Backup Your Data. It’s Not As Tough As You Think

1 in 5 People Never Backup

According to the latest Backblaze survey, 21% of people have never made a backup of their files. The figures show a gradual increase in backups since 2008, but there’s still at least one in five people 🙋🙎🙎🙎🙎 that are risking total data loss. And more than half of the people surveyed had no recent backup.

Fortunately technology has changed a lot in the last few years. There are a whole host of  companies that offer free cloud storage. Large capacity, fast, and cheap external disks have also made backups at home easier. Software improvements in macOS and Windows have made backups automatic, so there’s really no excuse these days. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

A Quick Guide To Making Backups 📝

Identify the files you can’t live without. These might be a few spreadsheets, some word documents, your thesis, anything irreplaceable. These are the files you’d grab if there was a fire. Forget photos for now as I’ve tackled them separately below ⬇️. If these files are small text or office documents, use something like dropbox or google drive to keep them synchronised in the cloud. An added bonus is this data will also be available on your other devices like iPads, iPhones or other computers. These cloud hosts give away a small amount of storage for free, so you might as well use it!

Photos deserve a bit of special attention here. Photos and videos are often the largest files for home-users, and will usually be well over the limits of free cloud storage. Fortunately both Apple’s iCloud and Google Photos can take care of them. Google Photos will take an unlimited number of photo uploads but limits the size of single files. The size limits are fair for most home users, especially if you just use a smartphone and not a fancy camera. Although not free, the price for extra iCloud storage is pretty reasonable too – £0.79 per month for 50GB at time of writing. If you are an iPhone user, the iCloud option has other benefits like device backups, data sharing with Macs, iCloud Keychain etc.

Once you have one of these options set up, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it for a while and make sure the files are being copied over. You can login to all of these services from a computer and have a look at the files stored on there.

The Whole Hog™ Whole Hog

Now you’ve sorted the important stuff, It’s probably worth going the whole hog and also making a local backup. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult, and once you’ve set it up, you hardly have to think about it again.

Mac Users 🍎

If you plug in a new hard drive, macOS will ask if you want to use it with Time Machine. BEWARE that this will usually ERASE the disk and DELETE any data that’s on it! If that’s what you’re trying to do, click YES! Time Machine will then make a backup of your whole Mac. The first backup can take hours to finish so try to leave the computer on until it’s done. Once it’s finished, Time Machine will make regular backups as long as the disk is plugged in. These smaller backups just copy over new changes so don’t take so long.

Recent versions of Time Machine will happily make backups to multiple disks if you have them. You could keep another one in a safe or at work, and bring it back periodically to update itself. Time Machine will figure out where it left off, and fill in the gaps.

If your Internal disk ever fails, you can use the Time Machine backups to restore everything, including Applications and settings. You can also recover single files at any point if you ever need to.

Windows Users 💼

Windows 10 has an automatic backup process too. It’s a little buried inside the settings, but once it’s set you can (pretty much) forget about it. I find the fastest way is to click the “Start Orb” and type “backup” into the search box. You want to choose “Back up with File History”. This should take you into the File History page inside Settings. Click “Add a drive” and select your external drive. Windows will now keep extra copies of your data files on that disk. The default options will backup things like Photos and Documents, as long as you store them in the standard Windows folders (which you should always do anyway!).

File history will only save your data files, so if the computer fails, you’ll need to get it up and running again before you can load the files back on. It’s worth checking if you have the original disks, or even seeing if you can create rescue disks. (It depends on your system). The “Backup & Restore (Windows 7)” program allows for a full system backup, but in my experience, this process is much more prone to errors, and also takes a long time to complete the backups.

Stuck MacBook Trackpad Bulging Battery

If you have a MacBook or MacBook Pro that’s a few years old, you might have a problem hiding right below your fingertips. If your trackpad has become difficult to press, or stopped clicking all together, you could have a dangerous faulty battery. In MacBook & MacBook Pro laptops, the battery is directly below the trackpad. When the battery fails it can expand, pressing into the bottom of the trackpad.

Stuck MacBook Trackpad Bulging Battery
Stuck MacBook Trackpad Bulging Battery

Explosion?

I’m not sure quite how risky these batteries get, but they almost double in size. Standard battery advice says don’t pierce or burn but when these battery start expanding they could easily get punctured. I saw one so bad last week that the bottom case and trackpad were being pushed apart. (see photo below)

Bulging Battery From A MacBook
Bulging Battery From A MacBook

Check

If you click the battery 🔋 icon near the clock at the top-right of your Mac screen you can check the status. (If you don’t see the status, press the option (alt) key before clicking the battery icon.)

MacBook Service Battery
MacBook Service Battery

From Apple’s help document

You may see any of the following conditions:

  • Normal: The battery is functioning normally.
  • Replace Soon: The battery is functioning normally but holds less charge than it did when it was new.
  • Replace Now: The battery is functioning normally but holds significantly less charge than it did when it was new. You can continue to use the battery until you replace it without harming your computer.
  • Service Battery: The battery isn’t functioning normally, and you may or may not notice a change in its behavior or the amount of charge it holds. Take your computer in for service. You can continue to use your battery before it’s checked without harming your computer.

What Next

If your status shows Replace Now or Service Battery, I would look to get the battery replaced as soon as possible. At the very least, a bulging battery could cause cosmetic damage to your Mac. At worst it could potentially leak or catch fire 🔥.

SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire

Despite falling out of favour in giant tech companies, there are not many businesses in the UK that don’t use some sort of SQL database. Whether that’s a website running WordPress & MySQL or an intranet hooked up to an MSSQL DB, SQL is still everywhere. Even iPhones use SQLite to store Notes and other data inside apps.

SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire
SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire

On Disk Problems

Sometimes the fault lies with the underlying disk, Virtual Machine, or RAID array that the file is stored on. First we solve the disk problem and then extract a working copy of the database.

Inconsistency

Another issue with database files is that they can go corrupt silently, and you might not notice until hours, weeks, or months later when a crucial process fails.

Our SQL recovery tools, alongside our hard disk & RAID recovery services can help get your lost databases up and running again with minimal fuss & downtime.

  • Peter MorganThese guys are amazing!! Really helped us out in an impossible situation with a corrupted SQL database which even the software provider couldn’t fix. Not only did they fix the corruption but they did it quickly and super professionally keeping us informed at every step of the way. I have used Dataquest many times and over the years and they always deliver. 4th July, 2017

Common Applications We Recover SQL From

  • Web server MySQL, PostgreSQL
  • Windows Application MSSQL

Why You Should Never Open A Hard Drive

See our video below to find out why you should never open a hard drive.

Transcript

Instead of a needle, hard drives use tiny magnets to read and write data. The heads don’t actually touch the disc.

But you’d only see that if you got close

Super close

The heads float just three nanometers above the disk

In comparison, a spec of dust in the air is 166 times bigger than the gap.

It would be like trying to kick a football through a gap the size of an ant

So if that giant spec of dust can’t fit through the gap, it will hit the read head

Bouncing it into the disc spinning at over 100mph

And scraping away chunks of disc within seconds

Up close the tiny scratches look like mountains

The heads can’t get past the damage so just scratch it even more

Until there’s nothing left but dust

This is what we call a head crash

Why You Should Never Open A Hard Drive

And This is Why You Should Never Open a Hard Drive! (Unless You Have a Cleanroom)

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How To Troubleshoot Western Digital Elements External Drive

How To Troubleshoot Western Digital Elements External Drive

Elements is the basic brand of external drives from Western Digital. These no-frills disks are usually great value, but when they fail have a few quirks that can make recovery a little awkward. For example the small pocket sized drives usually have a soldered USB port that cannot be removed. There is also automatic encryption, even if you’ve never set a password.

Symptoms of WD Elements Failure

  • LED permanently lit / blinking
  • LED not lighting at all
  • Clicking / ticking noise
  • Disk is not formatted. Do you want to format it?
  • Unable to see your data in Windows or macOS
  • Unable to copy or read files

Troubleshooting Ideas

If you have problems with a WD Elements drive, you should make some checks to see if you can narrow down the fault. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty with Western Digital. If there is important data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery advice before you try anything.

That’s the warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.

  1. First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed. If you have an identical spare cable you can try it, just be gentle.
  2. If trying a different power supply, make sure the voltage matches exactly. Amps can be higher but not lower.
  3. There is little point dismantling a WD Elements drive, as there is usually no SATA connection inside. Even if you manage to bypass the USB Port, your data will be encrypted.
  4. It’s worth plugging the external drive into another computer. If it seems to work you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
  5. Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
  6. These external drives are quite unique in the way they work. It is not possible to replace the circuit board (PCB) on these disks, as your PCB contains important encryption keys. On the offchance that a replacement PCB worked, your data would be scrambled anyway without access to specialist decryption tools.

If you are looking for a data recovery service for your external hard drive have a look at our external drive recovery services.

Troubleshoot WD My Passport External Hard Drive

Troubleshoot WD MyPassport External Hard Drive

Unlike most external hard drives, WD (Western Digital) My Passport drives are more than just a simple wrapper around a regular hard drive. WD have integrated the USB port straight onto the main circuit board. This means if your external drive fails, you can’t easily remove it to attach to a PC.

Symptoms of WD MyPassport Failure

  • LED constantly flashing / blinking
  • LED not lighting at all
  • Clicking / ticking noise
  • Disk is not formatted. Do you want to format it?
  • Unable to see your data in Windows or macOS
  • Unable to copy or read files

Troubleshooting Tips

If you have problems with a WD My Passport drive, you can make a few checks to see where the fault lies. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty. If there is important data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery advice before you try anything.

That’s the warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.

  • First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed. If you have an identical spare cable you can try it, just be gentle
  • There is no point dismantling a WD MyPassport drive, as there is no SATA connection inside.
  • It’s worth trying the external drive on another computer. If it seems to work you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
  • Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
  • These external drives are quite unique in the way they work. It is not possible to replace the circuit board (PCB) on these disks, as your PCB contains important encryption keys. On the offchance that a replacement PCB worked, your data would be scrambled anyway without access to specialist decryption tools.

If you are looking for a data recovery service for your external hard drive have a look at our external drive recovery services.

The Worst Head Crash Ever?

Worst Head Crash Ever
I’ve seen some pretty serious head crashes in my time. The worst part of my job is 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. Nobody in the world 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 64GB SD card is £32.48 at Novatech, 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.