MacBook Pro Woes

There have been some new reports of drive issues in the new MacBook Pros. It seems that the updated Seagate 7200rpm drives are getting a bit noisy at times and clicking. No reports that this causes anything particularly sinister, but after the (still ongoing) MacBook headcrash fiasco, it’s bad news to see another problem between MacBooks and their drives. There are suggestions that the new 7200.4 G-Force drives are noisy due to some new anti-shock technology. It sounds obvious that a drive spinning at 7200rpm is going to generate more noise than a 5400rpm drive. We’ll see what happens with this one. Updates to come I’m sure.

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Seagate Barracuda 7200 Data Recovery

Seagate Data Recovery Services

Seagate Barracuda drives are often thought of as premium quality hard drives, which is largely true. The build quality of these drives is solid and they feel heavy and look good when compared to some other drives. They are however still susceptible to the same failures and problems which affect other hard drives.

More info about our Seagate Data Recovery Services can be found here.

Firmware Faults

Seagate SSHD ST500LM000 Recovery
Seagate SSHD ST500LM000 Recovery

A common problem with Seagate Barracuda drives is firmware corruption (sometimes known as SA Corruption). This is something which can be fixed without taking the drive apart, however sometimes the extent of the corruption can prevent it from being repaired at all. The usual faults are corrupt log files which prevent the drive from performing it’s usual startup routine. Once corrected, the drive can usually be accessed for long enough to extract the required data using a controlled imaging process. Sometimes further repair is required in order to continue extracting data. Corrupt firmware can be an indication that there is an underlying problem with the drive. For example, if the drive is writing hundreds of bad sectors into the S.M.A.R.T log, it is likely that there is a problem with either the heads or the disk media which is causing the errors. Although the S.M.A.R.T counters can be reset to zero, they will quickly fill up again. The best option in this case is to recover your data and scrap the old drive.

Hardware Faults

Seagate drives have been used in G4, G5 & Intel Macs from Mac Pros to iMacs and various other PCs, such as Packard Bell and Compaq machines. We now also see Seagate Barracuda drives which have been used in external USB / Firewire enclosures. This opens up a new problem which these drives were not originally built to withstand. ie. Shock. External drives can be shocked, either by being knocked over or dropped. If the drive is reading or writing at this time it could cause a head crash, as it would with most other brands of drive (although modern 2.5″ laptop drives have protection for this type of shock).  If the drive was not in use at the time of impact, the motor can still become stuck and fail to spin up. The motor spindle is attached to the hard disk casting, so the best way to gain access to these types of drives is by transplanting the disk pack into a known good casting (with a good motor).

Seagate Barracuda drives are also prone to electronic damage caused by faulty power supplies or having the power connector incorrectly inserted. It is often necessary to repair the damaged PCB, as it contains unique information which would not be present on a donor part.

We have had a lot of success recovering data from these hard disks and as long as they haven’t been dropped or knocked over, we can usually recover then externally without moving into a cleanroom.

Read more about our Seagate Data Recovery Services here.

FreeNAS; NAS for free

FreenNAS - Network Attached Storage
FreenNAS - Network Attached Storage

We have recently been trying out FreeNAS as a way to add some storage to our internal network. First impressions are positive. We are able to utilise an old spare low power PC to run the software from a compact flash card. We currently use four 1TB drives in two separate hardware RAID 0 arrays. This gives us two 2TB volumes which we can access over the network on either Windows (SMB/CIFS) or Mac (AFP).

Setup was simple, by booting a liveCD and choosing the 64MB compact flash card to install to. Once setup, the server can be run headless (without a monitor) and configured via the handy web interface. It is possible to setup hard disks, file sharing protocols, and even a transmission torrent server and iTunes music server, all directly from the web interface. The web interface also shows the status of CPU and memory usage and can also provide graphs for disk access and network throughput.

It takes some minor setup to access the drives in Windows by mapping the network drives, however no setup is required on the Mac end. The server shows up in the finder sidebar and is just a click away from the network volumes. An overview from the FreeNAS website is included below:

FreeNAS is a free NAS (Network-Attached Storage) server, supporting: CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS, AFP, RSYNC, iSCSI protocols, S.M.A.R.T., local user authentication, Software RAID (0,1,5) with a Full WEB configuration interface.
FreeNAS takes less than 32MB for version’s up to 0.686.x and 32+ MB from version 0.69
Can be installed  on Compact Flash, USB key, USB key or just run as LiveCD saving the configuration file on floppy or USB key .
The minimal FreeBSD distribution, Web interface, PHP scripts and documentation are based on M0n0wall.

I would be interested to run FreeNAS on a small form factor Atom based PC, maybe using external storage drives. The EEE Box would make an interesting FreeNAS server.

LaCie Big Disk Recovery

LaCie Big Disk
LaCie Big Disk

Over the years we have seen stacks of LaCie Big Disks (and quite a few LaCie Bigger Disks too). With their designer looks and an abundance of different interfaces, it is no surprise that they are so popular. There is however one main reason that people send us their drives, and that is because they are not working.

Size Matters

Those of you familiar with hard drives will be aware that these LaCie drives are substantially larger in physical size and storage capacity when compared to a standalone hard disk drive. The reason being is that the LaCie Big Disk contains two hard disks (and the LaCie Bigger Disk contains four hard drives). Of course when you attach the drive to your computer you only see one volume. This is due to a RAID controller inside the LaCie drive which allows for multiple disks to appear as one large, usable disk. The main advantage to this setup is that read and write speeds can be very fast, as the reads and writes are spread over multiple disks. Another bonus is that the capacity of the volume is as large as the two drives. So two 500GB drives will give you a 1TB volume. There is however a massive downside to all of this clever RAID business which boils down to some simple mathematics.


The larger the number of hard disk drives used in this particular striped (RAID 0) setup, the more chance that one of them will fail, therefore a higher chance that you will lose all of the data stored on these drives. The way a RAID 0 stripe works is to distribute the data across the disks at block level. The amount of blocks used for each stripe is determined by the RAID controller and varies between different manufacturers. What this means, from a data recovery point of view is that in order to extract data from a LaCie Big Disk, you need to figure out the block size, and read the data from both drives in sequence, in order to extract usable data. This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is and is often explained with the analogy of a filing cabinet.

Imagine the LaCie Big Disk is a filing cabinet. The cabinet has two drawers (disks) with an index in the first drawer. Now imagine that when you save a file into the cabinet, all of the odd numbered pages are put into the first drawer, and all of the even numbered pages are put into the second drawer. Once saved, the files location is stored in the index. In order to read back the saved file, it must first be collected from the relevant drawers, one page from each drawer at a time, and arranged into the correct order.

This is all great until a problem occurs. What happens when one of the drawers becomes damaged and can no longer be opened. Sure you can access all of the pages in the other drawer but having every other page is not much use to anybody! So until you can access both drawers, the documents are worthless.

Special Hard Drives?

The hard drives in a LaCie Big Disk are much the same as any other hard drive on the market. This means they are just as likely to have the same failures as a standalone drive. They suffer from electronic problems on the PCB, firmware corruption and also internal component failure and head crashes. These are problems which need to be overcome before any attempt at a recovery is even possible.

Aside from the usual hard drive problems, we have also seen other problems such as failed power supplies or damaged circuit boards within the LaCie Big Disk, which prevent access to the stored data.

This is why we have spent a lot of time researching the process of recovering data from RAID systems such as the LaCie Big Disk. We follow the same precautions with RAID as we do with single volume drives.

  • We make binary images of all of the individual hard drives on a read-only basis to protect against drive failure.
  • We don’t use the original hardware to read the RAID data, as this may be part of the problem.
  • We never write the recovered data back to the LaCie Big Disk, as this would prevent any further recovery process if it was required.

As with all data recovery, the most important thing to remember is that any attempts to access the data without following strict precautions could result in the data being either lost forever, or extremely expensive to get back.

The best advice is to keep these drives backed up as regularly as possible to avoid future headaches.

Maxtor 2B020H1 & 6E040L0 Drives

Slim Maxtor hard disk data recovery
Slim Maxtor hard disk data recovery

These Maxtor slimline drives are only 16mm deep compared to the usual 22mm depth for 3.5″ hard drives. This may be the reason they have been so popular in recent years. Sometimes known as “Fireball 3” or “DiamondMax Plus 8” drives, they are unfortunately prone to a number of different types of failure. One of the most common fail symptoms of these drives is for them to be identified in the BIOS by an unusual name like “Maxtor N40P” instead of the drive model number. This unusual name is known as the “factory alias” or drive “family name”. When a drive displays it’s factory alias it often means it was unable to complete it’s start-up routine, which it needs to carry out to allow you to access your data. Causes range from failed PCB components, a damaged motor, or the most common cause which is system area corruption. When these drives are functioning correctly, they will remap any bad sectors they find, and save the list of bad sectors to a log file. This works fine for a while but after some time the log can become full. When this happens, there is nowhere left for the bad sectors to be mapped to, so the log file becomes corrupt. The next time you turn on your PC, the drive will attempt to read the log file and fail, displaying the factory alias instead of the model number. I have included a list of affected drive model numbers below:

  • 2B020H1
  • 6E040L0
  • 2F040L0
  • 2F030J0
  • 2F040J0
  • 6E030L0
  • 2F020J0

For more information or to enquire about our data recovery services then please contact us by clicking here

Backup Your Windows PC For Free

It’s something we should all be doing but never seems important until it’s too late. I’m not talking about taking the dog for a walk or feeding the cat, I’m talking about backing up your PC. In the words of Joni Mitchell “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” How would you feel if you never saw your data again. Family photos, years worth of e-mails, documents, music and videos all gone in the blink of an eye. This is usually where we come in with our data recovery process. But there is an alternative. Lifehacker has an excellent guide on using free software to backup your PC. The only prerequisite is that you purchase an external hard disk of sufficient storage capacity.

For Mac users there is a totally different process. If you are running Leopard (10.5) then take a look at Time Machine. (More on this in a future post)

Checkout Lifehacker for all the details

2TB WD Drive

Western Digital are apparently set to release a 2TB hard disk in the next week or so. With a 32MB cache and “Green” logo, this drive will spin down from 7,200rpm to 5,400rpm to conserve power. With capacities like this, the gap between SSDs and hard disks is still far from closing.

The Eight Commandments

1. Stop using the drive. Any mechanical faults can be worsened by using a failing hard disk drive.

2. Do not remove any covers or parts. Removing the top cover of a drive will introduce dust, particles, fingerprints and other contamination if not removed in a controlled clean environment. Some drives are also very difficult to realign once the cover has been removed.
3. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PUT YOUR DRIVE IN A FREEZER! This dangerous myth has been doing the rounds for so long that it is almost common knowledge but unfortunately only a small number of drives respond well to such treatment. The risk of allowing moisture by way of condensation into the drive far outweighs the likelihood of it actually allowing you to get your data back. We have a high success rate and have never had the need to put a drive in a freezer. Recovery from a water / condensation damaged HD is likely to cost you a lot more than a regular recovery.
4. If you are going down the DIY software route, keep a very close eye on the process. Make sure you recover the data to a second (external if possible) hard disk. If the process stops at any point, or if it incurs hundreds of errors then it is best to stop the recovery and get the data recovered professionally. Also if the software reports that it will take more than a few hours for a drive under 1TB then don’t let it continue. There is likely some damage on the drive which will only get worse if the drive keeps being used.
5. Never attempt to repair a failing hard disk drive. Any writing to an unstable drive will not only fail to fix the problem but it could make the eventual recovery extremely difficult or even impossible. If you cannot afford professional data recovery then we suggest trying to backup the data first and then attempt to fix the drive without any fear of losing the important data.
6. RAID ONLY: Do not attempt to rebuild or reinitialise a problematic RAID array without first backing up the data. If the data cannot  be accessed then a data recovery professional is far more likely to be able to get the data before a destructive rebuild process. It is also important to note the locations and IDs of all drives and label them accordingly if the entire server or RAID enclosure cannot be sent for recovery.
7. Don’t run Windows Check Disk without first backing up your data. If you see the blue message for the first time that says something like:
Checking file system on C:
The type of file system is NTFS
One of your disks needs to be checked for consistency. You may cancel the disk check, but it is strongly recommended that you continue.
To skip disk checking, press any key within  7  second(s).
 Press any key to cancel the scan, you should then backup your data as soon as possible onto another drive, USB pen, DVD, CD or even Floppy Disk. Then you can safely reboot and run the check. BEWARE: The drive can be warning you that it is on it’s last legs. It could be just a one-off problem or the drive could be destined for the dustbin (after a secure erase of course).
8. Be very wary of any potential data recovery company. You will be trusting them with your precious data after all. Ask lots of questions and get some quotes up front. You should expect to pay between £250 – £750 for a single hard drive data recovery. This depends on factors such as drive capacity, failure type and turnaround time.

Toshiba 400GB 2.5" Drives

Toshiba have recently announced the new GSX series of hard disk drives. With 200GB per platter these 5400rpm drives should see the light of day by the end of the year. There are other notable features such as the new acoustic technology which aims to silence seek operations.

In addition to increasing areal density to 308 gigabits-per-square-inch, the 400GB MK4058GSX incorporates acoustic techniques that make the 5,400 RPM HDD nearly inaudible during seek operations.

Tosh have also announced the new GSY series of drives which will be a touch less spacious at 320GB but spin at a whopping 7200rpm with fast data throughput of 1020 megabits per second.