Recovering data from a drive with unknown physical damage

I’ve got a fairy new (<2months) laptop drive die this morning.

Symptoms were:

  • Windows was booted, running. in the morning it was unresponsive and the HD light was flickering a very fickle blink every second or so
  • 1st restart - hung at the Windows boot screen for >20min, so i restarted
  • 2rd restart - drive spins up, and on first read (i think), makes a noise that sounds like the head trying to find its place on the platters, fails, and the HD light goes solid with no disk activity (that is, no normal HD sounds)
  • I’ve attempted to use a windows install disk to run chkdsk to maybe catch a break. So far it hasn’t gotten me anywhere, though it was able to detect the drive was NTFS, so i had a glimmer of hope :-o
    So, my question(s) …
  • do any of you have experience assessing (phantom) physical damage to drives?
  • repairing said damage?
  • any other suggestions given the above?
    i’m waiting for a replacement drive from dell, and my employer says they can try to use software tools to recover data. I’ve tried GetDataBackNTFS and other such tools before with limited success (not for a drive-killing physical issue, however), and i’m not any more confident in their ability than my own in the realm of using a piece of software to recover data.

I’ve heard fables people getting a dead drive working by putting it in the freezer, but afaik that’s for locked motor issues, which i don’t think is the problem here.

short of spending $500-$2500 at a place like ADR Data Recovery (loose quote they gave me), or you guys having some experience, i’ve committed to taking this as an unfortunate loss, but i figured it was worth a shot!

Thanks for any info

I have used SpinRite to recover data off drives before, however they were drives with data problems, not with physical hardware issues. Unfortunately SpinRite is not free, so it is a bit of a risk for something that might not even work.

Also, I have heard the freezer trick working for a variety of hardware issues, it might be worth a try. If it is not working now, what can it hurt to try it?

I’ve got one of these doohickies you could borrow if you need to:

It’s useful when you have a drive that doesn’t boot, but may still function ok if you have a second computer to connect it to.

If the drive is really physically damaged, then this gadget probably wouldn’t help.


I've used the freezer trick on a few drives and had it help. But the
first thing I'd try is SpinRite; I may have a copy around somewhere.
If SpinRite gets anywhere, do a raw dump all the data off the disk to
a file, and deal with the filesystem issues later once it's on
reliable hardware.

If many bad sectors still remains, or SpinRite crashes and burns, then
I would boot a machine into some Linux, maybe a LiveCD like INSERT,
with the drive attached. Use dd_rescue with the logging options and a
very short retry count to get as much good data off as possible and
dump it to a file. Then put the disk in a plastic bag, get rid of most
of the air, and freeze it for several hours; carefully hook it up
again, just opening the bag enough to let in cables, and try dd_rescue
again with the same log. It should go back to what it couldn't read
the first time and try again. If there are still unreadable areas,
seal the bag again and repeat the process until no more good data is
coming off.

if the drive posts in the bios, you can try bartPE, ubcd4win, or
gparted to see if you can access the data. i have had limited success
with drives that were in the process of failing, but had not yet died.

if it's a mechanical problem, tho, you should be prepared to part with
either the data from the drive, or several hundred bucks for a
recovery service :frowning:

I’ve heard of SpinRite before, but not used it - mainly because of the potential loss it can add by writing back to the disk. That being said, I’ve dealt primarily with borked partitions/FATs/etc, which isn’t quite the case here. Besides, there’s a first time for everything, right? :wink:

I’ve got one of the SATA->USB adapters to use already.

In a test-run with the freezing, it’s shown positive signs: spinnup isn’t as noisy, and the fail pattern is a little less rigid, if that makes sense, lol.

Since it’s a big drive, freezing is a quick-to-wear-off fix, and recovery will undoubtedly take hours, I’m thinking of throwing together a bag/enclosure with air-tight holes for the usb kit, so it can live in the freezer/bowl of ice, etc. that seems a tad dangerous with the moisture, but … the biggest loss atm will be my VMware image. If i completely hose the drive without recovery, I’ve got a month-old backup of it, and 1-2 days of lost code (fortunately the rest is in SVN), so the tedium of recreating the environment is like a stab in the back, but certainly better than it could be.

It’s unfortunate more people don’t have access to clean rooms, spare HD parts, and the tools/supplies neccessary to throw a HD together from scratch. :wink:

Thanks for your help – I’ll update if any when progress is made :wink:


I burned SpinRite to a CD, booted up with the drive in the bay, and
then messed up selecting options, had to restart, upon restart, the
drive no longer showed in BIOS nor in SpinRite, nor in windows with my
SATA-USB dongle.

it worked every time with the dongle prior (was going to use
GetDataBackNTFS, but that's s l o w over usb)

i'm treating it as a coincidence :stuck_out_tongue:

But, was just a work laptop, so i'm not worried. However, I'm now
going to use SpinRite on my eSata 1Tb drive coz it hangs my system all
the time.

Thanks again