Sunday, April 15, 2007

Farewell to a Hard Drive

A week ago, my computer's hard drive stopped booting. I ran out to Best Buy immediately and bought a new Western Digital Scorpio Hard Drive with 120 GB capacity(double the capacity of my ailing 60GB Hitachi Travelstar) and I loaded a fresh install of Ubuntu Edgy Eft on it. I happened to have backed up my data about 6 months ago, so I got my old stuff back immediately. But, as I have some mission critical data that was not backed up, I had to retrieve this data.

If you've never had this happen to you, it's quite nerve-wracking. As you may know, most all of my productive work takes place in coordination with my computer, and thus, a hard drive on that computer. If the hard drive dies, I must retrieve what's on it, because I've spent countless hours developing my projects and will reuse the resources from them in the future.

I took the drive to a computer repair shop that has been helpful before, and tends not to charge me anything. After a few days with them, they were not able to recover my data, since the drive would not boot. Oh crap, what was I going to do about this? A professional repair shop can't even get my hard drive to boot, so what hope do I have that won't cost me an arm and a leg? Oh well, at least they didn't charge me...

But, I had one trick up my sleeve yet! I read on the web about a certain technique of hard drive data recovery that involves placing the hard drive in the freezer for an arbitrary but significant amount of time. The principle behind it is that if some part in the hardware is out of alignment, the cold temperature will cause the metal to contract and possibly snap back into alignment.

So, having nothing to lose, I put the HDD in the freezer for an hour. No effect! I put it in again for three hours. Still nothing... Then I left it in the freezer for about twelve hours over night. When I tried it again, the motherboard wouldn't even recognize the hard drive!(until the drive warmed up again)

Well, that didn't work... But I remembered one comment I'd seen in reading forums about this freezing technique, and that one person had had success with the opposite technique: heating up the hard drive, thus causing the parts to expand. I have this little space heater that I use when it's cold. So I decided to give the heat idea a try. What I did was to put the heater on its back, so it pointed at the ceiling, then place the hard drive on top and put a towel over the whole thing. Then I plug in the heater and heat the hard drive for 3 minutes on each side. You have to be very careful and pick up the drive with a towel, because it's like touching a pot that's been on a stove.

So, after doing this, the hard drive got a little further! I couldn't believe it! It still didn't work, but it encouraged me to keep on trying to heat it up. After another round it actually tried to boot up! But then as it got cool it stopped working again. But after I heated the drive another time, I was able to get the drive to boot and look at all my data! I was able to then copy my most important stuff to my flash drive and upload the rest to a school server. I had to upload to the server because the drive stopped wanting to be written to after a few minutes of being booted up, and wouldn't mount my flash drive or my new hard drive. Occasionally I had to hold my computer over the space heater when it started to lock up again.

Hopefully this will help some people who are at their wits' end about recovering their hard drive :-)

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