Someone said:

Ok, I'm starting to believe this :)   Paraphrasing, does the command
and response go through the "controller" in the machine through to the
real electronics that run the drive?   It almost has to be working, as
Linux partitioning tools reported the full size of the drive.  Given
that much, is safe to assume Linux can access it?

In my old days as owner of Crossroads Computer here in town, I used to do warranty service on several mail-order computers such as Comtrade, Pony, and others. I recall the time that the son of someone I knew had just gotten a Comtrade for Xmas, and was having problems with it. The error message reported a hard drive controller problem. The standard response to that was to replace the motherboard. I guess that the thought there was that the hard drive interface was the same as the controller, and that was on the MB, right?

Well, folks, IDE stands for Integrated Drive Electronics. The controller is on the hard drive, and what is on the motherboard is just the interface through which that controller speaks to the processor and whatever else it needs to speak with.

Comtrade sent a new motherboard, and paid me to go out and exchange it. Of course the motherboard was not exactly the same. Specifically, the new motherboard, shipped bare, was supposed to take a cache RAM card, while the cache RAM was soldered to the original MB. After exchanging the MB, the computer failed to boot at all. (As, we, the enlightened would surely suspect....) Anyway, I opined that the problem was likely with the drive, and suggested that I could return it to its original configuration and replace the drive and it would work. The 15-yr-old spoiled-rotten kid called Comtrade, and told them what I said. The tech rep told the kid that the repair guy didn't know what he was talking about, and that the two of them together were going to fix the computer over the phone. After 45 minutes of having this kid poke and prod inside where he had never seen before, they finally decided they'd send out a new MB of the same type as the original one. 

When I got the call that the MB had arrived, I asked if they had shipped a drive with it. The kid's mother said that there was a package in there about the right size, but I picked up my workbench hard drive anyway. When I arrived, the only thing there was the MB and a package of cables and such. When I changed out the board, it was back to its original configuration and behaving exactly as it had. This is February, and the Xmas present had never worked. I then unplugged the hard drive, plugged in my workbench drive, and the computer booted. When Comtrade shipped a new hard drive, and paid me for a third visit to repair the computer, it worked fine.

The drive controller is on the drive. The only thing on the MB is a path for communication.

And sometimes it's fun showing the customer just who does not have a clue what they are talking about!

Boardwalk for $500? In 2007? Ha! Play Monopoly Here and Now (it's updated for today's economy) at Yahoo! Games.