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Retrieving data from fire-damaged hard drives.
August 8, 2005 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Retrieving data from fire-damaged hard drives.

I've been given two drives rescued from fire-damaged PCs. They've been assessed by a data recovery firm, and an estimate of £700UK given for data retrieval, which seems excessive to my friend. She's asked me, as an enthusiastic amateur, (I've built several PCs), to have a look at the drives. My question is, would I run the risk of doing any damage simply by slaving them into my PC to have a look? I assume that the data recovery firm would have, as a first resort, done the same thing. The drives appear physically undamaged and have not been opened, so the firm hasn't needed to perform a platter-ectomy to assess the problem and come up with their estimate, as far as I can tell. Any advice gratefully received!
posted by punilux to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
 
Powering up a damaged drive — even if it looks undamaged from the outside — can make things even worse.

Imagine a situation where the head is warped from heat and powering up the drive smashes the head into one of the data plattens, scraping away a layer of iron. There goes a chunk of your friend's data... forever.

Recovery firms disassemble the components in a clean room and only take out, examine and use those parts needed to recover your data. In addition to scarcity of their service, the work required to recover data reliably makes the cost as high as it is.

If the parts were in a fire, it's no wonder they quoted a price as high as they did. My recommendation is, instead, to get quotes from a few other recovery services.
posted by Rothko at 2:06 AM on August 8, 2005


If it was my data I might be tempted to give it a go, depending on exactly what data of course. I think it is possible that you might damage the platters though, so you really have to think about the value of the information.

You should definitely give some more info about the drives here (model number capacity and manufacturer), it won't do me any good, but it might help somebody with more specific knowledge. For example, it occurs to me that some drives might have a greater tendency to bang head on platter than others - if not from model to model, then at least from between manufacturers and technology generations. Or, some drives might just get stuck in park when damaged while others might act badly.
posted by Chuckles at 2:18 AM on August 8, 2005


Was there any sign of heat damage to the case? If the plastic connectors on the drive, the insulation on the (IDE?) cable, and the (plastic?) front bezzle of the PC all came through fine... Well, you can see where I am going with this. Still needs to be weighed against the importance of the data, of course.
posted by Chuckles at 2:29 AM on August 8, 2005


Ask your friend if she would be willing to pay the £700 if there were no other alternative. If yes, then pay the £700, and don't make the drive worse yourself. If no, then you might as well experiment with the drive—she's no worse off even if the drive disintegrates.

(And yeah, get some other quotes, but this stuff is expensive no matter which way you slice it.)
posted by grouse at 2:38 AM on August 8, 2005


Thanks all for the advice. My friend is now considering the cost to benefit ratio, since I can obviously give no guarantee that I won't make the problem worse. I also don't relish the thought of 5400 rpm shiny shuriken slicing through my living room, so thanks for the notes of caution.
posted by punilux at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2005


Chuckles is right. Consider the state of the computer that was involved in the fire, inspect the plastic components of the hard drive for any damage (if there is at all, dont try it).

Plastic obviously will melt first, and in a situation like this it is a good test to decide wether or not to plug it in.
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:46 AM on August 8, 2005


I disagree with Chuckles and Dean Keaton. The listed maximum nonoperating temperature for hard drives is usually around 70-80 degrees C.

The plastic in the connectors won't melt until they reach a couple of hundred degrees, at least -- maybe more, depending on exactly what plastic they are.

grouse has the best advice.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2005


5MeoCMP, not true. It would be pretty unusual to find anything but PVC insulation in a PC, with a temperature rating of 80C, 90C or 105C. A couple of IDE cables on my desk say AWM 2651, rated for 105C. Here's a listing of Typical Characteristics of Popular Insulations, it's okay, I couldn't find a better table. The temperature rating of the plastic bezel is probably similar, about 105C.

Another important consideration is how the PC heated up over time. As you head toward the centre of the PC the maximum temperature reached will be lower. The important factors are the temperature gradient and the time. For example, if the PC was in a 100C environment for a couple of hours all of the components would be heated up to that temperature. If the heat was only present for a few minutes the internal temperature wouldn't rise as much. If the fire was brief the internal components may not have heated much at all, even if the outside environment was considerably hotter than 100C.

A couple of other ideas... Try out the CDRom drive from her PC. If it still functions perfectly your odds are better. Were there any floppy disks nearby (by nearby I mean virtually touching)? Try them out in her PC's floppy drive, if they work your odds are even better. This assumes she only had the one hard drive of course, because if she had a non critical drive in the system that would be an obvious thing to test too.

Obviously none of this is guaranteed, but that brings up another important point... What guarantee do the data recovery guys offer? If they can't get any data how much are they going to ding her for?
posted by Chuckles at 2:07 PM on August 8, 2005


If your friend *is* willing to shell out the bucks, you may want to check out driversavers. They're in the U.S., and I've never used them before, but they seem to be widely regarded as the best. Plus I guess it couldn't hurt to get another quote.
posted by edjusted at 11:18 PM on August 8, 2005


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