Staying on Top of Technology

OCZ Z-Drive 4500 PCIe SSD Recovery

An important part of data recovery is staying ahead of new technology. It’s important that we are able to recover data from wherever people currently store their files. People once stored their most valuable data on a hard drive in their PC. Making hard drives is complicated and expensive, so only a handful of manufacturers had the resources to build them. The relatively small number of brands allowed us to became experts in the way those disks work & fail. Over time, some of those manufacturers merged or went bust. There are now just a few factories building disks. That’s not to say hard drive technology is standing still, it’s just a small enough target to keep an eye on. When Seagate release a new family of disks we scrabble around for a little while, and then ultimately find out how they work.

Enter the SSD

Solid State Drives have been on the horizon for a long time now. In fact, the three Macs within arms reach of me right now all have SSDs in them. The biggest problem for me, is that the barrier to entry to make SSDs is really low. There are thousands of factories in China alone with the capability to pump out millions of SSDs. Just buy some controllers and NAND chips, solder them to a circuit board — Instant SSD.

MacBook Pro SSD

The Numbers

In 2018 there are only three hard drive manufacturers left. By comparison there are 35 SSD manufacturers listed — without including all the white-label, rebadged, refurbished, grey-market & clone drives in the market. If we estimate that each manufacturer produces three different product lines, you’ll get to 105 different types of SSD vs nine hard drive families. In fairness, I can think off the top of my head that some of these hard drive brands have more than three families of disk, but you get the idea. Staying on top of all those brands quickly goes from difficult to impossible.

The Future of Data Recovery

You’ve got to wonder if the future of data recovery will be choosing even smaller niches. Some companies may focus on recovering just one or two brands of SSD, and know that they at least have a chance of staying up to date with the latest technology.

Dead Ends

SSDs present a number of new obstacles to data recovery. Some of these are not challenges as much as actual show-stopping dead ends.

Does your SSD controller use encryption, wear levelling & compression? The answer is yes for most SSDs. What happens to the data if that controller fails? In some cases this means the data is gone for good. In other cases it could mean weeks or months of manual work. You can’t just solder on a replacement controller as it won’t have the necessary encryption keys, nor will it have any idea of where the data has been stored across the multiple NAND chips.

 

(Possible?) World’s First Apple SSD Recovery

MacBook Escape Header

Apple’s PCIe SSDs have always proven challenging for data recovery. We have a good success rate with them, however many of our tools don’t even support working at PCI level. This particular SSD provided a new challenge though.

The Device

Manufacturer: Samsung
Model: MZ-JPV5120/0A4
Controller: S4LN058A01-8030
Capacity: 512GB
Interface: PCIe
Date: 2015.11

MacBook Pro SSD

The Problem

The SSD we received was initially showing up correctly in the system. Upon access, the disk would read a few bytes and then stop reading. The SSD would remain visible to the system but not respond to any further commands. The only way to bring it back was to cycle power. Yep, the IT classic — Turn it off and on again! The problem is, PCI cards don’t come with on-off switches so the solution needed to work within software.

Brainstorming

First I thought a copy task with a scheduled reboot may get the device back online, however I quickly found out PCI slots stay powered on during a reboot 🤦‍♀️ This means once the device gets stuck, a reboot won’t bring it back on.

My second idea was to schedule shutdowns but the time taken to boot and then restart the copy process seemed like a nightmare.

The Solution

In the end I found a series of commands which could keep a fairly steady copy process going. The main idea was:

  • Start a copy task
  • Pause on error
  • Toggle the PCI connection using low-level commands
  • Resume the copy task
  • Rinse & repeat

Although not the most elegant solution, this process cycled through 647 times, taking an average of 760MB per cycle. In less than 24 hours the whole 512GB device was cloned to another disk ready for recovery.

After this script finished I did find a slightly cleaner way to reset the PCI slot which will result in much faster recoveries in the future.

I was unable to find any mention of this type of recovery online, so if anyone else knows about it, they’re keeping it to themselves. If you know anyone with a failed Mac SSD, get in touch. This is just one of the many solutions we have for recovering them.

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Fake Seagate Samsung Hitachi Drive

Over the past decade, hard drive companies have been endlessly bought-out and then re-sold. At this point I’ve pretty much lost track of who manufactures which brands now. Since all this restructuring, it’s quite common to see portable Seagate branded drives with Samsung disks inside & vice versa. There are also Maxtor branded versions of those same drives in some markets.

Fake Seagate Samsung Hitachi HDD
Seagate Samsung HDD. Seems legit.

So what’s wrong with this disk?

Here’s a list of some of the problems with this disk:

  • Unfinished labelling (the white edges are usually peeled off)
  • Mismatched serial numbers
  • Wrong PCB for a Seagate / Samsung disk
  • Wrong capacity
  • Misspelled Regulatory as Reaularory (see image below)
European Reaularory Address
European Reaularory Address

I’ve never seen a disk quite like this. It’s from a Samsung external case with a Samsung logo on the front label. It also uses a Seagate model number ST1000LM024. Normal enough so far, however the label shows one serial number while the label opposite the SATA connector shows a different one. Also a third different serial number is reported electronically to the system when the disk is attached.

Hitachi Edge Code Serial Number
Hitachi Edge Code Serial Number

The label at the end of the disk is actually a clue to the true identity of this disk. It features the familiar Hitachi / IBM style with two separate stickers & barcodes. The disk is actually a Hitachi HTS5432L9 which suggests a much older 320GB disk that was likely destined for the scrapheap in a former life. Funnily enough, these Hitachi disks had their own strange history of mislabelling.

Fake?

I originally thought this disk may have been a white-label or grey market disk. Some disks get refurbished and are then sold under different brand names in other markets. After a bit more investigation I think it may actually be more sinister than that. This is more like a fake or fraudulent disk, designed to dupe somebody into thinking it is a larger disk than it really is. It appears to the computer as 1TB however only contains 320GB of usable space. This is very similar to the fake flash drives we’ve seen before. The problem with fake capacity disks is that when you exceed the genuine size, the rest of the data usually becomes inaccessible. Also depending on how the disk handles the problem, it could damage the existing data when it fails.

Recovery

Fortunately for the owner of this disk, they had not yet used up 320GB of the disk. In fact this disk failed when the USB connector fell off. Maybe another sign of the poor build-quality of this fake. Once we figured out what we were working with we were able to recover all data. It took a combination of Hitachi firmware repair, careful imaging, and then exFAT reconstruction.

Fake Seagate Samsung Hitachi

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Fusion Drive Data Recovery

Fusion Drive Data Recovery

Urgent Warning: Fusion Drive always consists of two separate disks. If you want your data back you must get both parts. We’ve heard a number of reports that users with failed Fusion Drives are only given the Hard Disk back when receiving Apple repairs. On its own, the hard drive is not enough to recover all data in original condition. This is especially true if FileVault encryption is used.

HDD + SSD = Fusion Drive
HDD + SSD = Fusion Drive.

What is Fusion Drive?

Fusion Drive is Apple’s version of a hybrid solid state & mechanical disk. It combines a small fast SSD with a large slow hard drive to achieve a balance between cost & performance. Frequently used files are moved to the SSD, and old stale data is sent to the slow hard drive. This is all taken care of automatically behind the scenes. Unless you dig into the terminal, you wouldn’t even know you had two separate disks inside the Mac. Fusion Drive is  part of Apple’s Core Storage system. It is somewhat similar to Linux LVM as a volume management system.

What Fusion Drive is not

Fusion Drive does not use the SSD as a cache for files but actually moves data from one disk to the other. This is important, as both disks are required for full recovery.

Why does Fusion Drive exist?

At launch, and even now, the cost for large capacity SSDs is way higher than the cost of an equivalent hard drive. The problem is that SSDs offer huge benefits to the user experience. When you use an SSD, you hardly ever have to wait for things to load. The computer boots up within seconds.

Hybrid drives aim to bridge the gap between solid state and mechanical disks. An iMac with a 3TB Fusion Drive comes with some of the benefits of SSDs, but much less cost. As the cost of SSDs fall, the need for Fusion Drive will eventually disappear. Apple has shown with their current lineup that they’d much rather go all-SSD where possible. Current iMac Pro & MacBook Pro both use 100% SSD internal storage.

Anecdote Corner

We’ve had two recent cases where a user has brought a “Fusion Drive” to us for recovery, but actually only had the hard drive part. Apple had given the damaged hard drive back after replacement, but reused the SSD when creating a new Fusion Drive. This user only had a few GB of data so the Hard Drive hadn’t even been used yet. All the data was stored on the SSD which was now overwritten.

The majority of Fusion Drives we’ve seen have a Seagate ST3000DM001 3TB hard drive combined with a 128GB blade SSD.

If you need help with a Fusion Drive:

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OCZ Z-Drive 4500 PCIe SSD Recovery

OCZ Z-Drive 4500 PCIe SSD Recovery

I published a post back in 2016 highlighting the problem we were seeing with Sandforce controllers on single SSD drives. We have now also come across this PCIe 3.2TB SSD that uses a Marvel controller as well as Sandforce controllers to control banks of data chips. Like the others, this device has I/O errors which we believe is caused by the Sandforce controllers. This PCIe SSD device requires proprietary drivers for it to be recognised in the bios and OS, regardless of what platform it is run on. Although we can communicate with the device via an SSD Utility provided by Toshiba, there is no access to the user data.

OCZ Z-Drive 4500 PCIe SSD
OCZ Z-Drive 4500 PCIe SSD

If you’ve got a problem with an OCZ SSD:

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OS X Base System Data Lost

We’ve seen a few cases recently where a user has unexpected lost all data, and been left with a disk named OS X Base System. Inside the disk is a file named Install macOS Sierra or Install macOS High Sierra, and a few other system files.

The OS X Base System is usually part of a macOS installer or update, so it’s unclear how disks ended up getting replaced with this.

If this has happened to you, we’d love to hear more about how.

We can usually recover these disks, but it’s really important that you stop using the disk as soon as possible. If you install anything to the disk you could risk losing all the data permanently.

We’ve still got more of these to investigate so we’ll update the post when we’ve learned more.

Update: Could be related to Internet Recovery?

First, Do No Harm

Primum Non Nocere

The maxim “first, do no harm” is a great first rule for data recovery, and is at the heart of our whole approach. If you’ve lost data, it’s only natural to panic, but the safest thing to do is stop and get advice. It’s usually best to switch everything off, but there are rare times where you wouldn’t want to do that either.

When you should switch off a failed disk

If the drive has failed completely and you can’t access the data, definitely switch it off. If the disk is clicking, or making strange noises, switch it off. Certain types of hardware failure will get worse if you leave the drive powered on. If the heads have been damaged, they could scrape all the magnetic storage coating from the disk. When the heads are stuck on the disk, they can be wrenched off and take a chunk of disk with them.

If you’ve accidentally deleted some files from a disk, switch it off. You might not realise but as your computer sits there idle, there are all sorts of processes, downloads, updates and other background tasks that will be writing to your disk. Also  a system task could attempt to repair the disk, or reset the computer and overwrite your files. All of these issues are avoided if the device is turned off. Your computer will happily reuse the space where your deleted files are, so once files are deleted it’s crucial to stop the computer accessing the disk. Once data is overwritten it really is gone for good despite what anyone tells you.

If you have a cloud service setup, you should download the data using another computer & disk. Make sure you check the downloaded data thoroughly before writing it back to your original disk. If you write the cloud data straight back to your computer, you’ve lost any chance of getting more data back if there’s something missing.

When you shouldn’t switch off a failed disk

If the data shows up at some point, copy it straight off. Hard drives are complicated machines, but sometimes the stars align and give you one last chance to access the files. Make sure you have enough free space on another disk, and make a copy of your files while you still can. There is a chance that if you power the disk down it might never show up again. Don’t waste that chance!

⚠️ If you start copying files and the speed goes down, while the time remaining goes up, you should stop and get advice. The hard drive could thrash itself to pieces trying to read the files and make recovery much more difficult. You don’t want to leave the disk unattended during this process, as it could fail and need to be switched off.

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Meltdown and Spectre Data Recovery

Meltdown

More than enough has been written about the Spectre & Meltdown CPU vulnerabilities so I won’t go over them directly here. If you’d like more info, I’ve included some links at the end.

My interest is more with the trouble caused by the intended fixes. Despite CPU manufacturers testing the fixes for some months, in certain circumstances they are causing random reboots, and other performance problems.

Safely Remove

Spectre
To “Safely Remove” a disk is standard practice to avoid filesystem corruption. In simple terms, the computer stops writing to the disk and then you’re safe to unplug it. In the case of a random reboot, the computer doesn’t get the chance to finish with the disk.  A crash at a critical moment can damage the filesystem and render the machine un-bootable. Even if the system can recover itself, if you crash enough times your chances of trouble increase. It’s hard to trust a system that could randomly reboot at any moment.

A Solution?

Until we get fixes from the manufacturers, there’s not much else we can do. Now would be a really good time to make sure your backups are working and up-to-date. These fixes could take a while to stabilise, and in the meantime you could be one random reboot away from data loss.

Sources

SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire

Despite falling out of favour in giant tech companies, there are not many businesses in the UK that don’t use some sort of SQL database. Whether that’s a website running WordPress & MySQL or an intranet hooked up to an MSSQL DB, SQL is still everywhere. Even iPhones use SQLite to store Notes and other data inside apps.

SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire
SQL Database Data Recovery In Hampshire

On Disk Problems

Sometimes the fault lies with the underlying disk, Virtual Machine, or RAID array that the file is stored on. First we solve the disk problem and then extract a working copy of the database.

Inconsistency

Another issue with database files is that they can go corrupt silently, and you might not notice until hours, weeks, or months later when a crucial process fails.

Our SQL recovery tools, alongside our hard disk & RAID recovery services can help get your lost databases up and running again with minimal fuss & downtime.

  • Peter MorganThese guys are amazing!! Really helped us out in an impossible situation with a corrupted SQL database which even the software provider couldn’t fix. Not only did they fix the corruption but they did it quickly and super professionally keeping us informed at every step of the way. I have used Dataquest many times and over the years and they always deliver. 4th July, 2017

Common Applications We Recover SQL From

  • Web server MySQL, PostgreSQL
  • Windows Application MSSQL