Friday, November 30, 2018

How I Saved My Dying Hard Drive

I've got this 13 year-old 320 GB Seagate hard drive that has been my D: drive in my 3rd computer now. It's venerable to say the least. The power out here in the Fifteen Acre Woods likes to cut out. It used to do that a lot back when we lived out at Lake Palestine in Texas, so I bought a battery backup to preserve the drives in my computer because they said you ought to do that. Well eventually the first one stopped charging so I bought a second and the first one became a glorified surge protector. A couple of years ago (here I hang my head in shame) the second backup battery stopped charging. We've been pretty close to the wire financially the past few years, so I haven't replaced it.

So this morning, after leaving the computer on all night running a virus check, I woke to find it shut off, likely do to one of those power glitches we have pretty often around here. AND my D: drive which has all my original data on it would not show up. The computer couldn't read it. I panicked.

Then I calmed down and went to Youtube.
There I found a guy with a Youtube channel called DIY Perks and got some answers to what was happening. He suggested several things that data recovery professionals say you should never do like tapping the case and (horror of horrors) opening the case and unsticking the drive manually. Data recovery professionals were aghast and loud in their condemnation of this practice. Yeah, of course they were!

Now data recovery professionals charge something like $750 an hour for this sort of data recovery and since I cannot afford that, I decided to give the DIY guy a try. It can be hazardous but the only options the professionals offered was to toss the drive as a total loss or let them do it for a couple or three thousand bucks. I had pictures on there and legal documents, so I gave it a try.  Here's what seems to have happened to my drive:

When the power goes off, the heads of the hard drive are often positioned over the platter (the disk). If that happens and the heads aren't parked, they can get stuck that way. If the drive is inside your computer, there's not much you can do. If you can get the drive outside the case where you can get your hands on it, it turns out there is something you can do.  Since this drive was my secondary data drive, the computer could start without it, although it required I remove the old drive. The computer couldn't read the old drive so it would abort the boot process when it tried to get the Seagate drive going. Fortunately, I have another 320 GB hard drive I just bought a few weeks ago. So here's what I did.
  1. I pulled the old drive from the computer and put the new one in its place.
  2. I closed up the case, reconnected everything and booted it up. To my joy it booted up seamlessly.
  3. Because the heads might be stuck, I held up the old drive so that it was on its side. I twisted it back and forth a few times along it's flat side in order to perhaps cause the platters to rotate slightly and perhaps free the stuck heads or loosen the platters so they can spin.
  4. I tapped the drive gently a couple of times on my desk, tapping it on its back end. Same reason - to unstick the heads. Be gentle and don't tap or shake up and down. If the heads touch the platter they can damage your data. You want the heads to move back and forth to the platter, not up and down.
  5. I then inserted the drive into my Wavlink docking station where the replacement hard drive (now inside the case) had been previously docked. I switched on the docking station and (joy of joys), the old drive spun right up.
My trusty docking station. You've just GOT
to have one of these wonderful devices!
While I do not recommend this procedure (so you are not allowed to sue me now because I said that), it seems to have worked and given the alternative of throwing my precious data away without trying to get it back, it was darn well worth it to me to give it a try.

A couple of caveats.  

  • This only works if your drive is not entirely dead (unlike the wicked old witch).
  • You can hit the drive case too hard and damage your data, so be careful.
  • Always back up your important stuff (some of which I had already backed up but wasn't through yet).
  • Transfer your data to a new drive as soon as you can. Once you've transferred all the data off your old drive, consider it untrustworthy and don't use it for anything important.
 My old drive is right now busily backing itself up onto the new drive and making itself obsolete. I'll probably format it and use it for my XP virtual machine. If it fails there won't be anything on it I can't afford to lose.

Back in the olden days (the early 90s) I had one old hard drive that I had to get really creative to start, so I know about cranky hard drives. It was a 30 mb drive so you can get an idea of how long ago that was. It was my computer at work and it would get stuck during bootup. I finally set the case to one side where it was easy to get to and took off the screws. When I went to start work every day, I would pull the case off, reach in and spin the little silver thing on top of the drive and manually start the disk to spinning. It would boot right up. Once it warmed up, it ran like a top the rest of the day. The computer went to someone else when I was transferred to public relations. I wonder if they ever got my replacement a new hard drive or not?  I had a car about that time that the starter had died on it and I couldn't afford a new one right then. So I always had to park on a hill where I could push it and start it rolling. Thank heavens I had a standard shift. I did wind up having to buy a new clutch for it though. It didn't like being popped every time you started it.

Good luck with getting your data off of your sticky hard drive. There are many ways to skin a computer cat.

Tom King © 2018

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