I’ve seen someprettyseriousheadcrashes 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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
With the recent floods in the United Kingdom, it is important to know that time can be a critical factor when trying to recover data from mechanical hard drives that have been submerged or damaged by water. Most mechanical hard drives have breather holes that may allow water to enter the hard drive enclosure if submerged. If this is the case then the longer the hard drive is left in this condition the worse the internal damage. Even if the hard drive is left to dry out, internally the damage has already been done. Our advice is not to try this if the data is critical to you or your business.
Any water damage hard drives that we receive go straight into our clean room environment to be dismantled and dried out internally. The hard drives external electronics would also require a cleaning process to prevent any electrical shorting caused by the water residue.
Although Solid Sate Hard Drives ( SSD ) do not have any mechanical moving parts, they are still prone to damage to the data chips and electronics by residue left by the water. Very much as mechanical hard drives they would require dismantling and specialist cleaning to ensure no electrical shorting of components.
This year we have seen a fair number of these particular model hard drives with internal media damage caused by a head crash. These are 3.5″ hard drives from external cases such as Seagate Freeagent Go-Flex and Seagate Expansion Desktop. They are also used as internal hard drives in PCs running Windows 7 & 8 also used in Apple iMac’s running OSX.
It has been difficult to confirm whether the media damage seen has been caused by an impact such as a dropped drive or from general electronic failure. What we do know is that as soon as you hear one of these hard drives start to click, then if you have not already got a backup in place, backup your data immediately.
On an Apple Mac running OSX the first sign of a problem is usually a spinning beach ball resulting in slow access. On a PC running Windows 7 & 8, the signs of a hard drive problem are once again slow access and lack of movement from the mouse icon.
If you have a problem with a Seagate hard drive, have a look at our Seagate Data Recovery Services. If we catch it early enough we should be able to recover the data!
If there is data on the drive that you cannot afford to lose, then do not try to fix the drive yourself. I would also suggest that you do not even try to power it back on after it has been dropped, as this is what usually causes the most damage. Whether your drive is an external desktop drive or a small portable one, they all work in the same way. Broadly speaking the inside of a hard drive is a bit like a record player with a mechanical moving needle reading the vinyl record. I can remember the times when playing old vinyl records, once you got scratches on them they never really worked the same again.
So I recommend not to panic, decide on what the value of the lost data is to you. Sometimes it may not be money value but a sentimental one. Once you have decided, then carry out some research online and look at data recovery company reviews. From our experience with dropped drives, the amount of work involved in overcoming the problem would not be covered by the low initial cost that some data recovery companies advertise and therefore the cost would soon escalate.
There is always hope of recovering data from a dropped drive but as you have read, it depends on your actions as to the eventual outcome.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like most external hard drives, Buffalo external drives are simply a wrapper around a regular hard drive. Aside from the protective shell they also have some electronic parts to convert between the internal hard drive and the external USB, Firewire, eSATA or Thunderbolt connections.
If you have problems with an external drive, you can perform a relatively simple test to check where the fault lies. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty, and if there is crucial data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery. That’s the obligatory 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 near the ends.. If you have an identical drive with spare cables try them, but make sure you don’t plug in a power supply with different voltage! Hard drives don’t handle extra voltage well so you’ll end up in a worse position than you started.
If you know how, you could remove the hard drive from the external case and attach it directly to a PC to see if that allows access to the data. If it does, 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.
Since the introduction of unique ROM chips on the hard drives, it is often no longer possible to exchange circuit boards with another hard drive to access the data. In our experience circuit board problems are far less common than they used to be.
SSDs (Solid State Drives) may one day become the standard form of storage in computers. Apple laptops are already heading that way. There are certainly many advantages when comparing SSDs to HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), however they do bring their own problems, which are often not well reported. We don’t care how good SSDs can be. We care about how they fail. It’s common to hear things like: “I’m replacing my hard drive with an SSD so I won’t have to worry about it crashing again.” While this is technically true – there are no moving parts to crash – there are plenty of other ways an SSD can fail. Whether it’s technically crashed or not doesn’t matter at all when you can’t access your files. It’s a shame but an SSD does not get you out of the boring task of running regular backups.
There are some pros and cons which specifically affect data recovery from SSDs. I haven’t listed things like battery life or read / write speed as they are not relevant when it comes to recovering data from them.
SSD Data Recovery Pros:
Shock resistance. No moving parts to crash.
Just as susceptible to filesystem issues, deletion, reformatting, bad sectors etc which can be recovered using existing equipment.
False sense of security. The word reliable comes up a lot in SSD marketing with phrases like “More reliable, faster, and more durable than traditional magnetic hard drives.” Maybe research exists that shows SSDs are less prone to failure but it doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. Anything that holds your valuable data runs the risk of getting drenched, getting stolen, getting lost, and that’s before we even take general failures into account.
Susceptible to electronic failure, Maybe more so than a hard drive as the storage and electronics are combined in SSDs. Some of the most common hard drive failures are caused by errors in the firmware which controls the performance of the drive. SSDs have very complex firmware, which opens the possibility of firmware corruption. In most cases firmware corruption will block access to your data.
Encryption. Most modern SSDs encrypt the data at a hardware level, which makes it impossible to remove data chips and extract data from them externally (you can do it, but the data is encrypted). The keys to the encryption are often stored within the controller chip, so if that fails, you could be locked out of your data for good. Modern encryption works well. You can’t get round it.
Wear-levelling algorithms. Which move the data around the SSDs to improve performance, can make recovery difficult as these algorithms would need to be taken into account when accessing a failed SSD. They don’t store data in logical order like hard drives do.