Longshot hard drive recovery question
November 12, 2017 7:58 PM   Subscribe

My hard drive is on its way out, I would like to get it to work one more time to grab some photos off of it.

This is a complete longshot, most everything is backed up but there are some baby pictures that I'm not sure are saved anywhere else. It would kind of spin and click, then it quit powering up. My husband opened it up and now it spins like normal and the computer recognizes that something is there but can't read it. I don't want to reformat it clearly.

I goggled a lot and most of the solutions just don't seem like they would work, but I came across one that is an easy(?) and nonconsequential if it fails solution. I am copying it below. I really shouldn't be messing with it if I don't even know this, but I am not sure where this "start, search" thing is they are talking about. Are they really just talking about the Windows start menu thing on the bottom left? I wouldn't think about typing commands there and it working. Sigh. I am working on a old hp Elitebook running windows7.

Hi, Vista and Seven store external devices INF details in a file called Infcache.1 This can become corrupt and some or all USB devices will not be recognized.

To fix:-

Log into your computer as your normal log on account (one that has admin privileges)
Go to start, search and type :- control folders, open the returned control folder select “view” and put a check in “show hidden files and folders” and uncheck “hide protected system files and folders(recommended)” DO not forget to undo this when finished.

Next open windows explorer (the file manager) and navigate to:-
c:\windows\system32\driverstore…. look for Infcache.1, we will right click on this file and select delete, windows will not allow saying you do not have permission, to gain permission:-

Go to start, search and type:- cmd right click on the returned cmd.exe and select “run as administrator” at the prompt type:- (copy paste)
takeown /f c:\windows\system32\driverstore
(press enter) you should receive a message that the file is now owned by your user name.

Next type:-
icacls c:\windows\system32\driverstore /grant vistatest\paul:f
(press enter) substitute your user name (from the first cmd) for vistatest\paul (my user name) be sure to add the :f at the end (syntax important)

Now you will be able to delete Infcache.1, after this Restart your computer and plug in a USB device (not the one you were having problems with) windows will rebuild the cache and now your device should be recognised Let us know how you get on.
posted by stormygrey to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you removed the drive from the laptop, this may be the best first step. You don't want to be "booting" the drive you're trying to recover. Do consider calling data recovery companies in the area and see if they have a simple one try lower cost option. There are many recovery methods, the one you quoted does not seem great.
posted by sammyo at 9:53 PM on November 12

I'm not near anything local right now. Is there an option you'd suggest that I can try at home?
posted by stormygrey at 10:58 PM on November 12

The instructions above don't look like they'd do anything for a hard drive that is failing mechanically; honestly, I'm not entirely sure what problem they're intended to solve at all. If this is an internal drive, I'd second the recommendation to remove it immediately and don't try to boot from it.

Given the symptoms you've described, a data recovery service is probably your best bet. A mechanical hard drive that is making weird noises could be failing for a number of reasons, the worst case being that the head has crashed into the platter and running the drive is only making more and more of it physically unreadable. There are data recovery companies that will allow you to ship the drive to them if that's an option you want to try, and can't find anyone local. Also, if the drive is powered off, it is unlikely to get worse, so feel free to take your time figuring out a plan here.

If you want to try recovering data yourself, I'd get a USB to SATA adapter and plug the drive into it; if it comes up, back up whatever you need as quickly as possible. I have heard that putting a hard drive in a ziploc bag, sucking the air out, and putting it in the freezer may help, but I've never tried it myself.
posted by Aleyn at 11:13 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

He didn't actually open up the hard drive, right? Don't do that.
You want to use the drive as little as possible. Don't try and boot from it.
Any writing it tries to do could be writing over what you want.

I have done the freezer trick several times with varying degrees of success. It's worth trying.
posted by bongo_x at 11:38 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

The text you have copied has nothing to do with your problem as far as I can see.

If your husband has actually opened the hard drive itself & you can see the spinning platters then you’re probably toast. Dust in the air will have settled on the platters & will prevent the heads from reading data from the drive.

Hopefully that isn’t what you’ve done, in which case I’d try Aleyn’s solution, unless I really, really wanted these pictures & was willing to spend the $100s that a data recovery shop will charge for the possibility of recovering them.

The freezer trick may help, but the bag is important - you don’t want condensation forming on the drive when it comes out of the freezer.I’d plug the cable into the drive & leave the end of the cable out of the bag so you can dry it when it first comes out of the freezer before it warms up & plug it into your usb/sata HD reader.
posted by pharm at 1:06 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]

If the drive is still readable at all (which if was physically opened it may not be), you need to image the drive with something like dd and then try to recover files from that image. A little googling will find you guides on how to do so. It's tricky and a typo can delete all your data, so if you're not technically inclined it's worth bribing a friend that is. If the images are really important to you, pay a professional, though if the drive was physically opened, it may not be worth the expense at this point unless they have a cheap evaluation fee to see if it's possible.

There are some tools that automate pulling images from corrupted drives but I've not used any of them and there's lots of scamy software in that genre.
posted by Candleman at 2:16 AM on November 13

Please, please ignore all that infcache stuff. As a person who fixes computers for money, I can assure you 100% that none of it will do you any good and that all you will achieve is messing up the state of your computer for no reason.

I gather from context that the drive in question is a USB hard drive.

If your husband restricted himself to opening a USB drive casing and maybe re-seating a few connectors, he's probably done no harm. If he took the cover off the drive itself and exposed the spinning platters, then the most likely result is even more damage to the medium and probably to the heads as well.

The most common reason for a USB-connected hard drive to do the click-and-spindown thing is that the spindle bearing is drying out and/or wearing, causing an increase in power consumption sufficient to make the difference between a single USB port being enough to power the drive and not.

If that's what's going on, the fix is one of those funny Y cables that has a single USB B (or mini-B or micro-B, depending on the drive) connector and splits out into two USB A connectors on the computer end. Alternatively, if the drive in question has a separate power inlet socket and came with its own wall wart, power it that way.

If you still can't see the drive contents after doing that and you're not comfortable with exercising a proper first-line data recovery tool like GNU Ddrescue, please don't try out any more random internet-derived fixes on no better basis than that they "might work" and "couldn't hurt". If your drive is that close to dying entirely, you want to keep it spun down until competent data recovery people are looking at it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:21 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]

I had a hard drive failure on an old desktop around Labor Day. Windows would not boot and I didn't have anything on there that I would be crushed to lose, so I did what Allyn suggests above. I put the hard drive into an external hard drive enclosure, plugged it in via USB and was still able to get everything I wanted out of C and My Documents. Good luck!
posted by kimberussell at 6:07 AM on November 13

Clicking is bad, but is almost certainly recoverable by people with proper tools, a filtered air hood, and another drive from which to borrow parts. The dust issue isn't actually that huge unless it is run with dust on the platters (which will scratch them and possibly damage the heads), so long as it isn't left open for long periods, etc. Still better not to do that since touching the wrong thing will permanently destroy data.

That said, if data recovery services aren't an option, your best bet is the freezer trick along with something like dd_rescue. Although in this case, assuming the drive hasn't been sitting for years, I'd try mild heat 90-110F before cold. If the lubricants are getting excessively thick, heat can thin them out a bit and make it run for a few more minutes.
posted by wierdo at 6:26 AM on November 13

If these pictures are truly important to you, then it's worth paying a professional to help. Call DriveSavers and get them to mail you a padded box. They'll analyse the drive and tell you what can be done. If you don't need the pictures immediately, the price will be lower.

Seriously. Baby pictures are worth this effort and expense.
posted by Wild_Eep at 1:33 PM on November 13 [2 favorites]

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