will attempt to repair the extended storage, but then refuse to complete the repair. Fret not. If your hard drive was working fine prior to the crash, it’s likely still working just fine. Let’s explore.

PlayStation 4 (and PS5?)

Note that while this repair tutorial was written to address the PS4’s external storage, it likely also works with the PS5. With that in mind, let’s understand what goes wrong under these circumstances.

After rebooting from a crash, the PS4 system naturally takes a longer amount of time to boot up than is otherwise normal. This is expected. The internal boot drive filesystem needs to be repaired. I’ve never encountered a problem with the system repairing the internal drive unless the internal hard drive has failed. If your system won’t boot after a hang, you’ve got a lot bigger problems than the extended storage hard drive.

Swapping the PS4’s Internal Hard Drive

Here’s another scenario where this HowTo article may apply. If you’ve had to rebuild your PS4 with a new boot drive or you simply wanted to upgrade to a bigger drive, you’ll need to boot into safe mode and reinstall the latest boot system and operating system to get the system bootable once again. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a whole lot of work ahead before your system will be back to the same state before replacing that internal drive.

That setup process is not within the scope of this article, however. This article also applies to the situation when your PS4 is fully once again bootable after a reinstall, but your external hard drive refuses to repair.

Extended Hard Drive after PS4 Crash

If you’ve encountered any issue where the PS4 refuses to repair the extended storage media connected via USB, then you’re not alone. It’s a relatively common problem and usually has a very easy fix, one that’s also not obvious.

Note that the operating system on the PS4, under this failure-to-repair scenario, is likely misleading you when that it suggests that the extended hard needs to be reformatted. Don’t listen to this advice. It very likely doesn’t need reformatting. Raise your hand if you enjoy having to download gigs and gigs of games again from the Internet! No one? Alright then, let’s continue.

Because of a crash or a hang, the operating system might have lost some critical data stored on the primary internal hard drive that prevents the repair and misleads you into an action that’s actually not needed.

Licenses

Every game that operates on the PS4 requires a license to operate. If you’ve purchased digital copies from the PlayStation store, these licenses are stored on your console’s internal boot drive. For physical disk copies, the license is the physical disk. This is why the PS4 requires insertion of the media into the drive before it allows the game to operate.

If your PS4 (or PS5) has had a crash or a hang, a hard boot may occasionally corrupt that licensing data, specifically about the game that was operating at the time. It only takes one corrupt license to prevent the external hard drive from repairing properly.

Don’t fret here. Game licenses are easily recovered, but may require two different steps.

Extended Storage and Licenses

Why do corrupt licenses cause this problem? When the operating system needs to repair an external hard drive, it seems to validate every license for every game stored on that extended storage before attempting a repair the external volume. If the licenses are invalid or cannot be found, the PS4’s operating system will refuse to repair the extended storage and suggest reformatting the hard drive… which, in turn, seems to suggest there’s a physical problem with the hard drive itself. Under this condition, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the the external hard drive.

In fact, all of the data is still completely intact. You just need to recover the licenses. So let’s do that now.

License Recovery

To allow your external volume to repair, ‘Restoring Licenses’ is the operation that needs to be performed. This action is done through the PS4’s settings area. This is located under:

Settings => Account Management => Restore Licenses

When you activate this function, the PS4 will clear all old licenses and then download all authorized game licenses anew from the PlayStation store. Then, write those licenses to your PS4’s boot drive. Once this action is complete, the game licenses for all of your digital game versions will be restored.

A second action may also be required called ‘Rebuilding the Database’. This isn’t done from within settings. It is performed from the PS4’s safe mode menu. To get into Safe Mode, you’ll need to use the following:

  1. Shutdown your PS4 fully (not Rest Mode) until it powers off.
  2. Press and hold the power button your PS4. You’ll hear one beep upon pressing and ~7 seconds later, you’ll hear a second beep.
  3. Once you hear the second beep, stop pressing the button.
  4. The system will boot into Safe Mode and show you a menu of options.
  5. Choose the option ‘Rebuild Database’ and activate
  6. Once this function is complete, choose ‘Restart PS4’ to boot the console into normal mode.

Repairing the External Hard Drive

Now that you have restored the licenses and rebuilt the database, your console has been prepped for your external hard drive to be repaired. At this point, plug the drive into a USB port. The system should automatically detect the drive needs to be repaired and prompt you to repair it.

This time, your hard drive should fully repair without any problems. If so, you’re good to go and enjoy your fixed up console.

Failure Continues?

If your external hard drive fails to repair after all of these steps, then clearly there’s something amiss with your hard drive that is likely not related to licensing. From here, you can try to reformat the drive and see if that works. However, if the PS4’s operating system cannot properly format the drive, attempting a reformat may not fix this problem. In fact, this problem may indicate your hard drive has gone bad or is in the process of failing.

Because you’re going to need to reformat the drive, I might suggest connecting the drive to a Windows or Mac system and attempt to have the drive perform a full long format on the drive. This might take several hours. This process allows the operating system to check every sector of the drive and explicitly mark bad sectors while formatting.

Unfortunately, the PS4 doesn’t offer this deep level of formatting. Thankfully, Windows does, but Macs don’t do it easily. As long as you format the drive as exFAT, you will be able to use it on the PS4 later. However, you may not be able to use it as an extended drive on the PS4 as that may require the PS4 to reformat the drive, which may release all of the bad sectors that Windows was able to find and mark as bad. Though, it’s worth a shot to try.

If you convert that drive to an extended drive and find that the PS4 can’t repair the drive again later, then you may want to repurpose that drive strictly for your Windows or Mac use and go buy a new drive for your PS4.

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Why Serial ATA will ultimately fail

Posted in computers by commorancy on July 17, 2009

Serial ATA is the replacement for Parallel ATA hard drives in computers.   Serial ATA offers faster speeds, yes, but is still immensely inconvenient in the Windows world (and probably with Linux and Mac as well).

Problematic design / brittle plastic

First, the thing you’ll notice different between a PATA drive and SATA drive is the connectors.  Gone are the bigger multipin data connector and the 4 pin power connector.  Instead, now we have a multipin power and multipin data connector that has a slim/thin form factor.  At first glance, you might think this is cool looking replacement connector.  We’ll I’m here to tell you it’s not.  The plastic used to hold the flat pins in place is weak and brittle.  If you’re not absolutely light touch careful with how the drive fits in place, you’re likely to break one or both of the connectors off.  Once that happens, the drive is toast.

In the 18 years I’ve been a systems administrator, I’ve changed many a hard drive and never once broken an IDE’s data connector.  I’ve torn a few cables and I’ve bent a few pins, but this is nothing that can’t be corrected easily leaving the drive fully functional.  With the brittle plastic SATA connectors on the drive itself, it’s extremely easy to break them off.   For this poor design choice alone, this is one reason why SATA manufacturers must eventually redesign this connector or the drive acceptance will fail.

Out with the old, in with the new

Hard drive manufacturers and motherboard manufacturers have been steadily pushing EIDE (IDE) out the door in replacement for SATA drives.  That’s great if everyone was on board at the same time.  Unfortunately, Microsoft still isn’t on board with this change over.  There are still limited native SATA drivers even in Windows Server 2008 (which is an offshoot of Vista).  This means, you must still load drivers for certain popular SATA controllers.  For example, one of the most common controllers used on motherboards is the SI3114 (Silicon Image) controller.  Yet, you still must load drivers to get Windows to recognize a drive connected to it before Windows will install.  If you forgot the driver or don’t realize you need it, you’ll easily spend 30 minutes chasing it down from your controller or motherboard manufacturer.

I realize the hard drive and motherboard manufacturers are trying to affect change, but you can’t do it when Microsoft still isn’t on board.  I guess these businesses haven’t really figured this out yet.

Road to failure

I don’t mean hard drive failure either.  I mean failure of the standard to be accepted in the long term.  For poor design choices and the lack of giving Microsoft time to embed the most common SATA drivers into Windows installation media, SATA drives are likely to eventually fail to be the defacto data storage device of choice.  Connectors on the back of drives need to be rugged (or at least more rugged than the brittle plastic they are using).  The connectors could have been both bigger and more thoughtfully designed than what is on the back of SATA drives.  For hot plugable configs, these connectors seem to work reasonably well, but they are still not perfect (as you have to play with alignment to ensure proper connectivity, hoping you don’t break parts off).  The SCA connector was a much better standard as far as hot plug standards go:  one single connector, big enough to be functional, easy to hotplug and rugged enough to keep from breaking parts off.

SATA drive manufacturers need to work on a design spec for better more rugged connectors on the back of SATA drives.  Motherboard manufacturers need to ensure their SATA controller has a built-in driver in Windows installation packages so no specialty setups are necessary.   Without these two steps, SATA drives will eventually fail to gain the acceptance and the momentum to keep these products going.  Manufacturers seem to think that there is no other choice for data storage in the computer.  When you think of hard drives, ATA drives are the first that come to mind.  But, we are fast approaching solid state technologies.   These solid state storage technologies don’t need the hoggy space of a hard drive chassis, the spinning noise and the eventual failure.  With solid state drives, instead of 1U machines, we may even begin seeing 1/2U machines or less.

Fix it or fail

Hard drive manufacturers need to rethink SATA.  They need to design both a better connector and faster data rates.  3Gbps speeds is reasonably fast, but we need to be about 10Gbps before vast improvements in transfer rates are actually noticed at a storage level.

Without the necessary support, which by now we should have had in the SATA world, it doesn’t make sense for HD manufacturers to push IDE out the door.  There are still far too many times where IDE devices are necessary to get a system to a workable state.  Motherboard manufacturers need to be doubly careful.  SATA-only motherboards lead to challenges during installation of Windows due to lack of drivers.  These installation challenges can lead to frustration and eventually a return of the motherboard to the store.

For all of these reasons, the SATA specification and design needs to be rethought.  The brittle plastic connectors are no where near rugged enough and need to be made much more sturdy.   The lack of driver support makes installation and repairs extremely frustrating.  Chasing down SATA drivers to place on floppy disks can be a challenge even for the most knowledgeable.

For now, this is the state of SATA.  It was a promising standard, but for now it’s become a problem because the hard drive industry is trying to push for change far too rapidly without adequately testing the design of the drive.  For anyone reading who may work with SATA designs or manufacturing, please feel free to take this to your bosses for review.

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