Would there be any chance that the system is "working" with some generic
driver and there is a specific driver for my hard drive controller (it's
an ISA card), which would solve this?

Well... all ATA in freebsd are pretty much conglomerated into the same driver...
but, the problem isn't really so much the ATA as it is that the ATA expects a
PM telling it what to do. Since this is something that must be done via the hardware
at boot, FreeBSD doesn't really have a way to tell the ATA what to do. One solution
might be hacking extra reset controls, etc, into the ATA driver so that this functionality
is asserted on boot. Then, though, there is a possible chicken-egg issue: you're initializing
the disk and snarfing data off the disk at the same time as attempting a hard reset, which,
might cause a lock (or worse). I think your most painless solution is upgrading your mother

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