I don't know what Dell has been shipping with their systems lately, but i know HP has drive encryption software on some of their elitebooks and such from factory.
Assuming firmware is the issue, is the board removable from the hard drive? if so, and it's not in warranty, search out for some place that may sell just the board.
If it is under warranty, get it replaced with dell, and swap the boards when the new drive comes in.
Thanks for the help..
Here is a email I got from a Data recovery company. My friend declined though..
Thank you for your request.
Your drive most likely has firmware corruption. It's a very common Maxtor problem. Typically the drive spins up fine, doesn't click and either doesn't show up at all or identifies with wrong capacity and model name - usually with factory alias(N40P, CALYPSO, GRIZZLY, etc). Data recovery in such case requires use of specialized equipment and experience to access firmware and repair corrupted modules.
We could do this job for 590 USD. This quote will never go up. It's a final invoice price including all parts, cleanroom fees and labor. Evaluation is free of charge. At any time you can cancel the job and we will ship the drive back to you at no charge in its original condition. We guarantee full confidentiality of your data. And of course we won't charge you anything unless we recover your files. I must also say that with this type of problem chances of full successful recovery in our lab are close to 100%.
The process is simple. Once we get your drive in our lab we will perform diagnostics and do the job. Usually it takes about 1-2 weeks depending on the complexity of your case. After recovery is completed we will provide you with the list of recovered files and if you are satisfied we proceed with the payment (credit card or paypal). After the payment we will either upload your data to our secure FTP-server free of charge or copy to another media and send back to you.
You can find all the shipping details on our website: http://datacent.com/shipping.php
We look forward to working with you. Please read what our past clients say about us and their experience with our company: http://datacent.com/testimonials
PS: We recommend to stay away from those $149 and $289 preliminary quotes as well as broad range quotes you can find on the net. Their goal is to get your drive and after "evaluation" price would go up several times and sure enough your final quote will be near higher end of the given range. Always ask for the final quote in advance. Experienced and honest companies are always able to tell what's wrong with your drive and evaluate their costs based on symptoms you describe.
Let me know if you have any questions.