The Little-Big Drive

Toshiba has just announced the 1.8″, 160GB, 5400rpm MK1617GSG drive. Apparently designed for netbooks and other such small machines, it’s a shame that this drive is a tad on the bulky side. at 8mm thick, this drive would be bulging out the sides of a current iPod or MacBook Air. With a SATA interface though, this drive could make for some fun embedded type devices or mods. I would personally love to see one squashed into an eeepc. I also bet that this little baby will be far cheaper than an equivalent solid state drive.

Fujitsu Encrypted Hard Disks

Fujitsu’s new 80-320GB “MHZ2 CJ” drives come with a nice added feature. Not only do they spin at a reasonable 7200rpm, they also have the ability to totally lock you out of your data (And throw away the key). With AES-256 encryption you you can be sure that a forgotten password would wave bye-bye to your data. Currently, AES has yet to be broken in a feasible way, leaving a lengthy brute-force attack as the only option. I question the implementation, as we have seen a number of problems with hard drive passwords which are stored on the drive in the service area. Quite often the passwords become corrupt leaving the user locked out of their drive.  The only way to overcome hard drive passwords is by low-level firmware repair, effectively removing the password. This is likely not an option with disk encryption as you would expect a much more robust system. 
Whichever way you look at an encrypted drive, it could  cause major problems to people needing data recovery. Is it just a clever marketing scheme in a paranoid market or is there some really secure basis for the new technology. I can’t wait to get my hands on one and find out.

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Disk Warrior versus Data Recovery

Disk warrior has long been a favourite utility used by mac support companies and enthusiasts to analyse and repair Macintosh disks. It is favoured mainly for it’s simplicity and many features including data recovery.

As a data recovery company we have received many mac hard drives from clients who had previously used Disk Warrior to attempt to gain access to their data. In some cases the particular hard drive being examined was too severely damaged for Disk Warrior to be of any use. In other cases Disk Warrior was used but the data left afterwards was corrupt and not accessible.

The problem is not so much the utility itself, but the lack of a users understanding of how powerful this utility is. This is a quote used on Alsoft’s website that can be misleading.

“ Simply click the rebuild button and Disk Warrior goes to work ”

In any data loss situation writing to the hard drive that has your lost data is something that should never happen, as it is this writing process that can do more damage than good. If you allow DiskWarrior to write a repaired structure to your disk, you lose any chance of getting back data what was missed out. If the rebuilt data is damaged, the disk will be in a worse state than the original failure.

We recommend that you read the documentation that comes with the utility carefully and fully understand its capabilities.

Hard Drives Vs Solid State Round 1

It seems the backlash may have already begun. As we expected the current batch of SSDs are no match for the long perfected hard drives. Reports of customers returning solid state laptops are apparently hitting the 10-20% mark. I would like to think that a new revolutionary data storage medium gets into the market place before SSDs really take hold. I have an SSD in my EEE pc which is fine but I can’t help thinking a 30GB 1.8″ drive would have been far more versatile. Let’s see what developments appear in round 2. Will the SSDs fight back? (I think not…)

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Samsung to release 1.3 inch drive in January

Apparently set to be unveiled at CES in January, this little baby is aimed squarely at “mobile consumer devices.” Whether that means some next-gen iPods or maybe even phones is anyones guess. Also no mention of capacity on these drives yet. (I love the cat picture in the original article too.)

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Toshiba Announce 240GB 1.8″ Drive

Toshiba DTR vs PMR
Toshiba DTR vs PMR

Toshiba announced some breakthroughs in magnetic storage that could theoretically see the 1.8″ hard drives pushing 240GB using two platters. Using a new process which adds grooves to the disc surface, Toshiba have been able to get 120GB per platter. Apparently this process is best suited to small drives such as 1.8″ & 2.5″ drives. Although this would mean a nice fat drive in our iPod, this process is expected to reach the manufacturing process in 2009.

Seagate Momentus Drive Failures [Updated]

Just recently we have had an influx of unrecoverable Seagate Momentus 2.5″ hard drives. These drives are used in most of the Apple portables from the Macbooks to Macbook Pros and also in laptops from other manufacturers. Ranging from 60-120GB they seem to suffer from some sort of media defect. Most of the problems we see with these drives are head crashes, where the read/write mechanism contacts the disc surface, removing some of the magnetic coating. This damage is not always visible on the top surface of the disc so can be difficult to confirm. If we do see damage then we would not usually attempt any rework, due to the almost instant contamination of the new component. After many failed recovery attempts and much money wasted on replacement mechanisms we decided that we should just inform our customers of the problem before they send us the drive as we have only had one single successful recovery from these drives. I have listed some affected model numbers below for information purposes only. Please be aware that we have no information about how widespread this problem may be. We do only see defective drives in our line of business!

  • ST98823AS
  • ST9100823A
  • ST9408114A
  • ST9120821AS
  • ST94011A
  • ST96812AS
  • ST94813A

Update 21-9-2010:
We are still receiving a trickle of these drives in for diagnosis. Unfortunately they are still unrecoverable. There must be loads of people still using these, without any idea of the potential failure that awaits them.

How to Fix a 5G iPod When it Starts Skipping Tracks

A simple way to fix a skipping iPod 5G
A simple way to fix a skipping iPod 5G

We recently received a white 5G iPod for repair. The problem with this iPod seemed fairly simple. After loading tracks from a windows version of iTunes, the songs would appear in the list as usual, but after playing one or two songs the iPod would stop playing and appear to skip through the rest of the songs. We have seen this sort of issue before, when songs have gone into the iTunes Library but never copy correctly over to the iPod. We confirmed that this was not the case as we were using a fresh iTunes install with only one album in the library.

 

Another issue we see is when the iPod’s system area becomes corrupt and therefore causes problems playing music. We removed the Toshiba hard drive from the iPod and performed a complete write process on the drive to remove all partition and data information. As a matter of interest we decided to restore the iPod on a Macintosh computer. When we added the sample songs, all was good. They played correctly and we thought problem solved. We had to restore the iPod on a Windows PC to give back to the customer, so we carried out the restore and added some sample tracks. Unexpectedly we were back in the same situation again. The songs would initially start to play but then skip around all over the place. Next on our list of possible fixes were iPod diagnostic modes. These are accessed on this iPod using the following process:

  1. Toggle hold switch on (red) then off (white)
  2. Hold down the menu and center (select) button for a few seconds to reset the iPod
  3. Once the white apple logo appears, press and hold center (select) button and previous (<<) button
  4. From this secret menu we tried a full test (be aware that testing the SDRAM took around 20-30 minutes and shows no activity until it is finished)

These test all passed with flying colours so it was back to the drawing board. Thinking back to the fact that the iPod worked fine when it was Macintosh formatted we decided to try a firmware downgrade. All we had to do was choose a firmware from the list and load it onto our iPod. We tried 2005-11-17 which contains firmware version 1.0 for the 5G iPods. We did have to plug the iPod into the PC and then eject it from the taskbar before the restore utility would work.

Since downgrading the iPod it has worked flawlessly and been playing music non-stop. Apple appears to be ignoring this problem instead of providing an update or even recommending this downgrade option. Hopefully this little guide will save a few iPods from the scrap heap and maybe even provoke a response from the big A. We will have to wait and see what Firmware 1.3 brings.

Samsung & Seagate Announce Terabyte Drives

Playing a game of catch up, Samsung and Seagate have gone head to head with Hitachi’s big boy by each announcing their version of a terabyte drive. Both drives feature the SATA 3Gps interface. The Samsung offering has only 3 platters opposed to Hitachi’s 5 and Seagate’s 4 which would suggest that it is not only more reliable but may be the forerunner of a future 1.5TB drive (with all that extra space for platters!).

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A Maxtor Head Crash

A Maxtor drive with a head crash
A Maxtor drive with a head crash

Here is a perfect example of why you should not attempt data recovery on a failing hard drive. This Maxtor 6Y160P0 drive was sent to us after being attached to a PC as a slave and then spun up and down repeatedly in a data recovery attempt. Needless to say the telltale crunchy spin-up was heard and we headed into the cleanroom to check out the damage. It was not a pretty sight. So much of the magnetic coating had been scraped off that there was a layer of soot on all of the components inside the hard drive enclosure. Even after a deep clean, debris and rough edges would wreck a new head mechanism in seconds, rendering any further data recovery attempts pointless.