The Worst Head Crash Ever?

Worst Head Crash Ever
I’ve seen some pretty serious head crashes in my time. It’s the worst part of my job, knowing I’ll have to tell someone their data is gone forever. Sometimes media damage can be subtle enough that it’s impossible difficult to even detect by eye. Other times the damage is obvious. Today was one of the clearest I’ve ever seen. What’s worse is that we got two of these identical disks from the same Mac Pro, with identical damage. You have to see it to believe it…
Worst Head Crash Ever?
Worst Head Crash Ever?
It’s difficult to know how long these damaged disks were left spinning, but it looks like months! If you look closely, you can see that the centre of the disk is worn right through. That black dust everywhere was once the shiny disk surface that stored the data.
 
It’s worth mentioning that nobody in the world that can recover data from disk dust. The easiest way to avoid such serious damage is to power off your hard drive as soon as you hear clicking. If we got these disks sooner it’s possible we could have recovered them.

Seagate Barracuda Ramp Weakness

Seagate Barracuda Ramp Weakness

During a recent RAID 5 recovery attempt, John made an interesting discovery inside the two failed disks. The plastic ramp that the heads park onto when idle had snapped in the same position on both drives. We don’t know if the heads got damaged first, and then broke the ramps during parking, or if the ramps broke first, damaging the heads as they parked. The client told us the disks were not dropped or jolted. Whatever the cause, both disks had scratches to the delicate magnetic surfaces. In this case, two failed disks from a four disk RAID 5 means the data recovery is not possible.

Old vs New

The other two disks in the RAID had different firmware and don’t show the same fault. We don’t know if these disks have the other (older?) more robust ramp system that we’ve seen in similar disks.

Seagate Barracuda Head Ramps
Seagate Barracuda Head Ramps

More Problems With Seagate Drives

These ramp problems are the latest in a long line of faults for Seagate.

Disk Info

Failed Disk Working Disk
Model Number ST3000DM001 ST3000DM001
PN 1CH166-306 1CH166-302
FW CC29 CC26
Date 14354 13407
Site Code TK TK

Interestingly, the surviving disks in this RAID array were dated 2013, and the failed disks 2014. I would have expected the older disks to fail first.

eBay Fake Capacity USB Sticks

Despite some amount of publicity, the problem of fake capacity flash drives being sold online has still not gone away. Recently we did a bit of consumer investigation and bought a few to test. Surely after two or three years eBay will have sorted this problem out?

eBay Fake Capacity USB Sticks

What Are Fake Capacity Flash Drives?

If you’ve not heard of these before, a fake capacity flash drive is simply a small low capacity flash drive pretending to have (much) more storage. The clever / devious part is that they may have only 16GB of real storage, but can appear to the computer as anything up to 2TB. You will be able to copy data to the device, but only the first 16GB may be readable later. Some devices constantly overwrite the same 16GB while other just dump the rest of the data into a back hole.

How Do I Know If My USB Drive is Fake?

There are not any strict rules, but you can start to build up a picture as you gather more information.

  1. Price – These flash drives will be WAY cheaper than anything you can buy in a retail store. We just bought 512GB flash drives for £10 and 1TB drives for £15. Currently a 512GB SD card is £349 in Currys, so you can see how expensive real flash drives should be.
  2. Quality – Large capacity USB drives are relatively expensive. You’d expect them to be well made and probably well packaged. The fake drives usually come unbranded, in generic clear bags.
  3. Wording – Since these problems have been reported, some sellers are putting some disclaimers on the listings to suggest you should only use the devices for small amounts of data etc. This is obviously nonsense. If you buy a real 1TB of storage, you can use all 1TB.
  4. Testing – Although most people won’t be familiar with testing hardware, there are some pretty simple tools to test USB drives. They write patterns of data to the chosen device and then read it back again to make sure it was written correctly. USB Test Tool (It’s German, but also runs in English)

What To Do If You Have A Fake Capacity Flash Drive

Most online marketplaces like eBay have pretty robust buyer protection to allow you to claim a refund. The advice for making claims varies with each website so you may need to hunt around, or contact the site directly. Although eBay are more than happy to organise refunds, they show little interest in stopping the sale of these devices. We’ve spoken to eBay customer services a number of times and they said that their system will flag up if enough people make returns.

USB Stick

You Often Don’t Know Until It’s Too Late

It’s a bad idea to keep using one of these USBs. If you detect a fake capacity, you may think it’s OK to just use it for small amounts of data but it’s not a good idea. The problem is that as you use and delete files, you could gradually start edging towards the limit of the storage. The next file you write could just go into the black hole, and the data is lost. In fact, many people don’t realise their flash drive is a fake until they exceed the “genuine” part of the storage. If you were copying photographs to the USB drive, you might not notice that some of them are missing until you try to read them again much later.

Not Just Memory Sticks

These same types of fake flash drives also appear as SD cards so we’ve heard from people that were at weddings or on their honeymoon and lost all or most of the photos.

Fake eBay USB Drive Animation

Update 31-10-2016: Since posting this, we were made aware of this report from the USA about eBay’s problem with fake flash storage.

APFS Data Recovery

When Apple release the latest version of macOS (named Sierra) in Autumn, it will include the new APFS filesystem. Apple haven’t launched a new FS for a long time, and this filesystem won’t work for bootable disks at first. Eventually Apple will make this the default filesystem across the whole product line, from the iPhone, through to the Mac.

APFS Data Recovery
APFS Data Recovery

APFS Upgrade In Place

I have heard that Apple will release a tool to upgrade an existing HFS+ volume to APFS. If you run the upgrade I strongly advise you to make at least a couple of backups first. I would suggest a Time Machine backup and a bootable full disk copy, with online backup if you have it. While the upgrade is cleverly designed to minimise the risk of disk corruption, there is always the chance that failure could leave you with no option but wipe & start again. This is especially true of older Macs that you may have updated through multiple OS versions and accumulated all sorts of nasties along the way.

APFS Data Recovery

We are already working through the APFS documentation to keep ahead of these failures. We will have some recovery tools ready soon. As with most recoveries, the most important thing is to stop as soon as you hit a problem. Remember my new catchphrase, “Most damage to data happens AFTER the original failure!” Or, “It’s not the failure that killed the data, but the failed repair.” (I know, snappy right.)

If you’ve lost data from an APFS disk, contact us now, or have a look at our Mac Recovery Services for more info.

Top 3 Coffees in Portsmouth

Safe Data Recovery

It’s probably worth a quick explanation here. Why is this data recovery blog so interested in coffee? Well personally I love coffee, but I also often recover data from hard drives that have been for a drink (or a swim). So there’s my excuse, now back to the coffee!

Fortunately for caffeine addicts in Portsmouth like me, there are plenty of places to get your fix. I’m the sort of person that finds somewhere I like, and then just keeps going back there forever. Sometimes though, it’s worth having a look at the other options. My current top three places for coffee in Portsmouth are below in no particular order. I’ve chosen three, but I’m always happy to try more places so let me know if you’d like me to give your coffee a try!

Portsmouth Coffee

Coffee#1

Coffee#1 is a small chain of coffee shops spreading like wildfire from Wales, across the South West, all the way down to the South Coast of England. The local branch is in Palmerston Road, Southsea. They do great snacks, cakes & lunches (Sausage & Relish roll anyone?) I usually go for whatever single-origin coffee they have in, and I’m never disappointed. They also have beans & equipment for sale. I recommend the Brazillian beans if you can get them. They are my current favourite for grinding & Aeropressing at home. Visit the Coffee#1 Website

Home Coffee

I’ve only just found out about this place, but I’m so glad I did. I recently went for lunch here & had a big granary doorstep sandwich, an Americano, & an iced ring doughnut. I couldn’t have been happier with all those things.  The cosy shop on Albert Road is just a few steps away from the Kings Theatre, but they are set to open a new store on Cosham High Street, much closer to home for me! They have lots of info about their coffees on the blackboards and are more than happy to have a chat with you about brewing at home. They sell kit & beans too which is handy, although I’ve not tried the beans myself yet.(Update – The beans are great!) Visit the Home Coffee Website

Soprano’s

A bit of a wildcard entry here, and also a hearty recommendation if you like quality fresh Italian food. The Peroni on-tap is always delicious, and their after-dinner coffees are the perfect way to finish a meal. Booking is advised as the cosy restaurant is always bustling with customers whenever I’ve been there. Visit the Soprano’s Wesbite

So there you have my top three coffees in Portsmouth. If you’ve spilled coffee, or any other drink on your hard drive or computer, get in touch. We can help recover the data, and you can tell me if the coffee you spilled was any good!

Free Data Recovery

Hard Drive Data Recovery

Despite offering world-class data recovery from our workshop here in Portsmouth, we understand that sometimes, the data just doesn’t justify the cost of getting it recovered. If you’re going to go it alone and attempt a DIY recovery, we’ve got some handy tips to avoid making things worse. It might be a good idea to print this page to use as a reference. Also feel free to comment at the end of the post if you’d like any questions answered.

Stop Using Your Hard Drive

If you want to recover data, you can’t do it from the disk you want to recover from. When you boot up a computer it writes data to the hard drive. Even browsing the web or checking e-mails writes little cache files to the disk, potentially overwriting the files you want to recover.

Set Up

You ideally want to work from a different and reliable computer, have plenty of storage space for recovered files, and make sure everything is ready before you attach the faulty disk. You don’t always get a second chance with hard disks, so make sure you’re ready to grab the files if they appear.

Now You See Them

If you suddenly gain access to the files, copy them to another drive as soon as you can. The disk is unlikely to have repaired itself, so this might be the last chance to copy the data before if gives up completely. Take the most important files first. If the copy gets stuck, stop it straight away as the disk could be causing damage.

Watch The Clock

If you decide to try DIY recovery, keep a close eye on the time. If the estimated time keeps increasing it could be a sign of disk trouble. Failure to deal with that could cause the drive to fail completely, and beyond repair (even for us). As a guideline, it should take no longer than a few hours to copy a whole 1TB disk over USB 3.0. If your estimate says much more than that, or keeps going up in time, it could be the disk getting worse. Maybe try copying important files in small batches first. Data Recovery Time Remaining

Priorities

Your priority with a failed drive is either to make a copy of the disk, or copy off the files as soon as possible. Don’t try to scan, repair or fix any errors. A failed repair can completely damage your files beyond recovery. This means don’t ever use spinrite, diskwarrior, techtool, or any other diagnostic tool until after you’ve extracted the data. Some people report success with these tools, but it’s far safer to copy the data first, and run those tools later.

Restore or Reinstall?

Don’t re-install or restore the computer. At best it will overwrite some of the data. At worst it will overwrite all of the data and leave you with a factory-fresh (blank) version of Windows. If you’ve already done this, we can often get data back, but it won’t be as complete as a normal recovery.

Brrrr It’s Cold in Here

Never ever put a hard drive in the freezer. Although this trick is a common part of data recovery folklore, it is likely to do so much more damage than good. We have never used any type of freezing process for data recovery, and neither should you. Leaving your hard disk unplugged for a day is likely to be just as successful, and won’t risk contaminating the delicate disks and heads. Hard disks are not air-sealed so even if you put them in a sealed bag, they already have moist air inside them which can freeze and then cause condensation.

Stop Hitting Yourself

If you saw how delicate the inside of a hard disk was, you’d never consider hitting, tapping or knocking it. Even if you did manage to dislodge some stuck heads, you’ll probably either rip them off, or take a chunk of the disk with it. There are careful ways to remove stuck heads, but they cannot be done at home.

Keep it Together

Never dismantle a hard drive. This is a case when the “no user serviceable parts” label really is true. Not only are disk internals extremely delicate, they have an air filter in the cover to stop particles getting inside the disk. If you remove the cover, all sorts of dust and lint can get in. Dust particles are bigger than the gap between heads & disks, so they can cause the heads to crash into the disks and scrape off the magnetic coating. Once the coating is gone, the data is gone.

Good Luck

If you decide to try DIY data recovery, good luck, and be careful. If you’d rather let us look at the disk instead, get in touch.

Mac Support in Portsmouth & Southsea

If you’re a Mac user in Portsmouth & Southsea you might be interested in our Mac Services. We’ve been helping Mac users sort out common and not-so common issues for years. We offer low hourly rates for on-site assistance, No callout fees, and fixed price repairs if you bring the machine to our workshop.

Also, as a specialist Mac data recovery company you can be sure we’ll never do anything that could harm your data.

If you are in Portsmouth or Southsea and having Mac trouble, give us a call on 02392 671 330

Portsmouth & Southsea Mac Support

Easter Backup Tips

Easter Backup Tips

The long weekend is only hours away, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes over Easter, why not get your data in order & sort out some backups. Save yourself the dread of losing all your documents or photos, and then sit back and eat some chocolate eggs!

Simple Start

First, when people talk about backups, they actually mean just make copies of your files. It sounds obvious, but this is often misunderstood. If you have a few really important files, you can make a backup of them my copying them somewhere else. That could be a memory stick, SD card, CD, DVD, Dropbox, whatever. The important thing is when you’ve copied the file, do not delete the original. For a backup to be useful, it must be a copy of some data.

The Plan

If you want to take things a step further, you probably want a way to automate the backup process. That way, your computer keeps track of new & updated files, and you don’t need to think too much about it.

Step 1

You ideally want to have enough space in your main computer to hold all your important data. This may mean investing in a larger hard drive or SSD, but is by far the easiest way to stay safe. Now whenever you use the computer, you always store the files on the large internal disk. This means any backups you make can simply be copies of this main disk.

To sidetrack slightly, imagine if you instead stored photos on one external disk, documents on your laptop, and movies on another disk. This would be a nightmare to keep backed up, as you would constantly need to attach and reattach different disks.

Step 2

Now all your data is stored on the main disk inside your computer, backups are simple. On a Mac, point Time Machine at your external disk. On a PC, point Windows Backup to your external disk. Both will create a copy of your main disk, and then take care of scheduling future copies to keep you up to date.

Never store files manually onto the external disk, as you will lose them if the disk fails. Now, when you make new files on your computer they will eventually get backed up to your external disk too. Just remember to either keep it plugged in, or plug it in regularly to catch up.

Step 3

Once you have a single backup sorted, you might think of a few ways you could still end up losing data. For example, if the external disk is always plugged in, any spike through the power lines could kill off both disks in one go. It does happen, even if you have a surge protector! Also, what if there was a fire or flood. Both disks side by side could get damaged. Then there is also the risk of the computer and all the surrounding equipment being stolen.

Luckily, there are also ways to protect yourself here too. A simple way would be to use another external disk to make a backup, but then unplug it and store it in a safe somewhere. It could be in a family member’s house, or at work, or anywhere really. Ideally not in the same building as the other disks, to cut down the chances of all disks being lost at once.

There is another way to avoid the worry of storing another disk outside your house. Online backup. Sometimes known as cloud backup, online backups give you storage on a server somewhere, and a small program on your computer to send the data over. We’ve heard great things about Backblaze for online backups. Their ex-Apple engineers have created a really simple service, that’s super cheap with unlimited storage.

Done

So now, with your backup disk humming away on your desk, and your files beaming over to a Backblaze server online, you can relax and stop worrying about losing all your files.

If you’re reading this too late and have already lost data, get in touch and we’ll see if there’s any way to get it back.

When Backups Go Bad ~ Revisited

I was recently going through some old posts on here, and found the one with the clickbaity headline When Backups Go Bad. Despite the title, I thought it was worth looking again at some of the common ways backups can go wrong. A bad backup can be as useless as no backup at all. There is an old phrase that applies perfectly to backups. “One is None. Two is One.”

RAID Instead of Backups

This is a common one. Although RAID can protect against some hardware failures, it does nothing to protect against corrupt partitions, virus attacks, accidental deletion, formatting, multiple disk failures. The list is endless. Add to this the fact that you can have 12, 24, even 48TB stored in one massive array, and you stand to lose an awful lot of data in one go if the whole thing goes south.

Same Disk, Different Day

There are ways to partition a disk so it appears to the computer as multiple disks. The danger is, if you don’t know there are two physical disks inside the computer, you could be making backups to the same disk. When it fails, both partitions will go with it. Best backup to an external drive and then you know for sure.

Break the Encryption

Encrypting any data is risky without careful consideration. By design, your encrypted data is not accessible without the password, or perhaps a recovery key that was created during the original setup. If you don’t have either of those keys, you can wave goodbye to the data.

Inbetweener

If you’re ever left with a single copy of your files, you’re on thin ice. If something goes wrong, you’ve lost one copy of the data already. We always suggest multiple backups for this reason.

The Space Maker

New computers can have painfully small storage, (hey Apple) so a common solution is to start dumping files off to an external disk. This is fine if you just move over replaceable movies & music, but you have to be prepared to never see those files again. Don’t store all your photos & documents on an external drive unless you keep another copy somewhere. External disks are no more reliable than internal ones and can fail at any time. If anything, the risk of dropping or losing an external drive is higher as they are so small and portable.

I’m sure there are more ways backups go bad. I could probably make this into a regular feature. Remember, when it comes to backups One is None, Two is One…

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired. 

Back up as much of the data as possible and replace the disk. See an authorised Apple dealer for more information.

***

S.M.A.R.T. Status : Failing

If you see the message above, your hard disk or SSD has started to fail and has reported faults to the Mac. If caught early enough, these disks can usually be recovered. You can try to copy important data to another disk but if the copy process gets stuck for a while, it’s safer to stop. If you leave a failing disk in that state it can deteriorate until the disk is ruined.

If the data is really important, and you’d rather not take the risk, you could have a look at our Mac Data Recovery Services. We have been dealing with these sorts of problems for years and have a developed a really safe way to get the data off in good condition.

This drive has a hardware problem that can't be repaired

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore this message. The broken disk cannot repair itself, and will only get worse. In many cases, the disk won’t even be readable by the time you see this warning.

It doesn’t matter if the disk is still inside your iMac or MacBook, we can remove it for you, and even replace the drive at the end of the recovery process if you want. Ask about our Mac Setup service if you are interested.