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. Problems have a habit of coming along in twos and threes so don’t push your luck.
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.
Now in it’s new 7mm slimline form factor, and Advanced Format specification. This hard drive is proving a popular choice for Vendors with limited space within their new hardware such as Ultra thin laptops and slim portable external cases. Now being manufactured by Western Digital under the brand name of HGST, the 500GB boasts just a single media platter to store all that data. I would like to make customers aware of the new Advanced Format specification of these drives. Certain Operating systems such as Windows XP require the use of the HGST Align Tool provided by Western Digital. Customers with the latest Macintosh Operating system and Windows 7, do not require the use of this Tool.
Advanced Format has been introduced to cram more data on a single platter. To do this the manufacturer has increased the standard 512 byte sector size to a whopping 4096 byte sector. This format design also incorporates better data integrity, hopefully giving the customer all round better performance.
Customers need to remember at the end of the day, electronic devices can malfunction at any time. So make sure you always backup your precious data.
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.
In most computers, the data you save gets stored on a hard drive. However the drive does not store your files in a straightforward way. When you save files on your computer the data is written magnetically by a fixed comb of heads stacked above one another. These heads pass between several magnetic discs, writing data as they go. In most cases, instead of storing files on one whole disk they are split up and distributed among the disks. This means that when we carry out data recovery we usually need all of the disc surfaces in good condition to get the data back.
How Hard Drives Store Data Across Multiple Heads
When required we can use a process to take the data from the drive one disc surface at a time. This can allow us to avoid using a failing head until we have the rest of the data extracted. When we have extracted all of the data the parts are rejoined to allow access the files. In some cases this is the only way to get the data back.
Hard drives do not allow access to individual disks during normal operations so we need to use specialist hardware and software.
Apple have recently announced a recall program for all iMacs with internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drives. These hard drives fail unexpectedly with no prior warning. We highlighted the failure of these hard drives in a blog back in 2009. You can check whether your iMac has an internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drive by entering your iMac Serial Number at this link.
If you have one of these hard drives that has already failed and you wish to recover your data, then please contact us.
This immense 2TB iMac drive may be heavy, but have you ever wondered why?
HDS722020ALA330 2TB iMac Drive
When we recover these drives we often have to work on individual heads. As you can see from the image, this monster has 10 heads (the first is numbered zero). This means there are 5 spinning disks inside the drive.
From the outside, the only clue that these drives are so rammed full of disks is their weight. They are no bigger physically than any other desktop hard drive.
Following the success of our local data recovery partnership with Novatech, we now have expanded our partnership services to cover Novatech’s other stores nationally. You will find our leaflets at the service department counter in your local store.
We have recently recovered a RAID 5 array which consisted of three of these ST373454LC SCSI hard drives. These are solid, weighty drives, which don’t give off a great deal of vibration, despite spinning at 15,000 rpm; 3 times faster than most laptop hard drives!
Upon opening one of the drives for cleanroom rework we discovered why these drives spin so quietly. In the picture below you can see that although the drives are standard 3.5″ form factor, they actually have 2.5″ disk platters. These smaller disks create less drag, and therefore can spin faster without stability problems.
Inside a ST373454LC Hard Drive
These drives are not alone in mixing up the form factors. The popular WD Raptor drives also use a similar design.
Of course the biggest downside to using smaller disks is the lower storage capacity. Typically SCSI hard drives are much lower capacity than their SATA counterparts, so this trade-off is acceptable for the speed and reliability increases. The relatively low capacity is further mitigated when the drives are used in RAID arrays.
We have been receiving these particular Hitachi model hard drives for data recovery since 2010. The majority of them all appear to show the same failing symptom to the customer. Resulting in access to the user data area of the hard drive becoming more and more difficult.
After several reworked hard drives we have determined that the problem appears to be the written data on the disc media. This may initially have been caused by the internal read and write heads writing bad data or the disc media itself suffering some mis-alignment.
Whatever the cause, the rework to overcome this is usually a slow and very deliberate process. To any customers with these particular hard drives, make sure you back up regularly and any signs of slow or difficult access, you may want to think about replacing the drive.
The Register has today posted two articles about the ongoing battle to expand hard drive capacities.
First is an actual device for sale, a 2TB Western Digital portable drive. This drive has a fancy new case and USB3 connection. It contains backup software and also the option to encrypt the data with a password. I wonder if it encrypts the data by default like some of their previous portables. (A bad thing!)
Second is a futuristic announcement from Seagate about their new HAMR technology. This new tech uses a laser to heat part of the disk before magnetising it. This apparently allows for much higher densities, theoretically paving the way for 60TB hard drives. There doesn’t appear to be any products using this technology at the moment.
60TB drives will be fantastic for backups, but horrible to backup without a new, faster form of connection. These would take almost forever (exaggeration) to fill up by SATA.
This news helps prove that hard drives are far from dead. It will take a long time until SSDs can cope with such massive capacities, at a similar cost to these beasts.