5 DIY Data Recovery Tips

There is never a good time for your hard drive to fail. It always happens when you have something urgent to work on. Before you start frantically trying to gain access to your data, take a deep breath and read our top 5 things to look out for. It could just save your files.

  1. Don’t assume that recovery software will work on your failed hard drive. If your computer cannot see the drive then neither will the recovery software. Some drives need more than software to get the data off in good condition.
  2. Don’t put the drive in the freezer. This myth has been floating around the internet for years, but no real data recovery has ever required a freezer.
  3. Don’t run Checkdisk, Scandisk, Spinrite, Disk Warrior or anything that could WRITE data to your failing drive. If the drive is failing then you could be accidentally overwriting the data you want back.
  4. Don’t try swapping the PCB from one drive to another. A once-simple fix (circa 1990) is now very unlikely to work. Most of the firmware to control the drive is actually stored on the disks, so swapping the card won’t work. Also most drives now have unique PCB information which varies from drive to drive. We usually have to adapt a replacement PCB to make it work with another drive.
  5. Don’t panic. The data is probably recoverable. If the drive has just failed and you haven’t tried any recovery software there is a good chance that we can get back all of your data.

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Toshiba Desktop Hard Drives

Western Digital Toshiba Drive
Western Digital Toshiba Drive

Western Digital want to buy Hitachi Global Storage. The FTC will only allow this if WD sell of some manufacturing capabilities to Toshiba. This seems to be due to some anti-competition type laws. The strange thing is that Toshiba don’t currently make 3.5″ drives, so perhaps we will see some strange Toshiba branded WD drives? Who knows.

Maybe it will be like when Maxtor were bought by Seagate and brought out the STMXXXXXXXXX drives, which were simply Maxtor branded Seagate drives.

Complicated stuff. Read the overview at Slashdot which has links to the FTC etc.

RAID 5 HP Smart Array E200i Recovered

Smart Array E200i SaS Drive
HP Smart Array E200i SaS Drive

We have just competed a successful recovery from an HP Smart Array E200i RAID array. Not a standard case this. It had x3 DG146BB976 2.5″ SaS drives, two of which had been overwritten with a new RAID 1 mirror.

We found the disk order which was not the same as the labelled numbers. This is often the case. Also, due to the rebuild that had occurred we had to drop one of the disks and virtually rebuild it using the parity information from the other disks.

3 DG146BB976 SaS ST9146802SS Drives
3 DG146BB976 / ST9146802SS SaS Drives

Finding Mac Version The Easy Way

If you want to find out which version of Mac OS X is installed on a drive, but cannot boot into it, there is a plist file that holds the version number.

The file can be found at:
Macintosh HD > System > Library > CoreServices > SystemVersion.plist

Mac OS X System Version
Mac OS X System Version

 

 

 

The SystemVersion.plist file should look a bit like the picture below. I have outlined the relevant part in red:

System Version Plist
System Version Plist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update.

Alternatively you could paste the following command into terminal:

defaults read defaults read /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemVersion.plist | grep "ProductVersion"

This will show you the version of the currently booted system. You would need to change the first bit if you wanted to find out from another mounted drive.

The output will be:

    ProductVersion = "10.7.2";

In my limited testing, this seems to have an error when run from 10.5. It says the file doesn’t exist. I will look into this some more.

What’s The Best / Most Reliable Hard Drive?

We get asked this question a lot. The simple answer is that there is no such thing as a reliable hard drive. This is nothing against the hard drive manufacturers, but all drives will fail eventually. Hard drives are delicate machines and must be treated with care. They are not designed to be the one and only storage for all your work, photos and videos. Imagine your computer never booting up again, and then imagine it happening during the most important job you have ever done. That’s how bad it could be, and often is for a lot of people.

A good lifespan for a hard drive is now probably around 3-5 years. In reality we often see hard drives that are only a few months old. If you’re a gambler then maybe you have got away with it so far, but is it really worth the risk?

Backup your data. Maybe then you won’t need to find out how good we are at recovering it.

Read more about backing up your data here

Dual boot Ubuntu & Windows

We needed a dual boot Ubuntu and Windows 7 setup today, which had a few stumbling blocks.

Problem 1. – GPT Partition

Installed Windows 7 on half a 500GB drive and left 250GB free for Ubuntu. When booting to install Linux, it didn’t see Windows 7 due to the GPT partition that Windows 7 uses by default.

Solution 1.

Used Gparted from the Linux live cd to format the drive with an MBR partition layout. (Note:- This destroyed the original Windows installation.) Then installed Windows back to the drive. This time, Ubuntu saw Windows 7 during installation and was happy to install alongside it.

Problem 2. – Default Windows Dual Boot

Although the machine was now happily dual booting, it would default to Ubuntu, regardless of which changes i made to the grub config. Startup manager would make changes to grub, but it would still default to Ubuntu.

Solution 2.

Nariub on the Ubuntu forums suggested changing the os-prober number, so it loads that first. This puts Windows at the top, making it the default. Perfect for what we needed.

The command for this, which worked for us on Ubuntu 11.10 & Windows 7:

mv /etc/grub.d/30_os-prober /etc/grub.d/09_os-prober
update-grub

So now we have the machine booting as we want, with each operating system happily taking up half of the 500GB drive.

Stop Password Expiration In Windows 7

My brother has just brought me his laptop to look at after forgetting the login password. It was frequently asking him to change the password, and one day he changed it and then forgot it. I found a simple command to stop the password from expiring:

First run Cmd (Command Line) as Administrator (click Start -> and type cmd. Right click on Cmd and choose “Run As Administrator”). If you followed correctly this should give you a black command line window with white text.

Then type:

net accounts /maxpwage:unlimited

And press return or enter.

It should congratulate you, or say successful (can’t remember the exact wording).

The password should then last forever, or until it is changed manually.

Note: It is good practice to change passwords regularly, however outside of corporate IT land can be a huge hassle. Just ask my brother 🙂 

MacBook Pro Glitching Fix

Just fixed an annoying problem that started when I upgraded to Lion. When dragging something to the dock from finder, or from a stack to Finder there would be a flash of strange coloured graphics at random points around the screen. It’s gone too fast for me to do a screenshot but I may try to get a small video of it.

Anyway, the fix is easy and involves turning the dock from 3D to 2D mode.

The Terminal commands are as follows:

defaults write com.apple.dock no-glass -boolean YES
killall Dock

The first command sets the Dock into 2D mode, the second command resets the Dock to allow the changes to be seen.

Below is the About This Mac screen. It’s an old (Powerbook G4 Style) MacBook Pro, Core 2 Duo.

Now I just need to find out why it takes so long to boot up.

MacBook Pro - About This Mac