Birds Like Wires

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Recovery of ASMedia ASM1051

An ASMedia ASM1051 chip on a small circuit board, attached to a SATA hard drive.

Quite some time ago, I bought a super-cheap 2.5” USB 3.0 enclosure on eBay. It was no more than a few pounds, so when it suddenly stopped working one day, I didn’t cry about it. But it was a tad annoying, because I’d keep reaching for it in the drawer, knowing it had a sizeable drive in there.

One day I picked it up and, imagining its time in the drawer might have healed it, plugged it into a laptop. Magically, it worked! But when it came to transferring the files to another machine – dead again. It sat there with its light on, drive spinning, but never appearing as a USB device.

Then I twigged. The laptop had USB 3.0. My desktop machine did not. How bizarre! I tested my theory between a few more machines until the proof was in; connecting the drive to any USB 2.0 machine would not work, while USB 3.0 was just dandy.

It went back in the drawer.

The Fix

Today I reached for it again and this time decided to see if a repair was possible. Firmware would seem to be the culprit, but nobody is sensible enough to produce a firmware flash utility for such things, surely?

Taking a closer look shows an ASMedia ASM1051 bridge chip. Luckily, the nice folks at Plugable based their USB3-SATA-U3 around the same chip and they do indeed provide an ASM1051 firmware update utility known as MP Tool! Sensible people! The best news is that it targets the chip and doesn’t do any weird manufacturer-specific fiddling to prevent you from running it on other devices. I had very little to lose, so I simply followed their instructions; plug in, run software, press ‘Start’.

Screenshot of ASMedia ASM1051 MP Tool on Windows 7

The firmware utility found the chip just fine on the USB 3.0 laptop and flashed it perfectly. On reloading, the firmware version had jumped up to 13022081f602, which would appear to have been released in 2003. But the biggest surprise – USB 2.0 support was back!

So, thank you, Plugable, for being very sensible with your devices and firmware updates, which has allowed me to bring a completely different piece of hardware back to life. Doing a little reading around the ‘net it would appear that this is a pretty popular bridge chip and many devices use it, so if you’re having troubles with your external USB hard drive, this could be very useful to you.

But Wait, There’s More!

You may notice at the top of the MP Tool that there’s a button labelled ‘Unlock MP Tool’. I got to wondering whether this might allow me to tweak some of those greyed-out values, particularly as my device isn’t actually a USB3-SATA-U3. It’s password protected, but it took about three guesses. Just type in the name of the company that made the chip, in lower case.

I really wouldn’t touch the vendor ID or product ID, but the manufacturer and product strings are pretty safe to play with. My drive now says it was manufactured by “Andy’s Whizzbang Technologies” and is a “USB3-SATA-THING.

At least I’ll always know it’s my drive.

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