HACKING PROJECT – Upgrade [ HACK ] Time Warner Cable’s CISCO / Scientific Atlanta HD DVR Explorer 8642HDC From Mechanical Hard Drive To Solid State Drive SSD

This week’s hack project is upgrading Time Warner’s HD DVR Explorer 8642HDC sloooow mechanical 5,400rpm hard drive to a solid state drive SSD in an attempt to dramatically improve video transfer speed and overall quality.
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Anyone subscribing to Time Warner’s Signature Home ‘FULL HOUSE DVR’ service is likely familiar with this device. It incorporates a Tru 2-Way cable card, has dual tuners and approximately 400GB available DVR space. It is also notorious for it’s degrading quality over time where it starts to drop video and audio during periods of intense drive activity (like when recording a show and playing back another simultaneously). This problem can conceivably be alleviated, if not completely eliminated, by upgrading the devices internal standard home computer mechanical hard drive with the newer and MUCH faster solid state drive SSD.
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Fortunately for us, the interface used for the storage device is the SATA2 interface, which gives us up to 300MB/s transfer speed. While not perfect (SATA3 provides up to 600MB/s) it does allow us to utilize 65% of the max throughput (90% of the sustained throughput) of todays fastest SSDs.
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The new $172 Samsung 256GB SSD has been ordered from B & H Photo - http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/897031-REG/Samsung_mz_7td250kw_250GB_2_5_inch_SSD_840.html – and should arrive in just a few days. I will post updates as they become available!

UPDATE 2/21/2013:

TRY #1 -
After the SSD arrived, I tried the simplest possibility – just plugging it into the box and rebooting (not a likely method, but hey- gotta try to know for sure!). After hours of the front panel status LED scrolling through H100 to H999 and restarting, it became apparent it was not doing anything.
TRY #2 -
Tried a hardware dock CLONE from the original HD to the SSD using a StarTech SATA dock. No joy – clicking the START button immediately flashed the status bar to 100% and quit. Apparently it can’t recognize or work upon the Unix/Linux encrypted partition.
TRY #3 -
Tried using the PC-based Boot CD ‘Acronis Tru Image’ product. No joy – apparently it ALSO can’t recognize or work upon the Unix/Linux encrypted partition.
TRY #4 -
Tried using the PC-based Boot CD ‘HDClone 4.2 PRO’ product. It was able to recognize Unix/Linux encrypted partition! Since the target SSD was smaller (250gb) than the source TWC HD (500gb), it required a ‘partition-to-drive’ cloning process with the option of copying just the equivalent 0-###,###,### sectors totaling ~250gb, but that was perfect as all that was on the TWC drive was the requisite boot-strap data and UNIX/Linux kernel w/custom Cisco/SA OS – no recorded shows at all. The Clone process along with verification step took about 6 hours.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH – put the new SSD into the TWC box and powered it up.  No joy – same error and H100 – H999 sequencing as when I put the SSD in uninitialized.

It appears Cisco/Scientific Atlanta really did their homework in locking down the boot to only their ‘signed’ and ‘paired’ boot software & hardware.

Not all of this was wasted time, though. I found out that HDClone is by far the superior drive imaging tool (to Acronis anyway) as it was the only one that saw the TWC HD as drive with a valid partition as opposed to an errant ‘uninitialized’ status/drive Acronis reported. Cloning took 6 hours for ~250gb of sectors – including verify. Additionally, I determined that the eSATA port actually IS active on the 8642HDC box, as it saw the SSD when plugged into it via a dock – even though it didn’t trigger a reformat. (see relevant diagnostics page from pressing power for 5-sec – until led blinks then releasing and clicking power just once).

MY FINAL ATTEMPT

For my last attempt, I am ordering a 500gb 7500rpm Western Digital 64mb cache mechanical drive, so as to do be able to do a 100% clone on the original 500gb drive. This way I am still upgrading the drive to a faster one with larger cache and much better throughput and long-term stability design. I will update again soon…

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7 Responses to HACKING PROJECT – Upgrade [ HACK ] Time Warner Cable’s CISCO / Scientific Atlanta HD DVR Explorer 8642HDC From Mechanical Hard Drive To Solid State Drive SSD

  1. Wayne says:

    Sounds cool. I have a SA 8240HDC. I will often screw up in different ways. Starts late. Freezes. Sometimes records but when you go to Play, it says Press List and you’re back to the same Menu in endless loop. I wonder will it correct that?
    Will it work if you also have external hard drive?
    Also is it reversablle so if you are turning the box back in to the cable company, you just put the original hard drive back in?
    thanks.

  2. carlupq says:

    RE: will it work if you also have an external hard drive?
    If you mean can you leave the internal alone, but add an external SSD and achieve the same results/improvements, the answer is almost certainly YES. I haven’t tried that approach to know for sure, but to be sure it would be an improvement with ONE CAVEAT – the show you record may still end up on the internal drive, in which case it will not improve. You would almost have to force the internal drive to be full BEFORE adding your external drive, then you can be assured all others end up on the external SSD.
    RE: is it reversable?
    Yes, if you save the original drive in unharmed/unaltered.condition. When the time comes to surrender the cable box, just pop out the SSD and re-install the original drive. Power up on the old drive jsut to make sure any enhancements via firmware are applied to the drive.

  3. Kevin says:

    any update on this project?

  4. bill-mi says:

    Were you able to get it to work finally? How about a 480GB SSD? Since you were able to clone the drive, could you at least get all the shows you recorded onto another device? My biggest grief other than what you mentioned is that I can’t back up my shows.

  5. goatnic says:

    bill-mi brings up a good point . I hate giving up my recorded shows when the box acts up and twc wants to give u a new one to fix the problem

  6. Wayne says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to use SSD as external drive and then fill up original internal drive so recordings are forced on the external SSD?

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