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Embedded Servo

An embedded servo (see Figure 1-5) is an enhancement of the wedge servo. Instead of placing the servo code before the beginning of each cylinder, an embedded servo design writes the servo information before the start of each sector. This arrangement enables the positioner circuits to receive feedback many times in a single revolution, making the head positioning much faster and more precise. Another advantage is that every track on the drive has this positioning information, so each head can quickly and efficiently adjust position to compensate for any changes in the platter or head dimensions, especially for changes due to thermal expansion or physical stress.


FIG. 1-5  An embedded servo.

Most drives today use an embedded servo to control the positioning system. As in the wedge servo design, the embedded-servo information is protected by the drive circuits, and any write operations are blocked whenever the heads are above the servo information. Thus, it is impossible to overwrite the servo information with a low-level format, as many people incorrectly believed. Although the embedded servo works much better than the wedge servo, because the feedback servo information is available several times in a single disk revolution, a system that offered continuous servo feedback information would be better.

Dedicated Servo

A dedicated servo is a design in which the servo information is written continuously throughout the entire track, rather than just one time per track or at the beginning of each sector. Unfortunately, if this procedure were performed on the entire drive, no room would be left for data. For this reason, a dedicated servo uses one side of one of the platters exclusively for the servo-positioning information. The term dedicated comes from the fact that this platter side is completely dedicated to the servo information and cannot contain any data. Although the dedicated-servo design may seem to be wasteful, none of the other platter sides carry any servo information, and you end up losing about the same amount of total disk real estate as with the embedded servo.

When a dedicated-servo drive is manufactured, one side of one platter is deducted from normal read/write usage; on this platter is recorded a special set of gray-code data that indicates proper track positions. Because the head that rests above this surface cannot be used for normal reading and writing, these marks can never be erased, and the servo information is protected, as in the other servo designs. No low-level format or other procedure can possibly overwrite the servo information.

When the drive is commanded to move the heads to a specific cylinder, the internal drive electronics use the signals received by the servo head to determine the position of the heads. As the heads are moved, the track counters are read from the dedicated servo surface. When the requested track is detected below the servo head, the actuator is stopped. The servo electronics then fine-tune the position so that, before writing is allowed, the heads are positioned precisely above the desired cylinder. Although only one head is used for servo tracking, the other heads are attached to the same rigid rack so that if one head is above the desired cylinder, all the others will be as well.

One noticeable trait of dedicated servo drives is that they usually have an odd number of heads. For example, the Toshiba MK-538FB 1.2GB drive on which I am saving this chapter has eight platters but only 15 read/write heads; the drive uses a dedicated-servo positioning system, and the 16th head is the servo head. You will find that virtually all high-end drives use a dedicated servo because such a design offers servo information continuously, no matter where the heads are located. This system offers the greatest possible positioning accuracy. Some drives even combine a dedicated servo with an embedded servo, but this type of hybrid design is rare.

Automatic Head Parking

When a hard disk drive is powered off, the spring tension in each head arm pulls the heads into contact with the platters. The drive is designed to sustain thousands of takeoffs and landings, but it is wise to ensure that the landing occurs at a spot on the platter that contains no data. Some amount of abrasion occurs during the landing and takeoff process, removing just a "micro puff" from the media; but if the drive is jarred during the landing or takeoff process, real damage can occur.

One benefit of using a voice-coil actuator is automatic head parking. In a drive that has a voice-coil actuator, the heads are positioned and held by magnetic force. When power is removed from the drive, the magnetic field that holds the heads stationary over a particular cylinder dissipates, enabling the head rack to skitter across the drive surface and potentially cause damage. In the voice-coil design, therefore, the head rack is attached to a weak spring at one end and a head stop at the other end. When the system is powered on, the spring normally is overcome by the magnetic force of the positioner. When the drive is powered off, however, the spring gently drags the head rack to a park-and-lock position before the drive slows down and the heads land. On many drives, you can actually hear the "ting…ting…ting…ting" sound as the heads literally bounce-park themselves, driven by this spring.

On a drive with a voice-coil actuator, you can activate the parking mechanism simply by turning off the system; you do not need to run a program to park or retract the heads. In the event of a power outage, the heads park themselves automatically. (The drives unpark automatically when the system is powered on.)

Some stepper motor drives (such as the Seagate ST-251 series drives) park their heads, but this function is rare among stepper motor drives. The stepper motor drives that do park their heads usually use an ingenious system whereby the spindle motor actually is used as a generator after the power to the drive is turned off. The back EMF (electro motive force), as it is called, is used to drive the stepper motor to park the heads.

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