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Data Storage Hardware

Can a Regular Person Repair a Damaged Hard Drive? 504

MrSeb writes "There's a lot of FUD when it comes to self-repairing a broken hard drive. Does sticking it in the freezer help? The oven? Hitting it with a hammer? Does replacing the PCB actually work? Can you take the platters out and put them in another drive? And failing all that, if you have to send the dead drive off to a professional data recovery company, how much does it cost — and what's their chance of success, anyway? They're notoriously bad at obfuscating their prices, until you contact them directly. This article tries to answer these questions and strip away the FUD." What has been your experience with trying to fix broken drives?
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Can a Regular Person Repair a Damaged Hard Drive?

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  • One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mknewman ( 557587 ) * on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:39AM (#40801587)
    • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

      by DarrylM ( 170047 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:45AM (#40801645) Homepage

      One word: Yes.

      Longer version: But it may be more difficult to do nowadays; I don't know. About 7 years ago a family member had a computer with a lot of photos that were, sadly, not backed up. The Maxtor drive had suddenly quit. I was able to eBay another drive with the same model number and swap the boards, and voila! We had a working drive with all of the photos (and other data) intact.

      Again, I have no idea how easy that would be to do nowadays... It was hard enough to change boards with my clumsy fingers on a 3.5" drive, let alone a mobile drive.

      • Re:One word (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:58AM (#40801749) Homepage
        I repaired a drive once by overwriting the entire drive with zeroes, and overwrote the whole thing from /dev/random. After that I repartioned it and it worked fine for another 4-5 years. Before I "fixed" it, it was reporting bad sectors all over the place, and constantly had read and write errors. I salvaged what I could, but wasn't able to recover much. I never really trusted it with important data after that point, but it also never failed me after that. I eventually just stopped using it when I purchased a new hard drive, it realized the old one didn't have enough space to be useful. It was only 12 GB. Most USB sticks are bigger than that these days.
        • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

          by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:14PM (#40801871)
          The old write-over trick. Yes, what you're doing is actually forcing the drive to remap bad sectors. How reliably it works after depends on what caused the bad sectors in the first place.
        • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

          by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:25PM (#40801957)

          I repaired a drive once by overwriting the entire drive with zeroes,

          TFA is about a physically damaged drive. (Burnt out component on PCB.) The aim is to recover the data from that.

          Your method won't work on that kind of failure, and certainly won't recover any data.

        • Re:One word (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ckedge ( 192996 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:26PM (#40801965) Journal

          Yes, this frequently works at making failing disks "work again" -- as the manufacturer test sequences and/or simply zeroing the drive gives the drive a chance to find and mark all the bad failed blocks as bad, and the remaining blocks are all the ones that didn't fail and so the disk keeps working for a few more years. I've used this a half dozen times at work.

          Of course, this is to make a failing disk "work again", it doesn't help with recovering existing data.

          The first thing I'll try with a failing disk is to setup a file by file mirroring program (robocopy is one cli program I use a lot) and set it's "retries" to a moderately high number, like 5 or 10 or 20. Even though you are getting read errors, there are a class of problems where occasionally the read will work, and so each time you try and "rsync" the disk, you get more and more of what's there, till you have a mostly complete copy of the data. This is the same method that some enthusiast utilities use (like grc's disk recovery program, iirc).

          I've personally used the freezer trick once. Because of the possibility of condensation, I used the fridge first. I don't recall if I had to use the freezer, but I know I would not have left it in the freezer long (metal transfers heat fast, so it doesn't need to be deep freezed, just a bit colder than the fridge), maybe 5 minutes max, and I recall thinking that I'd end up putting it inside an anti static bag or something with an elastic closing the bag on the cables ... so that the amount of condensation would be limited, either that or run the dehumidifier and/or AC really hard first so that my apt was at low humidity. Definitely would not try it in the middle of a humid summer. Better to wait till winter and turn up your heating system and open your windows so the humidity drops really really low. That's always another option (for those of us that live far enough north), take the system into the chilly cold arid garage so the freezer trick doesn't result in lots of condensation.

          Of 5 drives that were failing, 3 I recovered by "retry reads over and over", and 1 I recovered using the freezer trick.

          I have one more left that I need to try a "platter swap" with an identical working model number using the "bathroom cleanroom technique". But I'm not looking forward to that, getting the platters out without scratching them on the heads is going to be a massive bitch. I think I'll practice on a few old 9GB drives before I try it with my failed 120GB drive. (I've had it sitting around for forever waiting for me to find the time to do it, I don't actually still use drives that old.)

          • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:13PM (#40802315) Homepage Journal

            I've personally used the freezer trick once. Because of the possibility of condensation, I used the fridge first.

            There is little possibility of harmful condensation if use a limited version of the freezer trick, and simply suck as much air out of the bag as possible (use a vacuum sealer if available) and then let the disk return to room temperature before opening the bag. You don't NEED to run the disk while you thermally cycle it if the problem is stiction. And there is also always the option of using one of the many waterproof enclosures available on the market, and simply slipping some dessicant packets in there before you start your quest. You could also just put it in a tupperware and seal the hole the cable passes through with silicone, and put the dessicant in there with it.

            • Re:One word (Score:4, Informative)

              by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @09:04PM (#40804799)

              Condensation won't kill electronics. The water from condensation is pure and free of contaminants. The electronics will quite comfortably run with beads of water on them.

              This is a common trick in electrical equipment fault finding. Any fault that is caused by thermal expansion or contraction can be located on a giant PCB by using a localised blast from a freeze spray. The end result is everywhere the freeze spray has been used frosts over then gets wet. I've yet to kill electronics using this method and have been through about 10 cans in my life.

              I used the freezer trick to recover a HDD which died of neglect (unused drive for about a year), I assumed the motors just suffered stiction. Out of the freezer and straight into service. Worked beautifully even with condensation running down the side of the PCB. After about 5 minutes it all dried out.

              • Condensation won't kill electronics. The water from condensation is pure and free of contaminants. The electronics will quite comfortably run with beads of water on them.

                In a perfect world free from dust, that might be true. This is not that world. Most HDDs have dust on the PCB. Of the three I just disassembled for their shiny and magnetic bits, one had significant dust on the top side of the PCB, between it and the disk. It's not expensive to mitigate this risk.

            • Re:One word (Score:4, Insightful)

              by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:00PM (#40805221) Journal

              I had to do that trick once as well and I'm glad to say it worked. Man you want to talk about a tense as hell experience, there I was with a gal just crying her eyes out because that drive was the ONLY source of a couple of hundred pics and little video and audio clips of her dead mother.

              But I did just as you described, vacu-sealed the drive and let it come back to room temp before opening the bag and it worked just long enough to get that data off. Luckily that one close call was enough for her so I was able to set her up a backup routine using a combination of DVDs plus Cloud plus USB HDDs that are rotated out weekly between her home and that of her sister. that way everything she has is backed up thrice on 3 different mediums at 3 different locations just to be safe.

              Please folks, i don't care if its flash sticks, get your friends and family to back up the important stuff, okay? Make digital copies of all pictures and documents and store them in multiple locations. I had a customer come home from a 3 day business trip to a smoldering pile where his house once was so I know how important they can be. Thankfully he had listened to me and all it took was retrieving his backup drive from his brother's house and he had all his records and pictures back in a few hours but he could have lost everything, all the photos of his family, all his childhood videos, the whole thing just gone.

              So backup backup backup folks, and make sure everyone you know does the same. Hell you can get a 32Gb flash stick for less than $20 off of Newegg and that will hold most people's precious stuff right there and fit into your pocket or a safety deposit box. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, as I've seen time and time again here at the shop.

        • Re:One word (Score:4, Informative)

          by t4ng* ( 1092951 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:39PM (#40802061)

          I can see how that might work if it were a pretty old hard drive. Since hard drives have magnetic recording media, you can't just write raw data straight to disk. For example, if you truly wrote all zeros or all ones (the recording bias all in one direction or another) there would be no way to figure out if it were all zeros or all ones or how many bits of zeros or ones that you had recorded. So all data is encoded before writing it to disk to ensure that there is always an alternating magnetic field on the disk. A zero might be expanded to 1001, or something like, that before it is written to disk. Different encoding techniques have certain known data pattern weaknesses, data patterns that when encoded will produce a more difficult to read signal on the disk than other patterns. These bad data patterns are used to test drive designs. Additionally, each data track on a disk is sandwiched between two servo tracks. These help keep the head centered on the data track no matter where it is without having to worry about drive calibration. And finally, drives include a lot of spare sectors that the drive electronics are supposed to automatically swap out, without the OS knowing about it, when bad sectors are detected.

          So, it is possible that you had a drive that after a lot of writes and rewrites was having some signal-to-noise ratio problems detecting data written on the drive. Your rewrite operations may have normalized the media on the disks just enough to get a little more life out of it. But what was actually being written to the disk wasn't all zeros. If that were possible, you would really make the drive unusable!

        • That may make the drive work again, but it won't recover the data that was already on it (which it what they are asking about here).

          The reason what you did works in some circumstances is that all drives beyond a certain point have more capacity than they actually let the outside world see. The extra capacity is used to remap back blocks to when they appear: meaning a multi Gbyte drive doesn't fail because a few MByte worth of surface goes bad. This only works until the "hidden" capacity is all used, afte
      • As I understand it a much larger problem than clumsy fingers is that modern drive manufacturers tend to silently go through several revisions for the same model number, and you often need a board from *exactly* the same revision for a board-swap to work.

      • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

        by blackicye ( 760472 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:11PM (#40802307)

        One word: Yes.

        Longer version: But it may be more difficult to do nowadays; I don't know. About 7 years ago a family member had a computer with a lot of photos that were, sadly, not backed up. The Maxtor drive had suddenly quit. I was able to eBay another drive with the same model number and swap the boards, and voila! We had a working drive with all of the photos (and other data) intact.

        Again, I have no idea how easy that would be to do nowadays... It was hard enough to change boards with my clumsy fingers on a 3.5" drive, let alone a mobile drive.

        This will not work with many newer drives, especially WD Caviar Black and Blue. There is a firmware chip on the PCB that also needs to be transplanted, and this is tricky even with a Surface mount electronics soldering station, the type that uses channeled hot air.

        • Re:One word (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @02:33AM (#40806135)

          There is a firmware chip on the PCB that also needs to be transplanted, and this is tricky even with a Surface mount electronics soldering station

          Just to be clear, the HDD manufacturers didn't stick it on there just to make it harder for users to fix their own hard drives. It contains mappings of bad sectors which the drive swapped out with reserve sectors through the normal course of operation. Older drives had smaller capacity so proportionately fewer bad sectors and could get away with just mapping them out (reducing capacity) or storing the mapping on the drive itself. The high capacity of modern drives makes it a virtual certainty that it's going to develop multiple bad sectors through its usage life. So you need a more systematic and reliable method of dealing with them. The norm is to set aside some reserve space, and when the drive detects a sector going bad, map it out and replace it with a sector in the reserve space, and note the new mapping in the nonvolatile memory of the firmware chip.

      • personal experiences (Score:5, Informative)

        by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @02:15PM (#40802737) Homepage Journal

        I've been a repair tech for the last 10 yrs. (and I don't mean I'm a "I built my own PC, I'm a computer god! I fix my friend/family''s computers" I actually know what I'm doing and have electrical engineering experience) I'd estimate I've seen around a thousand bad hard drives in that time. Of those, I'd say 65% would tap repeatedly, 25% had some io errors but were still working, 8% would sound normal but would never post on the bus, and the other 2% were the other weird issues like chirping or no power at all.

        The tappers were very rarely recoverable by me. Every now and then I'd see one that if you powered it up dozens of times, you might get lucky and it would post properly and you could get data from it. None of the other common methods were helpful.

        Over 90% of the drives with io errors and slow blocks could be recovered from. Most of those simply required a file level copy from bad drive to good. Most would have a handful of unrecoverable files. Depending on what was lost, an OS reinstall was sometimes required on the new drive, but not usually. A small percentage of them would have a large number of errors and require days to recover, or would fail completely during the recovery. A few of them would look promising but then quickly becomes apparent that almost nothing will be recoverable.

        Sometimes a drive would stop responding during recovery and require a break. Trips to the freezer helped on about 30% of the drives. Some drives required numerous trips to the freezer, using rsync to resume copying where it left off last time, a process which could take days but could result in a complete recovery. I pondered ways to cool a drive during the recovery such as using a peltier, but never got anything implemented. I also use ddrescue and another custom script I wrote that works in a similar way, doing block-level recovery while splitting problem areas for smaller recovery chunks. That's useful for windows or other foreign OS where you can't do a file copy. (mac shop here)

        I've never dried "drop therapy" or "impact maintenance". I'm sure it could help under specific circumstances like a stuck spindle or loose connection but I've never witness it.

        I've done a little bit of onboard controller card ("OBCC") swaps for identical drives where the bad one wouldn't power on at all. About 25% success there. For that reason I tend to keep old tapping drives because their cards can work in dead drives. I assume the tapping drives have head failures, which isn't related to the OBCC. I've talked with multiple data recovery places about this process, and to my surprise every single one of them has told me "that won't work". They usually explain the remaps are stored on the OBCC, which makes sense, but isn't a good excuse not to try when the remaps probably don't account for more than one in a hundred thousand blocks. I think they just want me to send the drive to them.

        The sled you place the drive into makes a HUGE difference in recovery. Avoid usb. I don't care if you insist on windows, install a firewire card. Almost all USB bridge chips handle misbehaving drives very badly. Only use one of those little external adapters with the build-on 2ft usb cord on it as an absolute last resort. OWC's "mercury elite aluminum" series are the best (reasonably priced) recovery sled I have found, and I have tried many. USB (39MB/sec, not 36, 26, 16, 12, etc), FW400, FW800, AND esata interface. In the past I used a Granite Digital "fireview", those absolutely rocked for drive recovery (LCD panel with diag menu....) but they stopped making them and they were IDE only. Someone needs to make a modern sled like that for sata please.

        As for paid recovery, results seem random. Techs tend to have a recovery place they swear BY, and others they swear AT. But my observation is simply that methods vary and different places handle different problems with varying success. I think many techs' impressions are based on their first few experiences - if good they like, if bad they don'

        • I've never dried "drop therapy" or "impact maintenance". I'm sure it could help under specific circumstances like a stuck spindle or loose connection but I've never witness it.

          That seems like something that would never work on a hard drive. However, I had a Deskstar drive that actually came out of a broken computer and sat on the shelf for a couple of months before I tried to re-use it. I plugged it in, along with an identical model drive that worked fine, and it would not spin up. I tried multiple troubleshooting techniques, and I had pretty much resigned myself to checking the warranty and sending it back, but at that moment of frustration I slammed the thing on the floor, a

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @03:06PM (#40803083)

          We have personally had to send them a drive of ours - clowns at corp accounting didn't back up their data and lost an accounting drive. That was a $10k lesson I do hope they've learned from.

          Accountants? Their backups are paper, and the backup method is glaring suspiciously at the computer while they use it.

      • One word: Yes.

        Like you, I have swapped out controller boards (quite a few times, actually), and it seems to work even on fairly modern drives. I have also removed platters and transplanted them with success, but only on 5-1/4" drives. Today, it's much easier to swap the controller card. Although I haven't done it recently, since everything I have runs RAID and is backed up, I don't see how the three years or so since I last resorted to these methods would make that much difference.

        I have also done the freezer trick to

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        About two years ago I had a 1TB Hitachi drive go bad on me, and a few minutes with a multimeter told me the board was the culprit. The drive was still under warranty, but they would have replaced it with a new drive instead of trying to repair the old one and 1TB is a lot of data to lose. Fortunately I found the same model on eBay with a bad head for a few dollars.

        Simply swapping the boards didn't work for me, so I hunted down the location of the NVRAM and swapped those with a rework station I've owned for

    • A Better Word (Score:4, Insightful)

      by epp_b ( 944299 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:13PM (#40801857)
    • Re:One word (Score:5, Informative)

      by t4ng* ( 1092951 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:19PM (#40801913)

      As someone that worked as an engineer in the hard drive manufacturing industry for 15 years I would have to agree, "No."

      You might be able to revive a drive if it is a problem with a PCB, but if it is a problem with the disks or heads, forget about it!

      Incidentally, a "hard drive crash" used to mean a head touched the disk and physically damaged the head and/or the disk. But for nearly two decades now, heads in hard drives are "contact heads," meaning the smallest part of the gap between the head and the disk is smaller than the mean free path of air molecules. However the heads are "flying" at a fairly high angle of attack, so it is really only the trailing edge of the head that is in contact with the disk at all times. Between that contact head design and auto retracting armatures that pull the heads off the data area of the disks, actual head crashes are extremely rare under normal operating conditions.

      • Re:One word (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <[voyager529] [at] []> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @02:54PM (#40803005)

        Incidentally, a "hard drive crash" used to mean a head touched the disk and physically damaged the head and/or the disk.

        ...and today, "my hard drive crashed" can mean basically anything. I can't count how many times I've heard someone say "my hard drive crashed" only to have their response to my question of "how do you know" sound something like, "well, when I go to 'my documents, Word doesn't load" or some other similar error where the hard disk is clearly not to blame. I tried educating people on the actual meaning of the term, but it seemed a losing battle, so now "my hard drive crashed" generally translates to "something is broken", unless it's a fellow computer tech who I'm certain knows what an actual hard disk crash looks like.

    • Re:One word (Score:4, Funny)

      by Briareos ( 21163 ) * on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:30PM (#40802003)

      Betteridge's Law of Headlines [] applies again... :)

      • by Sancho ( 17056 ) *

        Only the real answer is "sometimes."

        The PCB swap works if the PCB is what's damaged. I've seen it happen several times in my 16 years of IT. I've also recommended the trick to non-techie friends, and had a nonzero success rate. So it can be done, if the failure scenario is just right and the person can follow directions.

        • If the data is important enough to warrant trying to repair it (which would involve paying me for several hours of research and then the attempt), Im just going to take it to a recovery lab. They charge more, but they also have tons more experience, a proper cleanroom, and a much better chance of not making things worse.

    • Re:One word (Score:4, Funny)

      by blackicye ( 760472 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:13PM (#40802319)


      Any home user who has a Scanning Electron Microscope and the appropriate algorithms in their basement can recover data from almost 90% of mechanical failures.

  • It Depends (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:41AM (#40801599)

    Sometimes just the controller portion fails. If you remove it and replace it with a working one from a identical drive you're back in business. Only tool needed is a torx driver I believe.

    • I tried this once, and it didn't work.

      My guess is, there are different revisions, then are several batches, and the odds of getting exactly the right controller are pretty slim. In addition, how do you know that the controller isn't somehow "linked" to the specific platters?

    • Replacing the controller board works if your problem is with the board.

      I shorted one out once doing something stupid (inserting another drive in below it while the system was on). It sat unused for a couple years until I decided to see if I could recover the data. Bought one of the exact same model (very important) off of e-bay and swapped the boards. It worked perfectly.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Works with some models, doesn't with others. Some PCBs have parameters flashed into them that are tuned to that particular set of platters after some sort of tuning process at the factory.

    • Correct (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:52PM (#40802157)

      It really depends on what has failed and how. I've repaired a number of drives at work well enough to get data off with just basic software tools, like using Knoppix to force mount problematic partitions and so on. The drive may be failing but not completely so a software-only solution can do the trick.

      Also I've had Spinrite work. It has about a 40% success rate but on drives that nothing else could read, I've had it make them readable again. In one case I ran Spinrite (it takes many hours, put a fan on the disk), copied the data to a new disk with Ghost, did a chkdsk, did a repair install of Windows and the system functioned flawlessly, no data or app loss. Of course the other 60% of the time it destroys the disk beyond any repair so it is a "Use only as a last resort and only if the data isn't important enough to pay for professional recovery," tool.

      Replacing controllers can work if the controller is what has failed. Needs to be the precise controller so one from a like disk but different size won't work and occasionally even the firmware version can matter.

      However if the problem is with the heads themselves or the platters then no, you can't do shit. You need a clean room to open the drive up without destroying it, and then of course you need something to put the platter in to for reading them.

      So you can try to self repair a drive. As I said using recovery software (Knoppix with force mount is a great thing to try first) is a good first step, so long as the BIOS can see the drive. May be that you can just copy the data and call it good. However there are also plenty of situations where you can't repair it so don't count on it working. If the data is really important, send it to a pro.

  • Freezer "fix" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Georules ( 655379 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:43AM (#40801623)
    Don't ask me how, but I had a failing drive that couldn't even manage to be on for 30 seconds before being unreadable. Since I was curious, as a control, I first let the drive sit at room temperature for an hour. Afterwards, again, only 30 seconds of read time. I then put it in the freezer for an hour, and was able to read for 10 minutes, just enough time for the data I needed. I have no idea what actually happened, and am still skeptical to attribute the success to the freezer, but I did get what I wanted.
    • I've had the same thing happen: I've been able to get a drive to run longer before failure by putting it in the freezer for a bit. I'm not really sure why this article is so against the freezer fix. Can it damage the drive more? Sure, probably. But, if you want to get some data off the drive, but that data isn't important enough to spend $1,500 for recovery... why not just try it? If you do damage the drive more, you're no worse off (again, assuming spending money on the recovery is out of the question).
    • Re:Freezer "fix" (Score:5, Informative)

      by toygeek ( 473120 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:56AM (#40801723) Homepage Journal

      Something on the PCB was cracked. The freezing caused everything to pull back together, and heat separated it. So, bringing it to a lower temperature kept it together longer. Simple enough. Is it a repair? No. Its a workaround. A temporary one.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        That is BS. The real reason is that heat-damaged semiconductors may work for again for a while when cold. Well known to electronics experts.

  • by thatseattleguy ( 897282 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:44AM (#40801633) Homepage

    In the very limited (3) cases that I've had to try and revive a client's dead desktop drive, replacing the PCB board from an identical model - usually purchased cheaply, used or new, online - has always worked.

    The other advantage of this approach is that if the first drive becomes revivable, even a time, you now have a second same-capacity drive to transfer the data to (using intermediate storage media if in fact it was the PCB that was the problem and you can only get one drive working at a time).

    If it doesn't work, you're no worse off and still have a replacement drive to load data from your (hopefully recent) backups.

    • That depends on where the drive stores its calibration data. Used to be that is was stored on an EEROM on the PCB, and in that case it's improbable that the HDA will work with calibration data from a different PCB. However, newer drives got rid of the EEROM for cost savings (that was in the late 90s for low cost drives; later for higher end drives) and store calibration data on the disk itself. So if the PCB doesn't store any state it's generic and should run with any HDA (of the same revision.)

  • by HeadlessNotAHorseman ( 823040 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:46AM (#40801663) Homepage
    I broke an external USB hard disk once (it tipped over while running). It cost me AUD $2600 to get it repaired. They got most of the data off; some was corrupted but fortunately nothing important. I take more regular backups now!
  • my experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:47AM (#40801667)

    Had a disk at work with our sourcesafe database on break. Due to responsibility falling between chairs, there was no backup at all. Sent it to one rescue firm, came back without successful restore, sent it to another one, got more than 99% back, lost nothing important, cost somewhere in the low 4 figures.

    With private disks where data rescue is out of the question, I've had good experiences with freezing and in other cases replacing the circuit board. If doing it yourself, always mount RO and have somewhere with enough with enough space to make first a "cp" of selected really important stuff, a recursive "cp" of everything, and last a "dd" or "rescue_dd" of the whole disk. I've had better luck copying files from within a read-only mounted filesystem at first, you are fighting the clock after all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:50AM (#40801679)
    Just 3D print whatever new part you need. A new read/write head? Just pop some plastic in the 3D printer and print one out. Then head over to the clean room and the tool box and jigs and use your dexterity and skill to change the head. Bad IC somewhere? 3D print out a new chip. Yes, 3D printing is the future!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:51AM (#40801691)
    I took my hard drive to the Geek Squad and they wanted $500 to send my hard drive away to get the data.

    I yelled at them and I told them that was robbery. Asked for the manager. But, when I was leaving one of the Geeks told me a secret.
    He said just go home and drill a hole in the hard drive and then set it on top of your new hard drive with the hole facing down. All the data will just pour out to your new drive.

    It didn't work for me, but maybe I didn't do it right?
  • It depends (Score:4, Informative)

    by woboyle ( 1044168 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:52AM (#40801701)
    Some HD problems (stuck platters so it doesn't spin up) are user-fixable. Most are not. There is a syndrome called "sticktion" where the read/write heads settle on the platters when shut off (most modern drives will elevate the heads when shut off, but some, including many older drives, do not). Because the platters and heads are so flat, they mechanically weld themselves together over time. To fix this (a technique I have used often in the past), you need to remove the drive, and then snap rotate it on the plane of the platters, so that the momentum of the platters trying to counter rotate against the impetus of the rotational momentum you are applying to the drive will break the "weld" loose. If you then quickly re-install the drive and turn it on, it will most likely spin up and continue to operate without problems. Other failure modes include head "crashes", spindle bearing failures, drive motor failures, controller circuitry problems (bad electronic components), and mechanical breakage of connectors, solder joints, etc. These typically are not user repairable.
    • by InitZero ( 14837 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:43PM (#40802089) Homepage

      In preparation for Y2K, we had to turn off our text archive server (at a newspaper) for the first time in, literally, years. The machine itself has been in production for six years, the last two or so of which without a reboot.

      It was an IBM AIX machine with an array of 4.5GB SCSI drives. After sitting with its power off for a couple hours, we turned it back on and Nothing Happened. No drives were spinning. Crap.

      Called IBM tech support. Got the run-around. Finally got to a guy who said something along the lines of "you're going to think this is crazy but do what I say in this order" followed by...

      * turn machine off
      * remove drives
      * turn the machine on
      * bang the drives on their edge a few times on the floor - don't go crazy but harder than you think is a good idea
      * spin the drives flat on the ground as though they were tops
      * immediately, put the drives in the enclosure
      * reboot the machine but do not power it off

      Damn if the guy wasn't right.

      His guess was that the drives had been powered for eight or so years and the lubricant had either broken down or the heads were simply stuck to the platters. The thumping dislodged the heads and the spin gave the grease a fighting chance. {shrug}

      In any case, we dared not turn it off for another year and a half until at such time it was replaced. We thought about buying replacement drives but IBM wanted something along the lines of $600 for a 4.5GB drive. Even on eBay, they were three times what we felt was reasonable.


  • won't work (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @11:55AM (#40801713)

    Maybe the PCB swap used to work, it almost certainly won't work anymore. When a HDD powers on, it needs to load some parameters for the servo system (i.e. positioning the arm) and other tuned parameters for the controller to read back off the disk. These parameters are probably stored in flash memory on the PCB and the parameters will vary from disk to disk. So, parameters for drive A will not work to spin up drive B because of small variances in their manufacturing even if they're made on the same day in the same plant on the same line by the same underpaid employee

    You can't swap disks because even if you get a tiny fingerprint on the disk, it's the size of Mt. Everest compared to the distance between the read head and the media. You'll be putting your own home-grown media defects all over it. Forget about getting your files back.

    Aside from common firmware related problems (search for "reparing 7200.11" in google for an example), you're not going to have much luck.

    The only other thing I've seen work: a guy took his neighbors HDD (which was not responding in Windows) and had to use an oscilloscope to realize the read waveform from the read head was a low amplitude. He built a small in-line amplifier which brought the amplitude back up to spec so the data could be read off. I was impressed.

    Source: I have work experience on manufacturing processes for HDDs.

    • That amplifier trick must have been a few decades ago.
      These days the preamp is inside the HDA because it has to be as close to the heads as possible. Microvolts at hundreds of Mhz with gnarly S/N requirements are not easy to handle.

  • I haven't had a disk crash for a long time, but it used to be that when a disk crashed while reading, I could still connect it to a 486 and read all the data on it. I guess the slower computer doesn't stress the disk as much.
    This was during the IDE days. Now it's all SATA, so I threw the 486 away.
    There often was data corruption, but without a reliable backup it was the best thing to have.

  • Yes, maybe. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fished ( 574624 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yrogihpma'> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:03PM (#40801785)

    My first job in "the industry" was in a PC repair shop in 1991. Back in those days, we had a huge crop of bad Seagate 40MB (yes, that's "mega" children) hard drives. The usual problem was that the spindle had frozen up, and if we took the circuit board off and gently tapped the spindle, you could often (about 75% of the time) get the drive to start spinning again long enough to get your data off.

    Hard drives have gotten a lot more reliable and a lot smaller since then. I don't know whether this would be a wise thing to do with a modern hard drive.

  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:13PM (#40801859)

    Fixing a broken hard drive is quite easy. Simply restore from your backup to a new working drive. While you're at it, get a higher capacity drive as the prices will have dropped and the capacities will have improved. ...ah, you do keep daily backups, right? If not then you're one of those people who hires people like me to recover your data. It's expensive. Making backups is a lot cheaper.

  • Platters no way (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:17PM (#40801889) Homepage

    You will have great difficulty taking the platters out. The read heads have to be removed without physically coming into contact with the platters. You'll need specialized fixtures and tooling to even begin. If the data is that important then send it to a professional.

  • by brokenin2 ( 103006 ) * on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:21PM (#40801927) Homepage

    We fixed a drive by trading the pcb with another *IDENTICAL* drive (same rev of board etc)..

    The funny part was that when we went to recover the files they desperately needed back from that drive, all we found were shortcuts to a network drive, where the files had been safe and sound the entire time.. The user just had no idea that they hadn't lost their files..

  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <plugwash @ p> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:40PM (#40802065) Homepage

    Sometimes it's possible to ressurect a dead drive by swapping the controller board with another from the same model (or a very close model from the same range). Unfortunately with modern drives there is often information stored on the controller board which is needed for the drive to start. This information seems to be stored on a serial memory chip (usually an 8-pin device in a SOIC or similar package) on the controller board.

    What i've found you can do is remove the serial memory chip from the dead controller board and solder it to the donor controller board. Provided you have a hot air rework station it's pretty easy to remove and re-fit the serial memory chips. So-far i've tried this twice and it's worked both times, YMMV of course.

  • by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:50PM (#40802137) Homepage

    At least do it the right way.

    1. Get ahold of long cables that can reach *outside* the freezer to your machine.

    2. Wrap the drive *before* you put it in the freezer. Heat a towel in the oven to make sure it's dry, then wrap the drive in the towel. Now stick it in a plastic baggie, along with some silica gel packs to suck up more moisture. Try to close the mouth of the baggie around the cables as much as possible. Use duct tape if necessary.

    3. Put it in the freezer, route the cables through the door seal, and make damn sure the door is shut tight as possible. Seal it with more duct tape if you have to. Let it sit in the freezer for at least 6 hours to get really cold.

    4. Make all your preparations before plugging in the drive. Situate your primary machine right next to the freezer, make sure you're ready to go. If you can somehow manage it, and you know what you're doing, boot into an old copy of DOS, or a command-line interface of your preferred *nix distro. Don't waste time loading Windows if you can help it.

    5. Turn off your machine, plug the drive in, then reboot.

    6. Move *fast*. Start copying the drive contents over to the backup drive as fast as you can. If you can do it via a script or batch file, then even better. Speed is of the essence. In fact, if you know the locations of the files you need, as well as their general file names, then creating a batch file BEFORE starting would be your best option. Just tell it to copy everything in C:\MyLifesWork\coldfusion*.*

    7. MOST IMPORTANT STEP!!! If this does not work, and you can't pull anything off the drive, then don't panic just yet. Turn off your machine, unplug the drive, then unplug the freezer.

    Do NOT open the freezer until it has reached ambient temperature, which will take at least 24 hours or more.

    This will prevent the drive from getting roached from the condensation, and make it more feasible for a drive recovery company to save your data.

  • by bayankaran ( 446245 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:51PM (#40802153) Homepage
    Few years back a 20GB drive I salvaged from an old dead Thinkpad stopped working. No whirring sound, nothing...the green light on the USB enclosure stayed on.

    There was no important data, but I thought "this is the chance to learn how to salvage a hard drive".

    I did the freezer option. I had already used the freezer to kill ants in sugar and bugs in rice. Froze the drive overnight, took it out and immediately connected and waited for whirring sound. No sound. The drive is dead.

    Gave the drive couple of almighty whacks. Still no sound. No life at all.

    I threw it in the dust bin.

    The next day I tried to connect a camera. The SD card on the camera failed to be identified on Windoze and Linux.

    I tried another USB cable. And the camera connected fine.

    It took me a few seconds to remember the old hard drive. Took it out of the trash, wiped it clean and connected.

    The drive works perfectly fine even today. But it still got the smell of decomposed tea leaves.
  • My experiences (Score:4, Informative)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @12:57PM (#40802201) Homepage Journal

    WAY BACK WHEN I took the cover off a 40MB RLL disk, pushed on the spindle by hand (it had so much stiction it could not be repaired by any other means) to free it, put the cover back on, and it worked. Note, 40 megabytes. I didn't even try to improvise a clean room. My cleaning procedure was to blow on the top platter gently before I closed the drive. The drive spun up and I was able to recover 100% of the data from it, and it was nearly full. Before this happened this disk actually burned a power-carrying trace off the board and I replaced it with a wire jumper. Then later that wire got so hot that the solder melted and it fell off, and I put it back on and used it some more. You guessed it, Seizegate.

    MANY TIMES I have got a non-spinning drive spinning again by whacking one corner (from the side of the drive) with a screwdriver. The last one I did this with was 80GB or so, but there's no reason why this technique should not be valid today. Connect to power, give it a sharp rap in the appropriate direction, listen to it spin. I started doing this with ST-225s which needed it very often, but I've applied it to many different disks successfully over the years.

    My experiences aside, many people have put disks in the freezer or even the oven (not hard to stay below reflow temperature) and got them to free up. If it's a stiction problem it's all about thermal expansion and contraction. If the drive spins but does not work, if you're very lucky you might have a PCB problem, and if you can find a disk of the same model and version then the PCB from the other disk might work on your disk.

  • by anarcat ( 306985 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:13PM (#40802317) Homepage

    Regular person? This is slashdot, there are no "regular persons" here.

  • by neurocutie ( 677249 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:24PM (#40802381)
    My boss handed me the hard drive from his laptop. He said it was totally fried. It had ALL his work on it, no backups.

    What had happened was that he had some minor NTFS corruption problem, so he went to our IT dept. Some IT monkey removed the laptop drive and tried to hook it up to a SATA - IDE converter. However he managed to wire up the power backwards. That fried the drive, but actually all it really did was burn/short the power polarity protection diode.

    So with magnifying glass and soldering iron, I simply removed the shorted diode, and voila (not wahlah or viola), the drive was working again. I was then able to easily clean up the NTFS problem. Boy was he happy to get all his stuff back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2012 @01:42PM (#40802499)

    Please put dates on your war-story recovery experiences. If you don't remember, give the drive's size.

    Please don't be pointlessly coy about naming the recovery vendor who could or couldn't recover your data, the price they quoted, the price you finally paid them. Don't say nothing. Don't say "a certain major vendor, har har." Just tell us who they are. You don't have long before these sketchy tradies see the article and flood the comments with self-serving FUD.

    Please state what was wrong with the drive before you tried to recover it, ex:

      * didn't spin

      * didn't identify

      * latent sector errors (ex. "OS keept crashing")

    None of the upvoted comments have these details which is making the article useless for me.

    For my own experience,

    (a) I had full, easy success swapping the controller of an IBM 9GB SCSI drive, but the old controller had been visibly damaged. SMD gull-wing (?) pins were smashed. This is a rare failure case for me.

    (b) I'm often able to recover data from the third category of drive with 'dd if=/dev/olddrive of=/dev/newdrive bs=512 conv=noerror,sync'. (there is also dd_rescue, but I don't use it). This works on Linux or Mac, but on Solaris you must use GNU dd for it to work---the included one is just broken. Obviously you need to boot off a drive other than the one that's failing. The drive must be unmounted when you use dd. It takes several days to read a failing drive this way, and about a quarter-day to copy a fully-working drive this way, so the excessively slow/dumb retry cycles in the firmware and storage stack mean your drive is spinning long enough to get worse, if it's decaying (something to consider for self-service vs. pro recovery).

  • by FridayBob ( 619244 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @02:05PM (#40802659) Homepage

    Once I had a client who's hard disk broke down when his last backup of it was several months old. It seemed dead, but there was a lot of expensive data on it, so I took it straight to a professional. His services cost me about $2.000 and did restore a lot of the data, but not in the way that I expected. He sent me a couple of DVDs ten days later with on the one hand long lists of the names of the files that had been restored, and on the other the files with the data. The only problem was that the data files all had random names, so we were still faced with the task of figuring out which files had which names. For about 10.000 files. My client was relieved to have (most of) his data back, but was obviously disappointed with the results.

    Of course, the trick is to never allow yourself to get anywhere near this kind of situation. The worst of it could have been avoided if my client had stuck to making his regular backups or had simply used RAID (or preferably done both).

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @02:25PM (#40802819)

    The consistent experience is that most people messing with broken drives make it worse (i.e. more expensive) or impossible to recover. You have to take into account that people needing to recover a disk in the first place have usually already demonstrated gross incompetence by not having a reasonable backup. This does not bode well for their chances to accomplish a complicated recovery operation right.

    That said, if it is just a matter of convenience, i.e. if the data on the drive is not important, go for it. There is a small chance (5% in my experience) that you can actually recover things. That is for a drive not quite dead only. For a dead drive, professional data recovery services are the only real option. Take care though, that there are a lot of data recovery services that are anything but professional and will not only grossly overcharge you, but likely break a recoverable drive permanently.

    As to prices, the usual fees from professional services are quite reasonable. Recovery of a drive with real mechanical problems at, say, 5000...10000 USD is not overpriced. Just because the mass-produced equipment is cheap does not mean doing any non-standard operations on it is. My guess is that the reason for the complaints about prices stem mostly from the fact that people needing these services were to cheap or stupid to do backups before anyways. These complaints cannot be taken as a representative sample.

  • by pbjones ( 315127 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @05:33PM (#40803769)

    I have changed boards in old drives, and I have had drives that worked after I cooled then down. The secret is, once you get them working, back up all of the data that you can get off them, and then THROW THEM OUT! You are kidding yourself if you think that a repair drive is OK.

  • by NewtonsLaw ( 409638 ) on Saturday July 28, 2012 @07:16PM (#40804289)

    Back in the early 1990s (when I was working for a company that had more money than sense), we took the top off a 20MB Seagate HD and ran it for a day with no protection from dust, moisture or whatever.

    Everyone in the building came past to watch the heads move and the platters spin.

    It performed faultlessly.

    Quite surprising -- considering the weight given to clean-rooms and the supposed risk of head-crash that even the tiniest speck of dust was supposed to produce.

    We didn't put the drive back into proper service but it was enlightening.

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Saturday July 28, 2012 @07:24PM (#40804331) Homepage Journal

    A "friend" gave me a Seagate 50MB SCSI drive back when it was just a little bit outdated. It powered up to a horrible grinding, shredding sound but still managed to read out maybe 10KB/s of data. That grew old quickly because I really wanted the sweet, sweet Amiga warez stored on it. Fearing that it was going to die at any moment and figuring I had nothing to lose, I flipped it over and squirted some 3-in-1 oil into the bearing.

    The grinding smoothed into a high-speed whine and I watched with glee as the transfer rates crept up to a more civilized 700KB/s. I copied its contents onto my palatial 250MB drive and put the geezer out of its misery.

    I have not before or since sped up a computer by oiling it.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.