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.
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
Misspelled Regulatory as Reaularory (see image below)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seagate has another batch of dubious drives in circulation at the moment. These slim disks are often used in external Ultra Slim Portable enclosures, but also appear in laptops. Visually these disks have a new-look design that seems a bit strange at first glance. For starters, instead of a solid metal top cover, these disks only have a partial top lid, sealed by nothing more than the printed label. If you decided to peel the sticker from one of these, you’d be unsealing the top cover and allow dust to fall straight onto the disks. This is BAD.
Aside from the visual differences, these disks also feature a number of new firmware changes that are barriers to recovery. The industry standard recovery tools only have limited support at this stage but the good news is that we can already recover from most common issues.
D.S.A.A (Dead Shortly After Arrival)
Another fun feature of these disks is the way that some of them just fail after a couple of weeks light use. As always, we only see faulty disks here, but it’s always a surprise to see a disk that’s only a few weeks or months old on our desks.
Something we’ve seen more than once is a customer that buys an external drive, copies a load of data onto it, wipes their computer, and then finds when trying to load the data back on that the backup disk has failed. Always remember to take two separate backups when erasing your main disk!
Another annoying trait with these disks is that they are manufactured from lots of different internal parts. This makes it a nightmare to locate suitably matched heads when we need to replace them.
I have good news for our customers, our developers have been working hard and have produced a solution to the firmware failures of this model hard drive. I posted a blog alerting our customers back in March 2015 when we started to see the problems arise. A solution was tested just before the end of last year and we now have a process that fixes these issues.
It’s always interesting to see how a complex manufacturing line can be run from such old hardware. In this case we were sent a custom PC from a machine that is used to fill and cap bottles.
The first problem was trying to get the case open to remove the hard drive. There is no ifixit guide for this thing!
Inside I found a 20GB Seagate laptop drive (dated 2007) running Windows 2000 along with the programs that control the machinery. The hard drive was connected to a proprietary motherboard that in turn connected to the machinery via serial ports.
In this case, data recovery was not enough. What the client needed was a full working copy of the failed disk to reinstall into the system. The aim was to get the kit up and running and return it to the customer so they could carry on with work as soon as possible.
We’re set up to handle exactly this sort of problem, so I got this recovered and returned within two days.
During a recent RAID 5 recovery attempt, John made an interesting discovery inside the two failed disks. The plastic ramp that the heads park onto when idle had snapped in the same position on both drives. We don’t know if the heads got damaged first, and then broke the ramps during parking, or if the ramps broke first, damaging the heads as they parked. The client told us the disks were not dropped or jolted. Whatever the cause, both disks had scratches to the delicate magnetic surfaces. In this case, two failed disks from a four disk RAID 5 means the data recovery is not possible.
Old vs New
The other two disks in the RAID had different firmware and don’t show the same fault. We don’t know if these disks have the other (older?) more robust ramp system that we’ve seen in similar disks.
More Problems With Seagate Drives
These ramp problems are the latest in a longline of faults for Seagate.
Interestingly, the surviving disks in this RAID array were dated 2013, and the failed disks 2014. I would have expected the older disks to fail first.
I previously posted about a Seagate SSHD ST500LM000 hybrid hard drive which failed to spin. This hard drive was put into our R&D process due to the type of the failure and further analysis confirmed that the problem was relating to the Solid State part of the drive. At the time I had only seen this type of failure with the Seagate Thin SSHD laptop drives. But since then we have now received Seagate desktop SSHD hard drives with the same type of failure.
Because the SSHD hybrid drives are a cheaper option to SSD drives I am seeing more of them in for data recovery. Also as these are still mechanical hard drives, I am seeing many of the same failures as I do with standard hard drives. For example Electronic Faults, Dropped Drives, Water Damage etc.
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!
These notebook size drives must be popular at the moment as we have started to see a fair few of them come into us. Last month we saw three of them alone with no spin failures. When opened in our clean room we have found that the internal mechanical heads have prevented the motor and discs from spinning as a result of the heads sitting on the disc media. In normal operation the heads should never touch the discs but fly above them carrying out the reading and writing. When the drive is not in use or idle the heads will locate on a parking ramp at the side of the discs. If power to the hard drive is lost while it is reading or writing then this will cause the heads to drop onto the discs and not onto the parking ramp. Once reworked in our internal clean room they were all recovered successfully.
A common cause of this, is the unplugging of the USB cable incorrectly.
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.