The Importance of Second Opinions

We recently received a call from a customer asking if there was any chance of recovering data from an old IBM IDE laptop hard drive that he had stored away. He mentioned that many years ago he had sent it to a data recovery company, who had no success in overcoming the problem, so he had it returned back to him, hoping that in the future technology may change.

As we offer a free diagnosis, I told him that we can determine if there is any chance of recovery at no initial cost.  So with nothing to lose the customer sent the hard drive to us.

The hard drive was a IBM IC25N040ATMR040 laptop drive with the old IDE 44 pin interface. Upon inspection we found that the drive had suffered liquid damage on the PCB and also possibly effecting the internal electronics. We proceeded to carry out the rework necessary to overcome the problem, resulting in a successful recovery for the customer.

 

IC25N040ATMR04 Data Recovery
IC25N040ATMR04 Data Recovery

So anyone out there holding onto an old hard drive that had previously been diagnosed as unrecoverable, bear in mind that with modern technology and expertise your previous lost data may be recoverable.

 

 

We Recovered a Western Digital Hard Drive That Others Couldn’t

We Recovered a Western Digital Hard Drive That Others Couldn't

Case Study

Drive: WD3200AAJS-40RYA0
Problem: Clicking. Diagnosed by multiple third parties as unrecoverable.

This hard drive has travelled the globe and had been looked at by various data recovery companies, eventually landing on the desk of our data recovery partner in Amsterdam. Our partner then asked us if we were up for a challenge and explained to us that the last data recovery company to look at the drive in Portugal had given up with no success.

Third Party Feedback

We got in contact with the company in Portugal and they explained to us that they had tried mechanical and firmware repair, but both did not overcome the problem.

Booking In

Once the drive was booked into our process, it was clear that the warranty seals had been removed and the top cover had been previously opened. Therefore we needed to take the hard drive straight into our clean room to check for any media damage and also to confirm that the mechanics of the drive had been rebuilt correctly.

Findings

We found no cause for concern in the clean room examination. The drive appeared to be clean and was correctly rebuilt. We replaced the internal heads with a new set as a matter of course and rebuilt the drive and then moved to the next stage of our process. The drive was then powered up on our proprietary equipment and an extensive firmware check and fix process was carried out. Perseverance was the key to overcoming the firmware corruption. It was apparent that a lot of the original firmware had been totally overwritten and a lot of painstaking work was done over the next few weeks to rebuild the firmware to eventually allow the drive to come ready.

Imaging

Once it was established that we could access the data area of the drive, it was put into a block level head map imaging process. This allowed us to control the drive and to further stabilise it by imaging each disk surface individually. Once this process was complete a file extraction was carried out on the image to reveal the original folder and file structure.

Result

The image process was a complete success and resulted in over 190GB of data recovered. A  folder and file structure list was sent to the customer, who acknowledged saying that all the data had been recovered.

Once again we were able to test ourselves against our competition, all be it in Portugal.  In this case the customer was fortunate to seek advice from our data recovery partner in Amsterdam who recommended us. We can’t help but wonder how many people are told that their data is lost for ever, without the thought of getting a second opinion.

If you need data recovery from a similar hard drive, you may be interested in our Western Digital Data Recovery Services.

Battle Cards

For a limited time only we have produced collectible battle cards, complete with hard drive portraits and battle stats. There are 10 to collect. Some are based on common hard drives, but others are a bit more obscure.

Classic Hard Drive Battle Cards
Classic Hard Drive Battle Cards

We’ve also got plans for a few new ranges, so get these new cards while you can. These cards are not for sale so contact us if you want some.

Death Star Battle Card
Death Star Battle Card
Classic Hard Drive Battle Card
Classic Hard Drive Battle Card

European Data Recovery Partner

Just recently I was able to meet up with one of our European business partners in Holland.  The company is based in Amsterdam nd offers a national data recovery service.  Although a young company, they already have a strong market presence and are growing all the time.  Their English is excellent which is more than I can say for my Dutch.  It is always good to put a personal face behind the telephone conversations.

Data Recovery Partner
Data Recovery Partner

Spilt Coffee Liquid Damaged Laptop Hard Drive

Spilt Coffee Liquid Damaged Laptop Hard Drive

Once again we had an enquiry from a customer who was at her wits end and wanted a second opinion. She had spilt coffee on her laptop that had all her family photographs. She had taken it to PC World where she had originally bought it. They advised her to use their internal recovery process, and sent it off for analysis. She was eventually told that there was no chance of recovering her data from the liquid damaged hard drive. But fortunately for her, against the advice she received, she decided to search online for another data recovery company. This is where we came in. Although the hard drive was covered in sticky coffee and damaged by the liquid, we were able to overcome the problem and recover all of the data for the customer. Once again another happy customer as a result of a second opinion. This is becoming a habit.

2TB Western Digital 2nd Opinion

Hard Drive Data Recovery

Case Study

Drive: WD20EARS-00MVWB0
Problem: Clicking. Previously diagnosed by a third party as unrecoverable due to media damage.

We are always keen to test our services against our competitors, just to make sure we’re still up there with the best of them. When we heard from one of our service partners (ABC Rawpaw) that one of the top ranking data recovery companies on Google had given up on a customer’s drive, we were curious to take a look. It’s also worth mentioning that the client had paid £234 to the other company, despite them recovering no data.

Third party report

We received a copy of the original diagnosis report with the hard drive. The report mentioned incorrect head alignment and also damage to the head assembly preventing the drive from functioning correctly. It also stated that they had subsequently replaced the old heads with new ones but due to suspected disc damage, recovery was unsuccessful. A plausible enough report, but was it accurate?

Booking in

The drive was booked into our process. We noted that the warranty seals had been removed and the top cover showed signs of being previously opened. Whenever we receive a drive in this state, we always want to make sure the drive has been rebuilt correctly. We need to do this in our cleanroom to prevent any contamination getting in from the air. Our office is clean, but it’s no place to open a hard drive.

Findings

The inside of the drive was examined in our cleanroom and found to be spotlessly clean. There were no signs of disc damage or particles, but we did notice that the screws were not factory-tight, suggesting previous work had taken place. Happy that there was nothing untoward inside the disk, it was rebuilt for further diagnosis. The drive was powered on and initially failed to reach a ready state. This is common for Western Digital drives as they often have firmware corruption. We used our proprietary firmware tools (and John’s keen knowledge) to repair some of the firmware area of the drive which then allowed the drive to reach a ready state and allow access by our imaging tools.

Imaging

We did find that one of the heads was not performing within spec, but we were able to work around this, again using specialist tools. After imaging the majority of the drive we replaced the heads to allow better access to the missing areas. This helped improve the amount of successfully recovered data.

Result

We ended up with over 800GB of data recovered from the drive in good condition, even though one of the biggest companies (according to Google) was unable to get anything! This is not the first time we’ve recovered data where others have failed, but we always wonder how many people give up on ever seeing their data again, even though it may be recoverable with the right knowledge.

In the end we had an extremely happy customer (and service partner), and were able to test ourselves against one of the biggest data recovery firms in the UK. A great result for us that shows the importance of getting a second opinion.

Why Choose Dataquest

Safe Data Recovery

When your hard drive has failed, where do you turn for help? In many cases the supplier or manufacturer of your computer or hard drive are not the best place to deal with your data loss. Also your warranty only covers the hardware and not your lost files.

So why choose us at Dataquest ?

With over 15 years of experience we are very familiar with all types of hard drive failures. Unlike many other companies our costs are fixed and based on how quick you wish to have your recovered data returned. Like many other companies we offer a free diagnosis, but unlike many others this does not determine eventual recovery cost but decides wether the hard drives problem is mechanical or not. We use the latest hardware and techniques to produce the best results possible.

On a more personal note customer service is a large part of what we do and understanding customer needs is paramount. We will in many cases go beyond what other companies would deem cost effective when recovering lost data. We use all our acquired knowledge to exhaust all possibilities.

We are also partnered with many IT support companies around the UK, to enable us to connect with customers who would other wise have not known of our services.

PGP Whole Disk Encryption

What is Hard Drive Encrytion

PGP WDE is an encryption tool that uses a boot loader installed on an internal hard drive. This utility launches before Windows and prompts the user to input their password. Without the password you cannot gain access to the data.

This utility is widely used by IBM personnel and is now part of IBM’s  process that has to be adhered to by end users. Prior to this utility IBM hard drives were restricted access by a low level ATA hard drive password setup  by the internal IBM IT department.  As computer systems advanced and maybe as a result of a reduced IBM IT department,  IBM adopted the user friendly PGP encryption process.

We regulary receive these hard drives from IBM, and we find that the major problem is related to the PGP boot sequence. PGP does not like a hard drive that is suffering from bad sectors, especially within the partition table. It results in the user being unable to load their access code on startup, or in some cases the code is accepted but does not boot correctly due to bad sectors further along.

We have a lot of experience recovering data from PGP whole disk encrypted hard drives and as a result our data recovery process has a very high success rate.

Mavericks (10.9) Western Digital Data Loss (UPDATED)

Portsmouth & Southsea Mac Support

We’ve been hearing reports of data loss with certain external hard drives after an upgrade to the latest Mac operating system Mavericks. The blame seems to fall to the disk management software that Western Digital bundle with their external hard drives. In response WD has removed WD Drive Manager, WD Raid Manager, and WD SmartWare from their website until they figure out the problem.

We have already had first-hand data recovery enquiries for such disks, so it remains to be seen if these issues can be resolved, or if the data is permanently damaged. One notable case involved a 6TB RAID with two 3TB drives in a mirrored array. After the update to Mavericks, the volume appeared as an empty 3TB drive.

It’s worth noting that even if you use a Western Digital RAID drive set as a mirror, this problem can still cause data loss. Both disks in the mirror are susceptible to the same problem. Remember that RAIDs need to be backed up even more than single disks!

More info and links at MacRumours

Update – 8-11-2013

We’ve now completed the recovery process for one of these hard drives. It appears that the drive we received had been formatted to an empty MyBook volume. The way the Mac filesystem stores data means although most of the files can be recovered, it is not possible to restore the original file and folder structure. This causes issues for files like InDesign which link to external files by name when you add graphics to the document.

We’ve not yet seen enough of these disks to know if this is a common outcome for all affected disks.

What To Do When You Run Out Of Space

It’s a common problem that as we generate more data each year we start running out of space to put it. This is now even more of an issue in the smartphone market, where built-in cameras are generating increasingly large photos and videos, without providing much in the way of additional storage. The most common iPhones are still 16 & 32GB but the photos they now produce can be megabytes in size, with videos easily reaching 1GB.

What To Do When You Run Out Of Space
What To Do When You Run Out Of Space

It’s tempting to take that data and put it somewhere else, so either a laptop or external hard drive. Then once you’ve copied it all you delete it from the phone and gain back all that space. Problem solved.

Not So Fast…
If that copy on your laptop is now the only copy, then you could be one spilt coffee from disaster. If the laptop goes up in smoke, gets stolen, dropped or any of the myriad other ways of failing then it’s bye bye data.

The Fix

The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy.

You need to make extra copies of your data to different types of storage. This could be an external hard drive, NAS, USB Pen, SD card, anything. But don’t just pick one of those. Make a few backups. Put one in a locked safe somewhere. Send photos off to the cloud. Store a copy of your music at your nan’s house. If any of those copies gets lost or broken you can just replace it with another copy.

So let’s run through an example. All those photos on your iPhone have filled it up. Here’s what I would do:

  1. Copy the photos to my computer. Check them.
  2. Backup the computer as usual. (You’re already doing that, right?)
  3. Make another backup, or copy the photos to an online storage service like Dropbox.
  4. Now it is safe to delete the photos from the iPhone and revel in all that fresh space.

Note: Deleted photo recovery is virtually impossible for all modern iPhone versions due to encryption. 

Here’s another example for when your computer runs out of space instead:

  1. Is it possible to upgrade the internal storage? If it is then you should do that.
  2. If this is not possible, or too expensive then you will have to get creative. It will be more fiddly but copy all data to two external hard drives.
  3. You always want to avoid just leaving your data in one place. All electronic devices can (and will) fail, and they have a terrible habit of doing so at the worst possible moment.

So, just remember that no single copy of your files are safe. Making extra copies is cheaper and easier than waiting until something fails.

Thanks to Alexander Armstrong for inspiring this post.