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Can a Regular Person Repair a Damaged Hard Drive?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the macgyver-need-not-apply dept.

Data Storage 504

MrSeb writes "There's a lot of FUD when it comes to self-repairing a broken hard drive. Does sticking it in the freezer help? The oven? Hitting it with a hammer? Does replacing the PCB actually work? Can you take the platters out and put them in another drive? And failing all that, if you have to send the dead drive off to a professional data recovery company, how much does it cost — and what's their chance of success, anyway? They're notoriously bad at obfuscating their prices, until you contact them directly. This article tries to answer these questions and strip away the FUD." What has been your experience with trying to fix broken drives?

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One word (5, Insightful)

mknewman (557587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801587)


Re:One word (4, Informative)

DarrylM (170047) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801645)

One word: Yes.

Longer version: But it may be more difficult to do nowadays; I don't know. About 7 years ago a family member had a computer with a lot of photos that were, sadly, not backed up. The Maxtor drive had suddenly quit. I was able to eBay another drive with the same model number and swap the boards, and voila! We had a working drive with all of the photos (and other data) intact.

Again, I have no idea how easy that would be to do nowadays... It was hard enough to change boards with my clumsy fingers on a 3.5" drive, let alone a mobile drive.

Re:One word (4, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801749)

I repaired a drive once by overwriting the entire drive with zeroes, and overwrote the whole thing from /dev/random. After that I repartioned it and it worked fine for another 4-5 years. Before I "fixed" it, it was reporting bad sectors all over the place, and constantly had read and write errors. I salvaged what I could, but wasn't able to recover much. I never really trusted it with important data after that point, but it also never failed me after that. I eventually just stopped using it when I purchased a new hard drive, it realized the old one didn't have enough space to be useful. It was only 12 GB. Most USB sticks are bigger than that these days.

Re:One word (5, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801871)

The old write-over trick. Yes, what you're doing is actually forcing the drive to remap bad sectors. How reliably it works after depends on what caused the bad sectors in the first place.

Re:One word (4, Informative)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801957)

I repaired a drive once by overwriting the entire drive with zeroes,

TFA is about a physically damaged drive. (Burnt out component on PCB.) The aim is to recover the data from that.

Your method won't work on that kind of failure, and certainly won't recover any data.

Re:One word (5, Interesting)

ckedge (192996) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801965)

Yes, this frequently works at making failing disks "work again" -- as the manufacturer test sequences and/or simply zeroing the drive gives the drive a chance to find and mark all the bad failed blocks as bad, and the remaining blocks are all the ones that didn't fail and so the disk keeps working for a few more years. I've used this a half dozen times at work.

Of course, this is to make a failing disk "work again", it doesn't help with recovering existing data.

The first thing I'll try with a failing disk is to setup a file by file mirroring program (robocopy is one cli program I use a lot) and set it's "retries" to a moderately high number, like 5 or 10 or 20. Even though you are getting read errors, there are a class of problems where occasionally the read will work, and so each time you try and "rsync" the disk, you get more and more of what's there, till you have a mostly complete copy of the data. This is the same method that some enthusiast utilities use (like grc's disk recovery program, iirc).

I've personally used the freezer trick once. Because of the possibility of condensation, I used the fridge first. I don't recall if I had to use the freezer, but I know I would not have left it in the freezer long (metal transfers heat fast, so it doesn't need to be deep freezed, just a bit colder than the fridge), maybe 5 minutes max, and I recall thinking that I'd end up putting it inside an anti static bag or something with an elastic closing the bag on the cables ... so that the amount of condensation would be limited, either that or run the dehumidifier and/or AC really hard first so that my apt was at low humidity. Definitely would not try it in the middle of a humid summer. Better to wait till winter and turn up your heating system and open your windows so the humidity drops really really low. That's always another option (for those of us that live far enough north), take the system into the chilly cold arid garage so the freezer trick doesn't result in lots of condensation.

Of 5 drives that were failing, 3 I recovered by "retry reads over and over", and 1 I recovered using the freezer trick.

I have one more left that I need to try a "platter swap" with an identical working model number using the "bathroom cleanroom technique". But I'm not looking forward to that, getting the platters out without scratching them on the heads is going to be a massive bitch. I think I'll practice on a few old 9GB drives before I try it with my failed 120GB drive. (I've had it sitting around for forever waiting for me to find the time to do it, I don't actually still use drives that old.)

Re:One word (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802035)

As the question specifically mentions data recovery specialists, I'm pretty sure that sort of "repair" isn't applicable

Re:One word (3, Informative)

t4ng* (1092951) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802061)

I can see how that might work if it were a pretty old hard drive. Since hard drives have magnetic recording media, you can't just write raw data straight to disk. For example, if you truly wrote all zeros or all ones (the recording bias all in one direction or another) there would be no way to figure out if it were all zeros or all ones or how many bits of zeros or ones that you had recorded. So all data is encoded before writing it to disk to ensure that there is always an alternating magnetic field on the disk. A zero might be expanded to 1001, or something like, that before it is written to disk. Different encoding techniques have certain known data pattern weaknesses, data patterns that when encoded will produce a more difficult to read signal on the disk than other patterns. These bad data patterns are used to test drive designs. Additionally, each data track on a disk is sandwiched between two servo tracks. These help keep the head centered on the data track no matter where it is without having to worry about drive calibration. And finally, drives include a lot of spare sectors that the drive electronics are supposed to automatically swap out, without the OS knowing about it, when bad sectors are detected.

So, it is possible that you had a drive that after a lot of writes and rewrites was having some signal-to-noise ratio problems detecting data written on the drive. Your rewrite operations may have normalized the media on the disks just enough to get a little more life out of it. But what was actually being written to the disk wasn't all zeros. If that were possible, you would really make the drive unusable!

Re:One word (1)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801939)

I did the same thing, 5-6 years ago. Drive still works now.

A Better Word (3, Insightful)

epp_b (944299) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801857)


Re:A Better Word (-1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802053)

Your answer: Lame.
Your answer: Snide.

Re:One word (5, Informative)

t4ng* (1092951) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801913)

As someone that worked as an engineer in the hard drive manufacturing industry for 15 years I would have to agree, "No."

You might be able to revive a drive if it is a problem with a PCB, but if it is a problem with the disks or heads, forget about it!

Incidentally, a "hard drive crash" used to mean a head touched the disk and physically damaged the head and/or the disk. But for nearly two decades now, heads in hard drives are "contact heads," meaning the smallest part of the gap between the head and the disk is smaller than the mean free path of air molecules. However the heads are "flying" at a fairly high angle of attack, so it is really only the trailing edge of the head that is in contact with the disk at all times. Between that contact head design and auto retracting armatures that pull the heads off the data area of the disks, actual head crashes are extremely rare under normal operating conditions.

For the 57th time on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801597)

Yes, the freezer trick really and truly does work on conventional HDs. If you have an SSD fail, though, you're pretty much screwed.

Re:For the 57th time on Slashdot (3, Interesting)

txoof (553270) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801671)

I've tried the freezer trick to help what sounded like an ailing bearing , but with limited success. No amount of freezing seemed to help. To make things worse, when I took the drive out of the freezer, moisture started condensing immediately on the cold PCB. I tried to place it on a sponge to help sop up the water, but I can't imagine this helped the drive at all.

I have some friends that swear by this, but I am extremely doubtful especially because of the condensation problem. I feel like this is an a apocryphal bit of "knowledge" that has been passed down from a time when drivers were larger, slower and had less precise bearings. I can imagine that on a big old drive freezing the drive *may* have helped. But then again, perhaps it's something like throwing a pinch of spilled salt over your shoulder or touching wood--something your grandma told you to do, but doesn't actually do anything.

Re:For the 57th time on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801689)

arn't you mean to put it in a plastic bag to keep out the moisure?

Re:For the 57th time on Slashdot (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801697)

As far as condensation, perhaps it depends on the climate? A freezer-temp piece of metal in Arizona doesn't pick up much condensation, but one in Georgia will sweat all over the place.

I do agree that stories of it actually fixing modern drives are probably either apocryphal or obsolete.

Re:For the 57th time on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801757)

What you can do is put the drive in a Ziplock bag with the cables attached (sata and power extension cable) then seal it up good, toss it in the freezer, when you pull it out, the humid air can't get at the drive to condense. that being said, freezing the drives rarely fixes a stuck bearing.. nor does a hammer.. you would need ot find a way to spin the drive backwards to try and free the bearing..

1 for 1 with each (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801765)

I'm 1 for 1 with the freezer trick, and 1 for 1 with controller board swaps. Regular backups are a much better idea.

Re:For the 57th time on Slashdot (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801955)

2 drives out of 7 started spinning for me after the freezer trick long enough to get some/most data off them.

I think, as Billy Crystal would tell you, it depends if they are dead, or just mostly dead.

It Depends (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801599)

Sometimes just the controller portion fails. If you remove it and replace it with a working one from a identical drive you're back in business. Only tool needed is a torx driver I believe.

Re:It Depends (2) (2589739) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801625)

I tried this once, and it didn't work.

My guess is, there are different revisions, then are several batches, and the odds of getting exactly the right controller are pretty slim. In addition, how do you know that the controller isn't somehow "linked" to the specific platters?

Re:It Depends (1)

cyrano.mac (916276) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801661)

And that 's THE reason to buy all drives at least in pairs...

Re:It Depends (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801715)

And that 's THE reason to buy all drives at least in pairs...

That way they fail at the same time and you can be double screwed.

Re:It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801669)

done it quite a few times, would say about 80% success rate. but this was in the late 90's.

Re:It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801751)

I tried this once, and it didn't work.

How do you know it was the PCB and not he mechanicals?

Re:It Depends (1)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802009)

I tried this once, and it didn't work.

My guess is, there are different revisions, then are several batches, and the odds of getting exactly the right controller are pretty slim. In addition, how do you know that the controller isn't somehow "linked" to the specific platters?

I replaced a controller once to revive a dead drive. I had to order a used drive off EBAY at an inflated price to do it though.
The seller explicitly listed the FULL model number of the drives he was selling. I'm fairly certain his intent was to sell to people in my position.
In the end I got the data back and the drive continued to work. I was paranoid so I really only used it as a junk drive from that point on...

Re:It Depends (2)

tiberiumx (1221152) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801655)

Replacing the controller board works if your problem is with the board.

I shorted one out once doing something stupid (inserting another drive in below it while the system was on). It sat unused for a couple years until I decided to see if I could recover the data. Bought one of the exact same model (very important) off of e-bay and swapped the boards. It worked perfectly.

Re:It Depends (2)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801847)

Works with some models, doesn't with others. Some PCBs have parameters flashed into them that are tuned to that particular set of platters after some sort of tuning process at the factory.

Re:It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801981)

I did this once and it worked. Had to exactly the same model though.

Re:It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40802017)

Sometimes just the controller portion fails. If you remove it and replace it with a working one from a identical drive you're back in business. Only tool needed is a torx driver I believe.

I actually did this once, the controller had been fried by a power surge. One of the chips litreally had a hole in it, it took me a while but I managed to find an exact version of the drive on ebay. I switched out the controllers, and amazingly was able to retrieve the data from the drive. The better news was the drive was still under warranty and I got it replaced (after switching the controllers back of course).

Isn't it obvious? (0)

rmdingler (1955220) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801601)

The people who work on computers are at least slightly irregular.

A regular person with no budget limit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801603)

Nearly anything can be done, but very few things can be done within a reasonable budget.
By regular person you mean inexpensively and uneducated?
I would say not cost effectively.

Randy Van DeLo Here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801605)

No, no you cannot! You need a class 100 facility, or a really, really clean bathroom!

swap pcb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801613)

swapping the pcb works in some situations, but you have to have something that is near identical

Depends upon the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801621)

Most likely your answer is no, the average home geek cannot fix it.
    As for sending it out... you better really need that data, because it is going to be several thousand dollars to start.

Freezer "fix" (4, Interesting)

Georules (655379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801623)

Don't ask me how, but I had a failing drive that couldn't even manage to be on for 30 seconds before being unreadable. Since I was curious, as a control, I first let the drive sit at room temperature for an hour. Afterwards, again, only 30 seconds of read time. I then put it in the freezer for an hour, and was able to read for 10 minutes, just enough time for the data I needed. I have no idea what actually happened, and am still skeptical to attribute the success to the freezer, but I did get what I wanted.

Re:Freezer "fix" (2)

TrueJournals (2422022) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801685)

I've had the same thing happen: I've been able to get a drive to run longer before failure by putting it in the freezer for a bit. I'm not really sure why this article is so against the freezer fix. Can it damage the drive more? Sure, probably. But, if you want to get some data off the drive, but that data isn't important enough to spend $1,500 for recovery... why not just try it? If you do damage the drive more, you're no worse off (again, assuming spending money on the recovery is out of the question).

Re:Freezer "fix" (4, Informative)

toygeek (473120) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801723)

Something on the PCB was cracked. The freezing caused everything to pull back together, and heat separated it. So, bringing it to a lower temperature kept it together longer. Simple enough. Is it a repair? No. Its a workaround. A temporary one.

Re:Freezer "fix" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801777)

Theoretically then, couldn't you just mount your hard drive on an external USB enclosure, stick it in the freezer overnight, and then the next day just leave it there, get a USB extension cord, lead it from the drive in your freezer to your computer on your kitchen table (freezer door closed with the extension cable sticking out), and then get a lot more read time?

Re:Freezer "fix" (1)

ClassicASP (1791116) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801931)

That might work if you had a dry ice freezer that was full of dry ice while you were doing the recovery. The drive is gonna create heat once it goes into motion, so to keep it cold while doing the work, it'd have to be FRIGGIN cold. Like south-pole cold.

Re:Freezer "fix" (1)

genkernel (1761338) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801763)

I'll second this. The freezer trick does work, and I havee used it to bring a hard drive back to life for just long enough to get the data I wanted off of it. It would work fine for a very short amount of time after boot, and then it would start producing more read errors, and eventually would become completely unreadable until turning the computer off and on again. After putting it in the freezer, the amount of time I had with the drive was enough for me to say my goodbyes and copy my data. Naturally, drive necromancy of this sort only creates temporary slave drives, and I suspect condensation would drive it even further into the depths of Hades, but the data really is all that is important in these cases.

Re:Freezer "fix" (1)

HycoWhit (833923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801835)

The freezer trick works very well for me with "clicking" drives. I too would really like to know the science. Will the cool temps might contract the PCB board and fix bad solders--I think there is more to that with the clicking drives. My shoot from the hip guess is the freezing thickens the viscous lube inside the drive and slows and armature/drive heads. Perhaps time has allowed the head to get a little too much travel and the thicker fluid slows down travel enough that the data can be read from an otherwise wobbly drive head... Bottom line is I have more success than failure recovering clicking drives with the freezer trick and something like Stellar Phoenix (

PCB swap is cheap, quick, and often works (4, Insightful)

thatseattleguy (897282) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801633)

In the very limited (3) cases that I've had to try and revive a client's dead desktop drive, replacing the PCB board from an identical model - usually purchased cheaply, used or new, online - has always worked.

The other advantage of this approach is that if the first drive becomes revivable, even a time, you now have a second same-capacity drive to transfer the data to (using intermediate storage media if in fact it was the PCB that was the problem and you can only get one drive working at a time).

If it doesn't work, you're no worse off and still have a replacement drive to load data from your (hopefully recent) backups.

I've never met... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801635)

... a regular person.

Yes-ish! (0)

ewanm89 (1052822) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801637)

I've opened up the platters and adjusted the head on what that had come out of alignment once. Of course without replacing the platters in a clean room I am not going to trust it for any kind of data integrity, but it did allow recovery of the data on the old platters.

Definition of success (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801653)

Recover data? sure it's possible
Make it into a reliable dependable drive? No.

Freezing works; works better yet if you can maintain the low temp while running - shrinks bearings, loosens stuck and jammed parts
Not always enough, not always worthwhile, but.. sometimes, about 15-40% of the 'clicky' and unresponsive drives i go through work well enough, when used with ddrescue or something else that tracks position and doesnt restart

Hitting it can, i suppose, fix a stuck bearing but is dangerous to the platters

Swapped PCB's ? sure, done it twice, full data recovery on both.

never moved platters, but i suppose if they aren't bad you might be able to in a home made clean environment...

AU $2600 to repair... (4, Informative)

HeadlessNotAHorseman (823040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801663)

I broke an external USB hard disk once (it tipped over while running). It cost me AUD $2600 to get it repaired. They got most of the data off; some was corrupted but fortunately nothing important. I take more regular backups now!

Some, yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801665)

I used to do precisely this kind of work for a local repair shop. For problems with the motor or the actuator, the freezer trick can work to successfully power the drive up and maybe get some data off of it -- it does not "fix" the drive. For problems with a physically damaged PCB, of course replacing the PCB works -- again, though, the good practice is to use this only to power the drive long enough to get your data off of it. Moving the platters is pretty much an impossibility without a clean room and some specialized equipment. I have seen "percussive adjustment" get one to power up when everything else fails, but it's by no means the option of first resort. Never heard of placing one in the oven, but I wouldn't try it.

We had to send off for professional services in about 10% of cases, and the success rate was pretty bad. I think it was somewhere around $200/hr., but this was on the order of ten years ago, so take that with a grain of salt.

Re:Some, yes (2)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801719)

Saw someone using the oven method once. (actually it was a hair dryer, but whatever...)

The indication for that method is a drive that worked without problems for a very long time (and without any funny sounds!) but refuses to power up again after a shutdown. The lubrication became too hard during cool down(*) to start it up again. Heating took care of that.

(*) Due to letting a desktop drive running nonstop in a server-like environment. But then, it was an experimental setting with no important data on it.

my experience (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801667)

Had a disk at work with our sourcesafe database on break. Due to responsibility falling between chairs, there was no backup at all. Sent it to one rescue firm, came back without successful restore, sent it to another one, got more than 99% back, lost nothing important, cost somewhere in the low 4 figures.

With private disks where data rescue is out of the question, I've had good experiences with freezing and in other cases replacing the circuit board. If doing it yourself, always mount RO and have somewhere with enough with enough space to make first a "cp" of selected really important stuff, a recursive "cp" of everything, and last a "dd" or "rescue_dd" of the whole disk. I've had better luck copying files from within a read-only mounted filesystem at first, you are fighting the clock after all.

It's obvious (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801679)

Just 3D print whatever new part you need. A new read/write head? Just pop some plastic in the 3D printer and print one out. Then head over to the clean room and the tool box and jigs and use your dexterity and skill to change the head. Bad IC somewhere? 3D print out a new chip. Yes, 3D printing is the future!!

Re:It's obvious (4, Funny)

Georules (655379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801761)

Broken 3d printer? Print a new one!

Re:It's obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801781)

You're getting it, dude! It's the revolution! A Makerbot in ever house, and no one will ever leave the house again!

Re:It's obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801911)

Want a girlfriend? 3D printer!

Re:It's obvious (2)

toygeek (473120) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801963)

Make sure you use a 3d printer based on an arduino running linux!

Re:It's obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801967)

Ahhh, I was "funny" for a while until the irrational 3D printing nut crowd showed up...

One trick not listed (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801691)

I took my hard drive to the Geek Squad and they wanted $500 to send my hard drive away to get the data.

I yelled at them and I told them that was robbery. Asked for the manager. But, when I was leaving one of the Geeks told me a secret.
He said just go home and drill a hole in the hard drive and then set it on top of your new hard drive with the hole facing down. All the data will just pour out to your new drive.

It didn't work for me, but maybe I didn't do it right?

Re:One trick not listed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801831)

I've done that, twice, and it worked perfectly. Maybe you used the wrong size bit?

Re:One trick not listed (3, Funny)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802045)

Probably used the old 32mm hole. Newer computers are built using 64mm bit technology, you need to use a 64-bit to compensate. It's a very delicate operation though, as 64mm is a very big hole and you need to be careful to keep it perfectly round, else the data will be unevenly distributed.

It depends (3, Informative)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801701)

Some HD problems (stuck platters so it doesn't spin up) are user-fixable. Most are not. There is a syndrome called "sticktion" where the read/write heads settle on the platters when shut off (most modern drives will elevate the heads when shut off, but some, including many older drives, do not). Because the platters and heads are so flat, they mechanically weld themselves together over time. To fix this (a technique I have used often in the past), you need to remove the drive, and then snap rotate it on the plane of the platters, so that the momentum of the platters trying to counter rotate against the impetus of the rotational momentum you are applying to the drive will break the "weld" loose. If you then quickly re-install the drive and turn it on, it will most likely spin up and continue to operate without problems. Other failure modes include head "crashes", spindle bearing failures, drive motor failures, controller circuitry problems (bad electronic components), and mechanical breakage of connectors, solder joints, etc. These typically are not user repairable.

swapping PCBs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801711)

I accidently killed the PCB of a maxtor drive (120gb or so, SATA), and was able to secure an identical drive, swap PCBs, and restore my data, after calling maxtor support and figuring out which range of serial / production numbers were compatible and had the same firmware.

won't work (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801713)

Maybe the PCB swap used to work, it almost certainly won't work anymore. When a HDD powers on, it needs to load some parameters for the servo system (i.e. positioning the arm) and other tuned parameters for the controller to read back off the disk. These parameters are probably stored in flash memory on the PCB and the parameters will vary from disk to disk. So, parameters for drive A will not work to spin up drive B because of small variances in their manufacturing even if they're made on the same day in the same plant on the same line by the same underpaid employee

You can't swap disks because even if you get a tiny fingerprint on the disk, it's the size of Mt. Everest compared to the distance between the read head and the media. You'll be putting your own home-grown media defects all over it. Forget about getting your files back.

Aside from common firmware related problems (search for "reparing 7200.11" in google for an example), you're not going to have much luck.

The only other thing I've seen work: a guy took his neighbors HDD (which was not responding in Windows) and had to use an oscilloscope to realize the read waveform from the read head was a low amplitude. He built a small in-line amplifier which brought the amplitude back up to spec so the data could be read off. I was impressed.

Source: I have work experience on manufacturing processes for HDDs.

Don't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801733)

Despite the flood in Thailand, hard drives are cheap. Buy a new one, restore from the latest backup and take a hammer to the drive that betrayed you.

More serious answer: I have tried getting data back through a recovery lab once. The disk showed all signs of a completely destroyed head: About three quarters of the drive were mostly readable, the fourth quarter was completely unreadable in regular intervals. Sent it in, their analysis: Unrecoverable, pay us to have it shipped back.

I used a slow computer (1)

mpol (719243) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801737)

I haven't had a disk crash for a long time, but it used to be that when a disk crashed while reading, I could still connect it to a 486 and read all the data on it. I guess the slower computer doesn't stress the disk as much.
This was during the IDE days. Now it's all SATA, so I threw the 486 away.
There often was data corruption, but without a reliable backup it was the best thing to have.

Try percussive maintenance (1)

Dodgy G33za (1669772) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801739)

It was a while ago now, but back in 1994 I used to regularly swap out PC bits. I found a couple of hard drives in the bottom of my drawer that had been there a while - not sure how long. One worked fine, the other one wouldn't spin. A colleague recommended a hitting it with something. I rapped it sharply on the desk sideways on a couple of times, put it back in the PC and low and behold it was fine and then worked okay for at least the few months I noted it. The thought was that the grease was holding it in position, which I had broken with the blow.

Burned out PCB's? Yes. Other? Probably not. (1)

Discopete (316823) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801745)

I've replaced burned out PCB's a few times on critical data drives, but it requires finding another drive of the exact same model and if possible nearly the exact same production year and month and sacrificing it. Once the PCB is swapped out and the drive is accessible, get the data of of it immediately. I normally use Ghost to clone the drive and then wipe it before disposing of the previously failed drive.

If anything else goes wrong with a drive I'd either just toss it or send it to a data recovery professional. As has been stated before, opening the case requires a clean room.

I used to work at Ontrack... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801755)

Yes PCB replacement works... if that's what died. I was friends with the purchasing person who spent a lot of time on the phone with vendors saying things like "no, I need the PCB with 3 fish, not 2 fish" (I think it was Maxtor that used ideograms for versioning instead of numbers...)

Sticktion is real... as are failing bearings... So stuff like dropping it and freezing it (makes the metal shrink just "that" much) works in some cases...

Opening the drive can be required, but don't trust it for long afterward...

I used to repair a certain type of failure (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801767)

This goes back about 10 years. There were fuses on the PCB, little surface mount affairs that look like a 1206 resistor. So this goes back to the days of the bad capacitors, and sometimes power supplies would fail explosively and take out the entire electrical system of the PC. I guess the PS must have gone out of regulation when the capacitors fail, who knows.

The HD just didn't spin up or show up in the BIOS when taken to a new PC. I just traced out the PCB and found the open fuse and changed it. There you go, HD spins up again.

That was my boring story for today.

Bad article is bad. (It's useless.) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801775)

The article basically doesn’t contain any meat. Only obvious and primitive tries, and giving up early, where everybody else would have given up. So basically, you already know everything in there.

The only thing I can say: Don’t bother. Always backup, and be done with it.
The cost of backup media/drives and a new main drive are lower than the price of the time and money you invest to fix it, and much lower than professional recovery.

I added a small script that backs up my whole profile every time I shut down.
I keep every day of one week, every Sunday of one month, and every 1st of one year.
That way I can fix even invisible long-term corruption and most user errors.
And another one backs up my whole system before every system update. (So each week on my Gentoo boxes.)
Both go to another hard disk. (And if I have more money, it will become multiple removable ones.)

The only thing missing is a fully working and TRUSTWORTHY (and bearable from a system resources standpoint) ZFS or btrfs with scrubbing.

Yes, maybe. (4, Interesting)

Fished (574624) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801785)

My first job in "the industry" was in a PC repair shop in 1991. Back in those days, we had a huge crop of bad Seagate 40MB (yes, that's "mega" children) hard drives. The usual problem was that the spindle had frozen up, and if we took the circuit board off and gently tapped the spindle, you could often (about 75% of the time) get the drive to start spinning again long enough to get your data off.

Hard drives have gotten a lot more reliable and a lot smaller since then. I don't know whether this would be a wise thing to do with a modern hard drive.

Re:Yes, maybe. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40802037)

There was a Mac issue those if I recall correctly. To fix it you picked up the Mac by the handle and spun it a few times. Backed things up and got a new drive. It was fun to see in action.

yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801791)

When I was in college some friends came to me with a dead computer. It didn't recognize the drive so I pulled it out, hooked it up to mine and powered it up. I had it in my hand and heard it clicking and clicking like it was stuck. The jdrive was dead so I figured what the hell so I hit it hard with the heel of my other hand. It was kind of funny the click click, bam! Whiiiiiiirrrrr sound it made. I took the disk back, told them it was working but likely not for long and to get a new drive and copy everything ASAP. My hand hurt for a while though

Unrelated story, years later one of our dev servers died. Broken raid, no backups, second disk died after a while. The IT crew didn't monitor the dev servers as often as production. We lost months of work and ended up shipping the disks to a professional recovery service. They charged about $10k IIRC but got most of the data out. Handling of the DEV servers changed afterwards.

Also ... swap the circuit boards (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801795)

In some cases, the problem is not in the drive but in the on-board controller circuitry. If you're desperate, and you have a 100% identical drive, you can swap the controller boards and that will often work.

Starting Over (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801797)

First of all anyone who said No is wrong. You can attempt to fix a hard disk using several methods.

The first idea is to replace the controller on the back, this would be the PCB, as long as you have a controller of the same revision you can swap them. This wont always work but I've seen it unbrick a good number of drives.

The second method I've seen work is to take a molex connector cable to serial, it attaches to the four little pins on the back of the drive and allows firmware access through a terminal program like hyper terminal or minicom. I've seen drives corrupt there firmware and this is really the only way to get into the settings and play with it, you can sometimes unlock a drive and get it spinning up, however copy the data off ASAP and swap the drive, it's at it's lifes end.

The last method I've used and had work is to solder the controller from one hard disk to another using a flywire setup. This is a hack job and it is really a last attempt, you can take wire and solder it from the pins of one controller to the pins of another controller that is working. I've only ever had one disk kick over this way but I was able to copy data from it.

Apart from all the garage hacks I just talked about there is alway the manufactures tools, they usually will allow you to download a disk image full of apps that can talk to the drive and try to recover it. If you don't care about the data you can always try a LOW level format, not a format! This is a special kind of high risk format, it will nuke the drive and if you get a power outage can brick the drive but again might work.

For going all of that, hard disks are cheap just buy a new one.

Re:Starting Over (2)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802021)

Forgoing all of that, hard disks are cheap just buy a new one.

Better yet - buy two and set up a decent backup scheme.

Backups backups backups (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801805)


Phillips Colon Health, prune juice, MOM (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801813)

What has being 'regular' got to do with fixing hard drives?

Take it apart and learn something (2)

Gim Tom (716904) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801815)

I have dissected a few hard drives, but have never been able to repair one -- and I have repaired lots of things unrepairable. The problem is finding the failure point. As the article said, if there is a component failure on the drive circuit board, AND IF YOU CAN FIND IT, then you might have a chance. However, most electronic components silently give up the ghost with no trace of having failed. The exception shown in the article really is an exception and if there is that much damage to a component I would suspect other damage to nearby components or even to traces on or within the board.

On the other hand taking a hard drive apart is a wonderful study in just how well these things are made. The precision with which they are made would be the envy of many old time watch makers. It does take some special tools, however. A good set of strange driver bits really are needed and often include what are called security bits. Inside are lots of cool things like high power magnets and voice coil assemblies to move the heads and the amazingly delicate flying heads themselves. Although it is fun to take one to the range for target practice, you can also have a lot of fun just taking one apart.

Now, the other reason to take one apart is to be REALLY sure you don't leave any recoverable data on the platters. Some of the platters are actually glass and by wrapping them in a few sheets of newspaper and pounding with a hammer for a while you can produce a nice pile of powdered glass that I doubt even NSA could recover data from. In any case with the platters removed and destroyed the data is really gone.

dd_rescue! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801819)

I've had this program save my butt more than once, even when a drive "starts making bad noises." My theory is that it is very gentle on the head positioning mechanicals inside the HD. So while normal file system operations to read files off a HD will fail, since it sends the heads all over that place, dd_rescue succeeds since it's only moving the heads one cylinder at time.

Quite easy... (2)

pubwvj (1045960) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801859)

Fixing a broken hard drive is quite easy. Simply restore from your backup to a new working drive. While you're at it, get a higher capacity drive as the prices will have dropped and the capacities will have improved. ...ah, you do keep daily backups, right? If not then you're one of those people who hires people like me to recover your data. It's expensive. Making backups is a lot cheaper.

Highly improbable (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801861)

Hard drives are really, really finicky. What works for some might not work for others, even if they are encountering the same problem. For instance, sticking a drive in the freezer worked for an older drive I was repairing for my mom but not for a former girlfriend's drive that, all things considered, had the same issue. I also once owned a Dell DJ (piece of shit, if anyone is considering getting this) that used a full-height 1.8" hard drive whose actuator would frequently stick; dropping or tapping it worked every time (to everyone else's curiosity), but has never, ever worked for any other drive that seemed to have the same issue.

I think you're pretty much fucked if your SSD starts going south, which is unfortunate. Thankfully, backups are easier to make these days.

Mostly no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801875)

I have replaced PCB and only once got that to work. Most of the failures seem to be the magneto resistive heads. Moving the patters to an identical drive in theory should work. You will want a very clean work area.

Windows 7 Die Die Die (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801885)

Have a fully encrypted drive, very useable under XP, plugged it into the Windows 7 machine.. and the OS will NOT read or load the drive. Insists on 'initialising' the drive first. WTF? Will not let me access the drive, so can't use Truecrypt to open the volume. Dual boot is not an option so it looks like I will be screwing around to get the data off this disc.

Yes, silly me for encrypting at drive level, but screw Windows 7 for not even allowing me access to the device.

Platters no way (4, Informative)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801889)

You will have great difficulty taking the platters out. The read heads have to be removed without physically coming into contact with the platters. You'll need specialized fixtures and tooling to even begin. If the data is that important then send it to a professional.

Last ditch efforts at home (1)

Anubis350 (772791) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801893)

I've replace the PCB before to get at damaged platters, but both times I was lucky enough to have *exact* same model and run drives around, it typically doesn't work otherwise.

I've had luck with freezing a drive once, though I was only able to recover a few files before it gave up the ghost completely (luckily, expecting that, I'd created a script to hunt for and copy the important files before I ever took the drive out of the freezer.

Hammer method may work (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801905)

Some years ago, my 40GB Maxtor drive stop working. No boot, no partition table, etc... So i bought a new drive and tried to copy the data, after many attemps, and all hope lost. I took a piece of wood and used it as a mallet, and gave to the drive a good round of hits, then connected it again and it worked. I copied 20GB of my data and threw the drive into a wardrobe and never used it again. I forgot to mention that I lifted the drive cover a bit, by unscrewing partially to give a gap that allowed to lift the cap a bit, this was another rumour myth that i was hearing about drive recovering. I don't know what make the reading possible, but i can say that i recovered my data.

Been there, done that, time wasted.. (5, Funny)

brokenin2 (103006) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801927)

We fixed a drive by trading the pcb with another *IDENTICAL* drive (same rev of board etc)..

The funny part was that when we went to recover the files they desperately needed back from that drive, all we found were shortcuts to a network drive, where the files had been safe and sound the entire time.. The user just had no idea that they hadn't lost their files..

Re:Been there, done that, time wasted.. (1)

brokenin2 (103006) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801937)

I should note though, that being able to fix a drive this way is fairly rare.. Most of the time you're hosed..

Yes, but you probably shouldn't (1)

Danzigism (881294) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801941)

Data recovery centers have dust-free environments when removing the platters from hard drives. Air contamination can easily cause data corruption. Sure you can try fixing your broken hard drive, but you'll most likely lose all your data in the process. If you have critical information that you don't want to lose, just use a professional. I switched to Gillware for my clients. Their prices are some of the cheapest I've seen in a while. Was always a fan of DriveSavers in the past, but their prices are expensive.

Twist and Cool! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801973)

Back in the small disk day (under 200 GB) I had a number of success stories with saving drives long enough to get the data off them.

Stuck platter? Give it a sharp twist and then apply power. Save data, remove drive from service.

Over heating? Several cans of 'dust off' held upside down to cool the circuit board long enough to save the data. Remove drive from service afterwards.

I did that frequently. There was one company I worked for that didn't understand the 'remove drive from service afterwards'. Every time they had a power outage, more and more of their drives failed, but were recoverable via the sharp twist method. No one seemed to understand that the drives needed to be replaced.

Sigh. I don't do that anymore, I have redundant drives, and replace failed disks quickly.

Oh, and photorec (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801975)

photorec does a pretty damned good job at getting data back if the drive is still readable. Even "simpler" methods, like chkdsk /f /r, work sometimes as well, though you might have to wait a long time to see results. (I once tried to recover a drive for a client that had several thousand bad sectors using chkdsk and it took about a month of continuous operation to recover about 40GB of data. Which was unfortunate because the drive was 1TB large.)

I use the physical methods as last resorts, since all of the ones I'm aware of can cause further damage.
I wonder how many people shell up the $1500+ for professional recovery when a few hours or days would have solved it for them...

Hard drive problem...both on and off topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801979)

I have a hard drive that makes death knell clicking noises when it's installed internally, but works like a charm when it's installed into an external enclosure.
I'm probably just replacing it, but what might be causing the different results?

Keep backups (1)

BumpyCarrot (775949) | more than 2 years ago | (#40801983)

We live in an age when these questions should be obsolete. Data without backups is data that wants to die.

Notoriously bad at obfuscating? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40801991)

"They're notoriously bad at obfuscating their prices, until you contact them directly."

So, by default, their prices are not obfuscated, because they are so bad at obfuscating it, and if you contact them directly (and help them with obfuscating their prices?), they become more obfuscated (i.e. less clear)?

You either meant "notoriously good at obfuscating" or "notoriously bad at communicating". Or something.

work (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40802001)

as Anthony explained I am in shock that some people able to earn $6455 in a few weeks on the computer. did you see this web link

self-Repiared with a platter replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40802027)

I once repaired a drive on my own by placing the platters in a sacrificial drive. It needed a clean environment, so I used a technique I found online several years ago, when you raise the humidity in the room so that dust collects moisture and sinks. It degrades the overall life of the drive, but it survives long enough to get data off of the hard drive.

I currently have access to a proper clean room at my University, and I have used it for some hard drive work in the past.

Hard drive work is risky, but possible. I'd highly discourage what I did,

Spin the heck out of it. (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802039)

I had a USB drive that was sitting in an attic for 2 years w/o use. It had become "sticky" and didn't want to start spinning (just went click, click, click). After about 5 minutes it did eventually start so I downloaded a 6 hour radio show and played it back at 1/4 speed to keep the drive spinning. Now the drive starts-up without any problem.

The freezer trick has worked for me 4 out of 8 hd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40802047)

The freezer trick has worked for me 4 out of 8 times.

Just long enough to get their 2 or 4 gbs of photos and or docs in thier. i didnt waste anytime on music so you really need to get the data of qick before it unfreezes. i think it has to do somthing witht the arm mecanisim and freezeing it in place when it breaks.

Don't try it (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#40802051)

It's better for "regular people" to find someone who knows what they're doing. It's important to understand that many of these things you can do to fix a broken hard drive are actually actions of last resort. If you know your hard drive is broken and there's no other way, you might try one of these techniques, but if you aren't sure what's going on with your hard drive, you're more likely to damage your hard drive further rather than fix it.

So let an expert determine whether your hard drive is really seriously broken or if it's something easily fixable. Your problem may actually be very minor and fixable, but if you try these things, you might break it beyond repair. If someone is going to attempt any of these measures, let it be someone with some experience.

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