TiVo Hard Drive Failure & Replacement

tivo_logo Two weeks ago, our beloved TiVo started ailing. Symptoms included unprecedented clicking sounds, followed by video pauses, halts, hesitations, stutters, and ultimately freezes (those words are all there to assist others’ future Google searches). A quick series of google searches confirmed my obvious hunch — hard drive failure.

Given the nearly constant use our TiVo’s hard drive endures, I think the failure is not surprising. After all, the box is nearly three years old (well out of warranty). As much as I like the idea of a new Dual Tuner TiVo or a TiVo Series 3 HD, any TiVo sold these days lacks a key feature our old TiVo has — lifetime service.

When we started with TiVo in January 2005, TiVo still offered a lifetime service option in exchange for a lump sum payment. These days TiVo does not offer that anymore (although you can now prepay for three years for $8.31/month). We love our TiVo, and I have encouraged any number of people to get a TiVo of their own, but I’d rather stick with what I have as long as I can.

As I was rummaging around the net for information, most of the sources I found made sense — Alex’s Tivoblog, Matt’s PVRblog, and especially the TiVo Community Forums were all valuable. I was surprised how the actual TiVo web site almost never appeared among Google’s top results. I would have thought the support section of the mother site would have had more to offer, in terms of Google’s algorithms anyway.

It quickly became clear there were two basic choices: buy a new blank drive and prepare it and install it myself, or buy a prepared hard drive and install it myself. The best guide for the whole DIY approach seems to be the Hinsdale guide, found here. It’s geared at people with a little more time than I was willing to commit, so I decided on a prepared drive. The two primary dealers of these drives are DVRupgrade.com and Weaknees.com.

wk_homeblock_2 Weaknees appeared both more established and they cost less, so I went with them. I really liked their troubleshooting wizard and their installation guides available on their site, too. They had a $20 off sale on a bigger drive than I would have bought otherwise, so they upsold me very effectively, along with the promise of free shipping.

Once I ordered the drive I carefully downloaded the guide and printed it out, and then felt nervous about performing the work myself. Once the box arrived (in a very rugged, well designed box), I even waited for two days until I figured I had enough time to do the work.

The Weaknees package included two Torx screwdrivers and a printed copy of the directions (I didn’t need to print my own copy after all), and I gathered them and set down to work. Disconnecting the TiVo from the cable, electric, and DVD connections turned out to be a more annoying part of the job than the hard drive replacement. Five screws in the back, two on a bracket, four in the drive, a power cable and a data cable are all that I needed to remove the old drive, and then I simply reversed the procedure to install the new one and close it all up. If you have ever installed a drive in a desktop or external enclosure, you can do this. I wish I had believed the Weaknees people when they said how easy the exchange is.

I also spent more time blowing out three years’ worth of dust which the TiVo’s fan had sucked into the box than I did doing the repair. Much like my old SE/30, the TiVo fans pulls air in, rather than pushing air out, and the inside of the box was one huge dust ball. I’d have had a can of compressed air handy if I’d known that ahead of time.

From start to finish, I’d guess the process took less than twenty minutes. Once I had everything plugged back in, TiVo came to life as it was meant to, walked me through guided setup, joined my home network, and was back in business. I wish all technical issues could be resolved this simply.

Weaknees products and advice are highly recommended, so don’t toss your sickly old TiVo — fix it!

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