200 ways to revive a dead hard drive

1. Freeze it

From: Travis Standen

One trick I have learned as a technician, when the problem is data-read errors off the platters themselves, is to freeze the hard drive overnight. It makes the data more ‘readable,’ but for a one-shot deal. If this data is critical, and you have a replacement hard drive (which, if it’s a drive failure, you probably do), then you can hook up your frozen hard drive and immediately fetch the data off before it warms up.

From: Thedeedj

If the problem is heat related, I put the drive in the freezer for about 15 minutes to cool it down… sometimes this gets the drive up long enough to copy any critical files…

From: Itguy1

Put the drive in a waterproof sealed bag, put it in the fridge for an hour or so, then have another go.

From: Kelly Reid

Well, I won’t start playing with your specific situation, too many steps or possible solutions where everything starts “If that last thing didn’t work try…”

But I’ll give you one for free that was a nice hero moment for me. Had a drive where it sounded like the drive motor was engaging but not getting anywhere, so we stuck it in the office freezer for an hour! I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. The drive was up long enough to get the data ghosted to another drive and we turfed it, even though it sounded fine at that point. I can’t really take credit for it though—I had heard it in some geek bull session but I thought it was some jedi-geek urban myth. Goes to show you that you know you’re really screwed when you say something to the effect of “Okay, hold on tight, I’m gonna try something I saw in a cartoon once but I’m pretty sure I can do it”

From: mpicpu

If this drive isn’t spinning up, putting it in the freezer for about an hour will usually get the drive spinning again so you can copy needed files before the drive warms up again. The first thing you want to do is run a disk utility like Norton disk doctor or wddiag (if it’s a western digital drive) to verify whether the drive is working mechanically or not. If it is a master boot record problem, sometimes running Fdisk/mbr will correct the problem. It could also be a virus, and a program like F-prot will look at the drive as a physical unit. As an A+ PC technician I have seen this problem many times. Usually if the drive is not making a clicking sound I am successful in recovering the data.

From: Scott Greving

I’ve run into this scenario numerous times. One time it involved the main Novell SYS volume on our HP File Server. I was really sweating as the server would not boot. I took the drive out and put it in a freezer for 30 minutes. I then reinstalled it into the file server and Presto! I was up and running. Needless to say I quickly mirrored the drive onto another and got rid of the bad drive.

In stand alone client systems, the method I’ve had the most luck with reviving drives from death has been removing the drive, firmly tapping the top of its case several times, and then re-installing it making sure all cables are secure. I’ve had a better than 60 percent success rate with this method.

From: jphillips

If the drive is spinning and you are experiencing these kinds of errors, my experience has been that you are out of luck.

If the drive is not spinning, I have been able to remove it from the computer and ‘spin’ the drive on a flat smooth surface (much like spin the bottle). This will usually free the drive and when placed back in the machine, it will boot. You should immediately back up you data after a successful boot, because the problem will return.

The next ‘fix’ was actually given to me by a Compaq technician several years ago. I had a drive that would not spin and he told me to put the drive in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight and then install back in the computer. Believe it or not, the drive booted. I have only tried this the one time.

From: John Turcotte

In the past, when a drive has failed after it has been running for a short period, I have removed it from the machine and placed it in a freezer for a couple of hours, then hooked it up again. It sometimes will run long enough to remove the data to another safe storage medium.

From: David Furlow

One of the methods I have used before (sometimes even successfully) is to actually remove the drive from the PC, place it in the freezer for a day, then quickly put it back in the machine and try to access it. Why does this work? Who knows, but I heard about this tactic years ago, and it has saved my behind on a couple of occasions. (Of course, if it comes back up, back up the data immediately…. Guess that should go without saying.)

From: Keri D.

Hard drive revival:

A technique I have learned is if you bring the temperature of the hard drive down to the freezing point by putting it in a freezer first and then taking it back out, somehow the condensation from bringing it back to room temperature helps revive it for about 20 minutes. It can be repeated about 5-6 times tops. Long enough to get out any important files that need to be backed up. It has been proven to work a number of times.

From: Christopher Post

How do you bring a hard drive back to life?

My situation:
Half of a volume set goes south on a WinNT server, no good backup and an angry boss screaming about the data being mission critical.

My solution:
** A bit unorthodox but, it has saved my butt! **
• Turn off the server.
• Take out the failing hard drive and wrap a static bag around it.
• Throw it in the freezer conveniently located in the break room.
• Pray for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
• Leaving the hard drive in the bag, quickly plug the drive back into the server. (Just plug the in cables and go.)
• Cross fingers, turn it on, and move all data off the drive as fast as you can! Then add a tape drive and start backing the dumb thing up!

My so-called logic:
Metal contracts when it is cold…. so the platters shrink and increase the clearance for the read/write heads.

From: Chris Poole

Put the drive in the freezer for about a week and then you can usually get one last read off the drive.

From: Cheyenne Robert Alspach

Here are some drive recovery tricks that have worked for me, in the order that I do them. Try booting the drive and copying the data off after every step.

1. Hold the drive upside down, making gravity change the head geometry ever so slightly. Vertical is also another option.

2. Slightly rap the drive with your knuckle, (but nowhere near hard enough to damage the drive).

3. Try the drive in another machine, (slight drive voltage change assumed to be the miracle worker here).

4. Rap the drive just SLIGHTLY harder than you did above in 2.

5. Freeze the hard drive in the freezer for two hours, and place in a plastic zip lock bag to prevent condensation from forming on the drive when you plug it back into the system, (head geometry, electrical resistance lowered, electrical contact points adjusted, etc., assumed to be the miracle here).

6. After the drive warms up to room temperature or better, rap it even harder with your knuckle this time.

7. Repeat all of above steps on next day, as sometimes I’ve gotten data off drive simply by trying again.

From: James McLaughlin

Hmmm sounds like a toughy to me. Back in the old days when I first started teching, if we ran into a problem like this, there were only a few ways to deal with it. I will go over these options now:

QUESTION: What do you think you can do about this, Mr. Tech?

First Answer—Nothing, your computer is too old, and the data on there is not really of that much importance. If you really want it back, you can get a hold of a company called “Total Recall” out of Denver and get charged thousands of dollars to get your files back. Besides, with Y2K, this machine ain’t gonna run anyway, and prices are so low right now, there is no reason why you should not upgrade now.

2) Well, I can take it back to the shop and pretend like I know what I am doing for 3-6 hours. Then I will call you the for the next week and a half giving you excuses as to why I am not able to get your information off of that hard drive. Of course, I won’t charge you anything, but I will expect compensation for all the time I wasted on your hard drive.

3) I could take the hard drive out of your machine, plug into my Secondary IDE controller, and boot up. Hopefully, I can see your hard drive and have the ability to copy all of your files to a temp folder on my machine called “Your Name.” After I collect all information, I would run IBM’s WIPE on the drive and then a thorough scandisk, just to see if the cause was sunspot related or not. If……this was not working, then extreme temperatures always have a way of talking older hard drives into giving us what we want. I would then wrap the HD in a Ziplock bag and slam it in the freezer for 12 hours. Pull it out the next day and very quickly plug it into my machine, copying what I can as quickly as possible until the drive dies again, repeating until all files are copied and safe. If…..that don’t work, move onto the extreme heat. A Shrink wrap gun works best, but a hairdryer will do the trick if that is all you have. Wrap one end of the HD in a towel and use the shrink wrap gun or dryer to heat the hard drive. Very quickly plug it in and copy files until finished. Repeat until all necessary files are copied and you are done.

You may not think it works, but when you are down to that as your last option…it does.

From: Lichtenwalner Allen L TSgt

• Carefully remove it from the computer.
• Place it in the freezer for 24 hours, then put it back in the computer. You should have approximately 30 minutes of good spin time left before a fina–l—and much more permanen–t—shut down.
This problem often arises from a catastrophic hard disk crash—bearings are usually the culprit, coupled with badly worn read/write heads. I’ve used this technique on many computers throughout the last fifteen years as “resident expert” and saved virtually all important data.
If you’re in a pinch for time, such as critical data needed for a briefing in twenty minutes, you can opt for the more drastic cooling technique—a C02 fire extinguisher…

From: Jeff Smoley

Here is a solution for really dead drives: ones that won’t spin or ones that make those funny grinding noises:

Put the drive in the fridge for a few hours. This can shrink up something inside that might let it run long enough to get critical data. If not, try the freezer for a few more.

This actually has worked for me in the past.

From: Neal Menkus

Things we have done in the past that worked:
1. Remove the drive, grab it, and shake the hell out of it: “What could it hurt? It’s not working anyway….”
2. Place the drive in a freezer for about 10 minutes.
3. Open the drive case in a laminar flow-hood, and give it a spin. (Once it was closed up and reinstalled, it worked long enough to suck the data off of it.)
4. Swap the logic board with one on another drive of the same type.

Numbers 1, 2, and 3 worked with older Seagate (which we no longer purchase) drives, which were prone to “stiction” problems. Number 4 worked following an electrical surge (lightning strike), since the data on the platters were still there and OK.

From: Clifford Liles

Depending on the drive failure I have had success with some rather extreme solutions to data recovery.

Symptom: Invalid Drive Specifications
Treatment: Basic Check your cmos battery
Check your IDE cable and connections
Check your jumper settings
Remove all other IDE connections but the drive in question

Advanced Try disk manager software
Try data recovery software
Use a bios upgrade card ($39) and allow it to setup the drive
Look up the drive specifications on the manufacturer’s Web site and plug
them in manually.
Turn Off or On Write Precomp—32bit disk access

Symptom: Drive does not spin up: “Sticktion”
Treatment: Basics Lightly tap the side of the drive case with a screwdrive–r—no power
Lightly tap the side of the drive case with a screwdriver–—power on

Advanced Cold soak the drive: Freeze in a zip-lock bag
Spray drive case with inverted can of canned air
Lightly slap the drive on a desk top: (mild frustration)
Repeated hammering of the drive on a desk top: (last resort—total
frustration only)

Symptom: Invalid media type
Treatment: Basics Boot with a FAT32 Windows 95 boot disk
Sys the drive

Advanced fdisk /mbr
Check for a virus from a known clean boot disk

These are but a few techniques for the doomed platters. These techniques can be used in conjunction with one another to arrive at the desired solution. Lather, rinse, and repeat if necessary.

From: Daniel Philpott

Here is the solutions checklist for this problem:

Tools needed:
• Bootable CD or locked floppy dis–k—Formatted with an OS that can see the file system of the hard drive. DOS is usually the preferred OS for this function with NTFSDOS from Sysinternals for NTFS reads and DOS utilities for diagnostics/repair.
• It should have the ability to boot to and/or see CD-ROM drives, read FAT, FAT32, NTFS, or other common file systems, run common network card drivers and see the network, have disk diagnostic and/or repair utilities, and have antivirus scanning software with current definitions.
• OnTrack Data Adviso–r—A free download from www.OnTrack.com Hard Drive (large capacity)—Formatted for a FAT file system (or whatever is your common file system) and preferably with BeOS as the boot operating system.
• Computer Repair Tool Ki–t—Standard repair tools.
• Freezer–—The one in your kitchen will do quite nicely.

1. The first task to recovering a drive is not at all technical—It is social. Prepare your user for the worst but also explain what the realistic chances of recovery are. Then start collecting information that you will need. Here is what you need to know before starting:
• What is the goal of recovery, returning to the previous state or recovering the data?
• Which is most important?
• What is the client willing to spend on recovery?
• What OS (NT, 95, Linux) and DOS (FAT, NTFS, FAT32) was the system running?
• Where is the computer located?

2. Check the environment: The last question from step 1 is often forgotten and can lead to extensive troubleshooting of a simple problem. Look for an environmental problem that may cause problems for the hard drive. Are there magnets on the computer case close to the hard drive? Is there a fan or heater near the computer? Is a transformer, electrical junction box, or high energy device near the computer (on a floor above or in a nearby wall)? All of these will produce a magnetic (or electromagnetic) field that can cause problems. Equipment that may vibrate the computer even at a very low frequency can cause hard drive heads to skip and jump or even scratch the platters.

3. Turn off the computer, remove the cover, and get ready to the turn the computer on. Then put your ear right next to the drive and power the system on. If you hear any kind of grinding, scratching, or rattling from the drive, turn the computer off as quickly as possible and go to the next step. Otherwise go on to step 5.

4. If the disk has made noise that indicates some sort of mechanical stress, then the problem is the domain of data recovery experts. This is where the client has to make a decision. Do they want to send the drive to a data recovery service, or do they want to destroy the disk in an attempt to recover some data? If the client has information that absolutely needs to be recovered, then send it to the professionals. Remember, you cannot service a hard drive unless you are working in a clean room.

If they are willing to destroy the disk and try to get some data off the drive, there is a quick hack available. Place the drive in a static-free bag, then place the drive and static-free bag into a ziplock bag to seal out moisture. Place this into a freezer turned to as low as possible for 24 hours. After 24 hours, pull the drive out and immediately put it into a computer (the faster the better) that boots to a floppy and has another hard drive to transfer data to. If the drive wasn’t damaged too much previously, you should be able to pull some data off before the metal of the drive heats up and starts destroying the data storage platters. You can repeat the process only if you shut down almost immediately and go through the 24 hour freeze process again. Chances are that the first time attempt will be the only chance to recover data.

5. If the drive boots to an operating system and you can get to either a network or backup medium, then start copying the most important data off first. Once that data is off, you can back up less important data. The best bet is to listen to your client to find out what absolutely must be recovered.

6. If the client wants to restore the drive to its previous state and continue operating, then you need to do two things to see if this is feasible.
• First, run a virus scan on the drive. Update the virus definitions then scan every file on the computer.
• Second, boot to a floppy-disk-based hard drive utility and run a low-level
bad sector discovery utility.
If both tests pass and the computer boots to the operating system, then your job is done and you are eligible for a pat on the back. Otherwise, continue.

7. If the drive does not boot, then try booting to a bootable CD or a bootable locked floppy disk. If you can see the file system, continue to step 8.

If you can not see the file system, then assess your tools. If you have Hard Drive Mechanic from Higher Ground Diagnostics or Tiramisu from OnTrack, then you can use these to diagnose and recover data. Otherwise, boot to the Data Advisor disk to find out whether data can be recovered. They will recover it or suggest a recovery plan or even require the disk be sent to a data recovery center like OnTrack. The client needs to make the choice as to whether the expense of this solution is worth the recovery of the data.

8. If you can see the file system, then priority actions are:

• Copy the most important data off the drive
• Copy the rest of the data off the drive
• Determine if the drive can be recovered (scan with virus checker and disk utilities)
• Repair the operating system

The best way of doing this is to install your spare hard drive in the computer and boot to either it or the CD/floppy bootable. Copy the important data off first, copy the less important data off next, and then do your diagnostics. If your diagnostics look like the drive is repairable, then go right ahead and repair it.

The reason I suggest BeOS be the boot OS on the hard drive is that it has the ability to mount more file systems than I even knew existed before using it. If you need to access an exotic file system, BeOS 4.5 is almost sure to have a driver available for it. However, the FAT (or FAT16) is the most commonly readable file system around, so generally you will want to transfer data to this file system.

If it becomes apparent that the file system is intact and not infected with a virus (or has had a boot sector virus removed), then you may need to replace the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the drive. Simple. Boot to a DOS disk that has the fdisk utility and run an ‘fdisk /MBR’ to replace the MBR. Remember, balance the time it takes to restore the operating system against the time it takes to recover data, get a new drive, and install a fresh operating system.

Normally, disk recovery is simply a matter of recovering the data. Returning a drive to its previous state is a goal but may simply be more costly than recovering the data and replacing the drive. How much effort to expend on the process is entirely up to you and the client.

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