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A Walk Through the Hard Drive Recovery Process 238

Fields writes "It's well known that failed hard drives can be recovered, but few people actually use a recovery service because they're expensive and not always successful. Even fewer people ever get any insights into the process, as recovery companies are secretive about their methods and rarely reveal any more information that is necessary for billing. has an article walking through a drive recovery handled by DriveSavers. The recovery team did not give away many secrets, but they did reveal a number of insights into the process. From the article, "'[M]y drive failed in about every way you can imagine. It had electro-mechanical failure resulting in severe media damage. Seagate considered it dead, but I didn't give up. It's actually pretty amazing that they were able to recover nearly all of the data. Of course, they had to do some rebuilding, but that's what you expect when you send it to the ER for hard drives.'" Be sure to visit the Museum of Disk-asters, too.
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A Walk Through the Hard Drive Recovery Process

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:04PM (#23385920)
    A hard drive shaped freezer.
    • by iMaple ( 769378 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:14PM (#23386006)
      That's actually not to far away from a working solution. You can normally make a failing/failed harddisk work for around 5 minutes by freezing it and then immediately using it. Don't try to boot off it, just connect it as an external drive and you can probably get that code you were working on before the drive failed. Its worked for me all 3 times I've tried.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That only works if you have "engineers wearing specialized, certified cleanroom garments" that place the drive in the freezer. And don't forget to charge $1500.
      • by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:33PM (#23386194)
        That worked for me - I recovered an entire hard disk drive (Hitachi Travelstar) using the freeze and sudden twist method. Basically you freeze the hard disk drive to get whatever it is that sticks, to become brittle, and then give the drive a sudden twist to free the platters. This will last as long as the drive motor keeps running. Blogosphere theory is that it is the oil from the platter bearings that leaks and hardens.
        • Nice Theory But... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gates82 ( 706573 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:01PM (#23386872)

          Blogosphere theory is that it is the oil from the platter bearings that leaks and hardens.

          That is a nice theory but there is no oil in the bearings of a Hitachi (formerly IBM) drive. They ride on an air bearing. I have heard of faulty temperature sensors being reset through the freezing method, but whatever the reason I have seen the freezing method suggested by several sources. For me I believe that it has to do with moving the drive. Shorts or binds will often be resolved by moving the drive around.

          When I worked for IBM I did a fair share of data recovery. My favorite drive that I saved was a laptop drive with a stiction problem. It would get caught during spin-up. I put my ear to the drive and would listen to it and kept rebooting and shaking the drive until it finally got past the rough spot. Recovered all the engineers data who was extremely happy he didn't have to waste $500 bucks with Ontrack.

          So who is hotter? Ali or Ali's Sister?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ajlitt ( 19055 )
            My favorite disk to recover was a Quantum SCSI drive from an old Performa. That model frequently developed congealed oil in the armature bearings. The disk would run for a bit then stop since the heads wouldn't be able to move to a position to receive the servo pulse.

            The best way to get the drive going again was to power it up and about 1/2 second later give the edge opposite the connectors a light whack with a mallet. That would unstick the heads long enough to leave park and warm up.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by iocat ( 572367 )
              I had a Mac IIcx with the same issues. When the drive (a Sony) first died, with no spinning (and no backups in the days of $500, 100MB drives), I was so frustrated I slammed down my fist on the top of the computer... and spun the drive up! After that I tried to avoid turning it off, or ever having the disc stop spinning, but if it did, I could always get it to start back up that way. I felt like Fonzi the IT guy...
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
              Kinda like my workbench HD, an ancient (800 mb) W.D. I got it as a failed HD from a customer, and it was then about 5 years old. I gave it the "beat it ever-harder, until it either gives in or dies" treatment, and....

              Powered on... just a whir, no bootup:

              rrrrrr... [tap tap]

              RRRRRR... [TAP TAP]

              *R*R*R*R*R*R*R... [*!!*WHAP*!!*]

              And after that it was unstictioned for good, and has worked fine ever since. It's now 13 years old!!

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by milsoRgen ( 1016505 )

            there is no oil in the bearings of a Hitachi (formerly IBM) drive. They ride on an air bearing.
            As do all other hard drives.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by KlaymenDK ( 713149 )
            Fine, so it's the air leaking out and ... hardening ... yeah.
      • I had a hard drive that were going dead. Reporting bad sectors all over the place. Then I recovered what data I could, and then used dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hdb. And then I did dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/hdb. After that I formatted the drive and it worked fine. This worked on two drives that failed within a year of eachother, and I've been using them for at least 2 years. I'm not sure how it fixed anything, but it seemed to work for me.
        • by Snover ( 469130 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:51PM (#23386798) Homepage
          All modern disks ship with some unused spare sectors that are used to remap onto failed sectors. This occurs all inside the drive's firmware, so even though the computer thinks it's addressing the same sector, in actuality the drive is pulling data from the remapped spare. The firmware is smart enough to only remap sectors when you try to write to a bad one, though, because if it decided to remap a bad sector that had data on it that you needed, you'd not be able to get back that data even if the disk was eventually able to read the sector.
          • Yes, but in my case, the drive was reporting 20% bad sectors, in any of the utilities I tried. There's no way it could have remapped all those sectors. It seems that forcing the computer to write over the entire disc caused the head to get reset or something. I'm not sure why it worked, multiple times, but I have no complaints. I don't keep anything really critical on the drives, but it's a nice place to through stuff that I don't care if I lose.
      • by AgTiger ( 458268 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:07PM (#23386444) Homepage
        I had a primary hard drive fail in a linux file server I have at the house. The backup hadn't been taken in a while (yeah, I got lazy), and I really needed the updated files.

        A friend of mine told me this method, so I tried it; it worked. I got more than 30 minutes of operation out of the drive, enough to pull ALL of the files off (30 gigs of data) successfully.

        1. Put masking tape over the data and electrical connectors of the drive.
        2. Immerse the drive in a ziplock bag of minute-rice, with the data/power connectors sticking up. This can't be regular rice, it MUST be minute rice. This acts as a poor man's silica gel later in the process. Close the zip-lock.
        3. Freeze the bag of rice with the hard drive in it in the deep freeze for 24 hours. You want it completely frozen, patience is a virtue.
        4. Remove the bag from the freezer, and take it to a pre-prepared computer where the drive is ready to be received and plugged in (longer data cable, longer power cable, etc...) You should have another big data drive in the system ready to receive the data from the frozen drive.
        5. Leave the drive immersed in the minute rice except for the data/power connector. Remove the tape. Plug in the data and power cables. Try to re-seal the zip-lock bag as much as possible so you don't have rice grains escaping.
        6. Orient the drive so it's laying in as natural of a position as possible with as much frozen rice around it.
        7. Fire up the system, and try to access the frozen drive. This is the moment of truth. If you're lucky, it'll identify and respond, and you'll have access to the file system.
        8. You now about 20 reliable minutes to copy data. You may get more if you're lucky. Copy copy copy. Note: The drive WILL be slow at first, and will speed up as it starts to warm.

        Why the minute rice? It performs two functions: First, it keeps the moisture from condensing on, and in the drive's metal parts. Moisture's the killer when you power up a frozen drive. Second, it provides an additional thermal block of "cool" to help keep the drive at a lower temperature while you perform the copy.

        After I got the data, I scrapped the original drive I froze (literally, out came the platters and they sit in my stack of platter-shame.) No sense courting disaster a second time.

        I've since used this method 2 more times successfully with other people's hard drives. I suspect the recovery specialists use a similar trick, only they'd be smart to use a sub-zero frozen room with no moisture to do their "cold start and copy" process.

      • by Cal Paterson ( 881180 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:11PM (#23386478)

        You can normally make a failing/failed harddisk work for around 5 minutes by freezing it and then immediately using it.
        It only works for a certain kind of broken hard drive. Fortunately, these kinds of breaks, due to poor workmanship, account for around 40-50% of failures! Hurrah!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I couldn't get freezing to work on my dead drive. The trick that worked was: Let sit on the desk for two months and then try it again. It still made noise, but it worked long enough to find and retrieve the files that weren't backed up.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nmos ( 25822 )
        You're better off plugging directly into a computer rather than using an external USB/Firewire adapter. In my experience anyway those adapters tend to give up the first time you run into a bad sector but if you plug in directly you can use tools such as dd_rescue to keep trying until you've recovered every scrap of data possible.
  • Summary (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:08PM (#23385962)
    "It's well known that failed hard drives can be recovered"

    [Citation Needed]
  • Hmmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vancondo ( 986849 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:10PM (#23385976) Homepage

    The cost for recovering data from a drive with severe media damage, like mine, is about $1900. An average single drive data recovery costs about $1500.

    Wouldn't backing your data up be cheaper?

    -- []
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah, if you manage to do it pre-disaster. Afterwards, well, you learn an expensive lesson about doing backups.
      • Amazingly, my company has learned that lesson twice. If I weren't working part time then I would probably have noticed that they had added extra areas to their file server that weren't on the backup list. RAID arrays are not cheap to recover :(
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by somersault ( 912633 )
          Note: I am now working there full time (while I was part time a couple of engineers were mostly responsible for IT support and I was doing coding, but now I basically take care of everything - one of the general office workers thankfully takes care of a lot of the easier IT support stuff while I *coughwastetimeon/.* code), and as well as the tape backup, I decided to hook up an external SATA HD on the fileserver that works as an extra backup each night, and makes recoveries a bit quicker than using the last
        • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Sanat ( 702 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:28PM (#23386132)
          That is a good point about not listing everything that requires backing up.

          I was on a customer's site one day in Detroit showing a new engineer about installing a mini-computer from the company we were working for at the time.

          On another mini-computer located about 50 feet away a customer did a sector by sector backup to another disk and in the process copied the wrong way and lost all of their information that represented two years work.

          He immediately panicked and looked around to see who he could blame the error on and decided to blame us... it was really pathetic because the other workers there knew he did it but he could not bring himself to admit it.

          We finished the installation and left so I never did here what happened to him.

          He was a doctor that specialized in bone deterioration and apparently the data could not be reproduced or re-keyed for some reason.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Backups aren't always possible. Say, collecting data, if you back up 1/day you still lose data. That can sometimes be worth the $2k.
        Until you remember the existence of mirroring.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by value_added ( 719364 )
          Backups aren't always possible. Say, collecting data, if you back up 1/day you still lose data. That can sometimes be worth the $2k. Until you remember the existence of mirroring.

          And mirrored data that is accidently rm -rf, wrongly changed, or on drives that all fail, is worth how much?

          Some sort of RAID is always a good idea, but that's a different subject. Put another way, backups are always possible. Or better yet, mirroring is not a substitute for backups.
    • by mikael ( 484 )
      Absolutely. The cost of an external 250GB USB hard drive is around $160, so it's a lot cheaper to just do a quick 'tar' every day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lord Kano ( 13027 )
      Wouldn't backing your data up be cheaper?

      Absolutely, just like wearing a condom is cheaper than having a baby but sometimes don't take all necessary precautions.

    • Of course, I have had clients that after telling them to backup, lost drives and paid $3200 for the data from a 200gb drive, they HAD TO HAVE IT, so they paid DriveSavers their exorbitant fee.

      Some people need to learn, others need to learn more than once. 'Oh so THAT'S what you meant?' :)

      Remember, you just can't fix stupid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mgblst ( 80109 )
      Depends on how many hdd you have, and how often they break. If they only break 1 in a 1000, then you may be better of just using this solution.

      Of course, you aren't because there are other problems that backing up solve, but still..
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by donaldm ( 919619 )

      Wouldn't backing your data up be cheaper?

      Your stating the logical thing to do but unfortunately most people have no idea how to backup their data and many that do could not be bothered living in denial as to the reliability of cheap disks. People like this only complain when the disk fails especially when it costs $1500 for a partial recovery which could have brought an acceptable backup solution in the first place and still have change to buy a nice stereo system for your PC and possibly a 20"+ LCD monitor (my son did this for well under $1000).

  • ...but are flash drives prone to the same sort of catastrophic failures disc drives are? And are the same recovery techniques workable with both? My gut tells me it's not nearly that simple.
    • by Shadow-isoHunt ( 1014539 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:43PM (#23386260) Homepage
      IME flash drives don't fail catastrophically, they go bad one part at a time, and generally only writes fail, you can still read without problem. I've seen a few drives fail all together, but they stopped registering as USB devices all together. The same recovery techniques can be used, and they need not be expensive. There's MagicRescue, and foremost that kick absolute ass. Free recovery software rawks.
      • by DAldredge ( 2353 )
        Then how do you explain the failed sticks I have in front of me? HINT - if the controller circuity fails the data is in most cases gone.
        • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:57PM (#23386842) Journal
          HINT - if the controller circuity fails the data is in most cases gone.

          Have a look at this photograph [].

          The chip on the left is memory. That's where your data hides. The chip on the right is the memory controller. If that chip fails, but the memory chip is intact, your data may be recoverable.

          Surface mount chips are hard, but not impossible to swap out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ajs318 ( 655362 )
          Not necessarily true. You just need to locate another identical flash drive, and swap over the memory chip (the one with two rows of pins spaced stupidly wide apart). Be careful with the unsoldering and soldering, for fear of ripping the tracks off the board -- these devices tend to be built on FR4, which is not renowned for its copper-to-substrate adhesion. Use plenty of flux (if you can breathe, then you aren't using enough).

          It still might not work if the controller failure took out the flash memor
      • by camperslo ( 704715 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @12:08AM (#23387604)
        The same recovery techniques can be used, and they need not be expensive.

        Not really. Software tools such as the one you mentioned, Magic Rescue, are for dealing with deleted files or corrupt file systems. That applies to both flash and magnetic drives.
        But for it to work on a magnetic drive, the drive pretty much has to be functional electrically and mechanically. Most drives like that would work after reformatting.
        For that software to work, the interface to the computer has to work, the spindle servo has to work, the head positioning system has to work, the heads have to be okay and have a working connection, and at least the read electronics has to work. A drive isn't really very dead if software can control it and read from it.

        A failure of some part of the drive hardware is likely to require repair or substitution of what's broken. I was disappointed that the article provided almost NO useful details on that.

        If the electronics has failed, substituting the circuit board from another drive of the same type seems like one thing that would be relatively easy.
        Those in the know should easily be able to tell if a head or connecting cable has become open-circuited. I suspect that cracked copper in the head flex cable is a fairly common problem. It is likely the as it first fails, a connection is lost more towards one end or the other of head travel. If one can run the electronics in a sort of diagnostic mode (to avoid aborting on errors), I suspect that a bit for bit copy can be attempted by physical location. That's likely what they're talking about when they mention making an image to recover from.

        If the heads/cables are trashed and not easily repaired in place, swapping the platters into another drive (after removing any debris) is one of the more extreme measures.

        There are probably alternate test-jig type fixtures available to substitute for normal drive electronics. I wouldn't be surprised if the most extreme tools allowed varying read-head preamp parameters and finely adjusting head positioning parameters.

        It's kind of sad that so much information is unavailable to most of us. With full schematics, details of drive firmware etc a skilled technician can do component level repairs. People used to laugh at tv repairmen when sets came along where they'd just swap individual circuit boards instead of finding the bad component. But that's the sort of thing we now see most of the time with our computers and consumer electronics, if they get "fixed" at all. Most of the so called repair people know very little about electronics. It's understandable that the low replacement cost of much electronics has made labor-intensive repairs cost prohibitive, but I'd still like to see schematics available for everything.

        It's sad that we've not only lost the majority of manufacturing jobs, but much of the service side too as a result of the "if it breaks buy a new one" way of doing things.
    • And likewise, if you have data you need to get rid of, how easy/hard (compared to magnetic HDDs) is it to permanently blast data off a flash drive if you don't want the data found?
      • by bonhomme_de_neige ( 711691 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:43PM (#23386736) Homepage

        how easy/hard (compared to magnetic HDDs) is it to permanently blast data off a flash drive if you don't want the data found?
        Much easier - 10 minutes with a mortar and pestle pretty much guarantees recovery will be impossible. That method would take a lot longer (and require more equipment) for hard drives.

        Assuming, of course, that if hiding the data is that important, the cost of a flash drive is a sacrifice you're willing to make. ;)

    • Flash itself is all one chip. The equivalent of a hard disk controller failure would be a failure in the read/write circuitry in the flash chip. Unless you're thinking of flash chip microsurgery, you're SOL.

      Of course if only the USB interface chips are broken, you could potentially unsolder the flash part off the bad unit and onto a good unit and recover it.

  • How do you backup (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    a slashdot advertorial?
  • by a_nonamiss ( 743253 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:17PM (#23386036)
    In my professional career, I've sent around 10 drives out for recovery, (various companies) and none of them were able to be successfully recovered. I think that most of these companies use some variation of R-Tools [] so that they can quote amazing statistics on their websites. (Over 99% of all data is recoverable!)

    Sure, I suppose if the drive has bad electronics AND the head hasn't crashed, you might have some luck, but I never seem to get any of those cases. As far as people accidentally formatting their drives or deleting files, I can recover that stuff myself.
    • by mkiwi ( 585287 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:25PM (#23386594)
      My father had a failed hard drive many years ago and we sent it to Drivesavers. To say the least, I was not impressed. Not only did they manage only to recover 1/100 of his important powerpoint presentations and research, but they used Norton Utilities to do it. I know this because a few months later I bought Norton Utilities (Mac) and only the types of files recoverable from Norton were present. Also, the icons in the resource fork of each file had the exact same (some non-standard) icons for things like .doc, .pdf, etc. It was against the Norton Utilities EULA to use it for commercial purposes like these guys did. He was using a PowerBook and Mac OS X so maybe they didn't know what to do at the time.

      Needless to say, I was disappointed with the experience and in hindsight we should have never spent several thousand dollars to get almost nothing back.

      Now I have my dad's computer hooked up to an external hard drive using Time Machine. Unless our house burns down, which would be far more catastrophic than a hard disk failure, I don't anticipate having ever to do that again.

      Sorry if this comes off as overly negative, but as this article essentially an advertisement and people need to know customer experiences.

  • DriveSavers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DanWS6 ( 1248650 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:18PM (#23386040)
    DriveSavers can save your dead drives so check out DriveSavers today and see their other link about DriveSavers and did I mention DriveSavers.

    The recovery team did not give away many secrets, but they did reveal a number of insights into the process.
    Cool article, just wish it didn't read like an advertisement.
  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:20PM (#23386058)
    Having read the article, I can't help but think that it doesn't really read like an article of "Oh, this happened, and then this happened" especially considering that it is about hard driver recovery.

    Short of "sending in a zip lock satchel" and "using methodology" what exactly did this article cover in regards to recovering hard drive information? Not a lot. Sorry to be a bit of a drag here, but considering that the company was mentioned more than once, with links and so forth, it just made the whole thing read like a glorified infomercial with the added bonus of being surrounded by advertising. :(
  • Just a Slash-Ad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daniel23 ( 605413 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:23PM (#23386082)
    The summary says Be sure to visit the Museum of Disk-asters too. and I did. It is pure advertising. Zero facts, instead boring emotional angle with mom and pop hugging as all their iMac data got recovered.

    That stuff on the front page? Bahh! Instead of 15 modpoints twice a week give me 5 article mod points to vote this one down to -1 overrated.
  • by meeotch ( 524339 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:25PM (#23386108) Homepage

    "Although there was severe media corruption on this drive, DriveSavers engineers were able to successfully recover the majority of the critical data by utilizing our proprietary software and methodology."

    I'm sorry, but that was the most content-free load I've read on /. in a while. And no, I'm not new here - I just usually don't RTFA. ;-P

  • by thule ( 9041 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:28PM (#23386136) Homepage
    Video of the talk:

    Defcon 14 - Hard Drive Recovery []

    Basically it talks about making a clean box and how to change out the read heads or the PCB from a drive that is the exact same model. Really cool stuff!
    • Mod parent up. Great presentation on HDD recovery.
    • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:48PM (#23387146) Homepage Journal
      While we don't swap heads/platters, we have had from time to time needed to swap the onboard controller card. We keep ALL removed hard drives that the customers don't request back, in case we can use the card to recover another drive someone else brings in. The quantums were really nice that way, they had a habit of setting a part on the board ON FIRE and not working anymore. Swap cards, poof, working hard drive. Needed to be the same capacity though and same attachment to the hard drive body.

      Last week we recovered 26gb of a customer's data, full recovery, in about 10 sessions of using rsync. We'd let rsync run until the drive "hung up" on us, then cancel it and into the freezer to cool back down for 10 min, repeat.

      That chirp he heard is a failure of one of the windings (or the driver IC) on the spindle motor. It's a stepper, and so if a winding goes out, it can't step, and it just resonates at the stepping frequency, and makes a very noticeable "chiiirp". (it's trying to move the head, stepping at an audible frequency, which is why you can hear it) This is followed by a loud click as the drive determines it can't read anything and resets itself, one step of which is to move the read head all the way to the parking track. It does this regardless of where it's at currently because it can't read track information to tell, so it moves it the full distance, and slams into the hard stop and makes the loud noise like a free ball in a pinball machine. Most drives will make 3-6 hard reset attempts before shutting down, but some will go forever.

      I've dealt with several dozen Seagate 2.5" HDDs lately, and they just give a loud TAK-TAK-TAK...TAK-TAK-TAK and that's it, you can't hear the chirp. Most of the 3.5" drives do the cyclic chiiirpTAK...chiiirpTAK...chiiirpTAK and then power off. Either way, as far as WE are concerned, dead drive. We refer customers to drivesavers, and due to cost, very few send it in, but a few do. (maybe 5%) So far they have had success with all the people we have referred.

      TotalRecall is another company that does this sort of work, but I don't have any experience with them. One nice thing with drivesavers is if they can't recover ANYTHING from the drive, you don't get billed. (but shipping I think)

      The OP's article was mighty light on details. I think I just provided more info than they did... :P
  • Summary of Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by WK2 ( 1072560 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:29PM (#23386142) Homepage
    Recovering hard drives is a 3 step process:

    1) Mumbo Jumbo
    2) Put drive platter into otherwise identical drive
    3) proprietary secret stuff (sound like they used Windows to get the data off and then burn to DVDs.

    Now you don't have to read the article.
  • "There is no there there." Why post it at all ? Shouldn't the editors read the stories before putting them on the front page ?
  • Are there any *REAL* guides out there that will show you how it's done through purchasing hardware from a store? It'd be nice to be able to do this all yourself if you have the right tools...
    • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:51PM (#23386328)
      There's tons of information out there. We'll omit details about how your data should have been backed up. The rest of it's pretty simple, and it depends on your filing system, but marginally.

      1) find out what's wrong with the drive (logic board or drive motor board)
      2) get an identical drive; put the old platter assy into the new drive's guts, or just move the good drive's electronics over
      3) use a sector editor to find the FAT, journal, or whatever, or restore the MBR and use your fav OS (Kunbuntu, here)
      4) painfully gather files (actually, go out back while they're retrieved for you)
      5) collect fat (as in BIG) check with lots of kudos, thank yous, and appreciation
      6) repeat

      You don't have to backup, as long as you have a fat wallet.

      p.s. TFA really does sound like a commercial.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by number11 ( 129686 )
        get an identical drive; put the old platter assy into the new drive's guts, or just move the good drive's electronics over

        That's the hard part. "Identical" means not only model, but often revision as well. Once I did get lucky and find another drive from the same batch, and successfully trade circuit boards. But a couple of other times I failed to find the same rev. number, and the transplant didn't work.

        I've been successful a few times freezing the drive (sometimes extending runtime with a can of freeze
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by postbigbang ( 761081 )
          We recovered numerous ones, especially in the easy old days.

          A few of our techniques:

          -Slam an ST-225 onto a table to get the heads off the drive, a condition known as 'striction'
          -Recovered a Novell-formatted drive by using an identical one's logic board, and a few well-placed jumps to its table
          -Used a sector editor to hand copy one copy of a FAT to the primary table
          -Figured out, then wrote a master boot record from one drive to another (in SVR4) doing the recalc on the drive geometry
          -Found a MBR virus, inclu
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FlyingGuy ( 989135 )

        Unless there is physical damage to the platters, which is pretty much obvious, then you do not have to do much if it is either the spindle motor / control logic / bearing assembly or the Head Actuator / or heads themselves.

        The days of having a platter dedicated to a servo track are gone, but the drive will orient itself and figure out where things are located. If you can get the platters from an old drive, into the new drive, in the correct stacking order, then on spin up, the heads should un-park, and th

  • Advertisments (Score:3, Insightful)

    by doomy ( 7461 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:39PM (#23386232) Homepage Journal
    Well I for one now know what Driver Savers is (since I RTFA), but the whole thing lacks details. A story in /. should have more details than a glorified advertisement for a hard disk recovery job. There is a company down the street from me that does similar work for NASA and thus I don't think this is a unique field that no one on /. has ever heard of.

    Here is what I'd like to see (to submitter), maybe you should have gone to the corp with your drive (since you did spend 2k on recovery.. why not fly over?). Then you should have taken pictures of the whole process and even a video (instead of using stock images), and most of all you could have avoided all this by using backups.

    But this story would have been truly /. worthy if you (submitter) bought an identical harddisk and tried to swap platters etc and tried the recovery on your own. I've seen people do this and it's not hard to recover data even if you have physical damage on the drive.
  • Here [] it is. Nothing helps a hard disk recovery like 500 Gigs of mirrored backup goodness.
  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:01PM (#23386402) Homepage
    I've done a few platter swaps and have had good luck if I can find the right donor drive. So far I've gotten data off most of the disks I've tried but sometimes the recovery rate can be as low as 25%.

    I recommend that people buy drives in pairs. That way you have a good drive to use as parts once the data has been moved off to a newer drive.
    I do repairs in my house so there isn't a clean room in sight.
    If the board is fried, a board swap tends to do the trick but the bad sectors are stored on the board so the mapping will result in some bad data.
    I start with the hard drive in the freezer (using a external firewire case) trick first. That tends to get noisy bearings about 3 hours which is enough to copy data over.
    If that doesn't work, I do a platter swap. I disassemble the drive and I've found that normal printer paper works great for lifting out the platters with out scratching them. Just make sure you put them in the donor drive in the same order and don't flip them. Once the platters are in, it appears that the drives have a few days to live before they stop working. With head crashes, you might want to consider only putting the good platters in. I have yet to find a good cleaning solution so with crashes you have a very limited amount of time but head crashes seem to be rare these days.

    Once you can read the disk, use DD to copy the data to a new disk. Don't try to mount it to look for a specific file unless you only need one file and mount it read only. For data file recovery, I use a mac program Data Rescue by Prosoft which is good except it sometimes is too good and pulls out the internals like pictures out of flash and office docs.

    If your going to do this at home, take apart a few older disks first. Keep in mind they designed these things to be assembled quickly so there is a way to retract the heads completely off the platter so hunt around for it. There are some people who use vacuum cleaners to try to remove dust and others will use a shower to steam up a bathroom and wait until the steam clears with the hope of taking the dust away. I just open the drives on my computer desk.
    • by grommit ( 97148 )

      I recommend that people buy drives in pairs. That way you have a good drive to use as parts once the data has been moved off to a newer drive.
      Or, better yet, set up those two drives as a RAID mirror and have your recovery handled before the failure even occurs.

      Unless you really enjoy swapping out drive platters that is.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by arminw ( 717974 )
        ....Or, better yet, set up those two drives as a RAID mirror ...

        For Macs with 10.5 that has become easier because of Time Machine. A 2x1000G RAID box connected to an Apple Extreme wireless router does backups for 6 Macs over the network.

        If one of the drives fails, the RAID device makes an audible alarm and indicates which of the two drives has died. A new drive can be installed without shutting down the RAID system. Once the new drive is plugged in, the controller in that box automatically copies all the da
  • Where's the beef? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hurfy ( 735314 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:02PM (#23386408)
    A little light on content as others mentioned :(

    Nothing as interesting as the crash on our old mini-computer ages ago either. One of those 12" drives with 4-5 platters had a head crash and repurposed itself into a metal lathe quick nicely one weekend. At least it didnt burn down the building but it left several pounds of aluminum confetti all over the computer room after it blew out the filters on the drive. It seems you just can't filter air by the pound :( One head crashes and causes a chain reaction after the aluminum shavings clog the filters or interfer with the others. Luckily the software forced you to backup on the removeable platter each day. Only loss was a couple software mods (that the writer had a copy of) cause the system platter backup was kinda old, had to added back in.

    Needless to say, that had a zero chance of recovery. Only time a insanely overpriced maintainence agreement ever paid off...Drive was almost $20k to replace plus cleanup and setup on 200lb drive.

    Only other one that might have required a recovery service turned out to be electronic issue only and i sacificed a matching computer for the HD circuit board to repair the 'server' from a remote warehouse. Only some memos and spreadsheets and stuff and not worth the huge quote for recovery so i got to try it and fixed it the next day :)

    PS. always found it interesting the the edge speed was the same as current drives at around 105mph. The head hit a platter going between 50 and 105 mph.
  • by ymenager ( 171142 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:03PM (#23386422)
    This article is such a blatant fake / advertisement, how could the moderators let that be published on the front page ?

    As noted by many, no real technical information. Whoever wrote it might have tried to sound 'grassroot', but the whole thing still reads very much like a marketing material... 'Be sure to visit the Museum of Disk-asters too' ? Especially when such page contains nothing but marketing stuff ? Give me a break !

    And how many people would go pay 2000$ just to get back some music and photos of the family ???

    Slashdot needs a system so that people can RATE THE MODERATORS, because anyone who lets something such blatant fake-grassroot marketing material on the front-page should not be in that position.

    The whole thing is just an insult to our intelligence

  • Let's review. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dmarcov ( 461598 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:55PM (#23386828) Homepage
    It's well known that failed hard drives can be recovered, but few people actually use a recovery service because they're expensive and not always successful

    Yep. The article helpfully points out the $1500 charge for a medium sized hard drive. It might have been more interesting if the article demonstrated a time when it wasn't successful.

    Even fewer people ever get any insights into the process, as recovery companies are secretive about their methods and rarely reveal any more information that is necessary for billing.

    So, just like this article? Got it. Something involving putting old platters into new drives by people wearing bio-hazard suits.

    The recovery team did not give away many secrets, but they did reveal a number of insights into the process.

    Wowsers. You can say that again, but insights? I defy anyone to name any insight that wasn't in their last press release ... much like this article.

    [M]y drive failed in about every way you can imagine. It had electro-mechanical failure resulting in severe media damage.

    Doesn't "elctro-mechanical failure" describe anything that could be wrong with a device that is .. err .. mechanical and electrical? You mean the reciprocator was caught in the optical refraction? Now that's worth $1500.

    It's a good thing space on the interwebs is free. Someone should run this past the kids that edit airline magazines.
  • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:01PM (#23386868) Homepage
    I actually use a number of drive recovery companies, and thanks to this slashvertisement I will never use this company nor will I read

    The sad part is that I rarely even read Slashdot anymore since it is a sad shell of what it was... Pitiful.
  • by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:17PM (#23386946)
    I found an unusually large proportion of the follow up comments here to be (+1, Informative) and (+1, Interesting). TFA itself was total infomercial-tastic tripe, however.
  • Has anyone tried recovering data by putting the platter under an AFM and using a magnetic tip?
    I did surface probe microscopy for a living for many years and to me it seems trivial. You can rent time at a university on a decent AFM and you should be in business though it might be slow going.
    Has anyone tried it?

Truth is free, but information costs.