Should I return a HD under warranty if it contained personal info?
August 25, 2008 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Hard Drive Crashed after a week... should I risk a return under warranty if it contains personal info?

My newly purchased 750GB hard drive from New Egg is giving me a death-click after only a week ... but for that first week I transferred several over a dozen GBs of music, movies, and personal info. At this point, I'm not even sure what's on there (or "was" on there), although I'm sure that I wouldn't want others to have access to that data. The drive seems completely gone and not salvageable, but... what generally happens with such drives when returned? Should I risk an exchange, if New Egg allows for one?
posted by Auden to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try placing the disk in a zip bag in the freezer for a couple of hours, then plug it in. It might spin up, and you could quickly overwrite — not delete, overwrite with safe deletion software — your personal files. Do you run Windows or Mac OS X?

Would your files really be worth the cost (>$1000) of recovering the data in a clean room to a potential identity thief? If so, eat the cost and destroy the disk yourself.

When you get your next disk, consider using full disk encryption.
posted by stereo at 6:28 PM on August 25, 2008

huh ... I just spoke with someone at Fry's who advised the same thing: drive in the static bag, then in a zip lock, then in the freezer (where it currently sits)...

It's a Windows XP machine, and the drive was in an external enclosure. Basically, I'm just trying to save my $100 (through return or exchange) at this point and have written off the data (sadly).
posted by Auden at 6:45 PM on August 25, 2008

See if you can get a replacement from the OEM, the data shouldn't be looked at and they'll just bin the drive...

it should be safe enough, and you'll possibly get a new drive!
posted by guptaxpn at 6:53 PM on August 25, 2008

run dan's boot and nuke that should get rid of all data pretty securely
posted by PowerCat at 6:59 PM on August 25, 2008

PowerCat - yes, IF i can get the drive working briefly using the freezer trick (dubious) then I'll wipe the data. My dilemma is what to do if i can't get the drive working at all (and yet the data may possibly remain) ... should I return the drive and take my chances that my private data will truly be unrecoverable (which is what I want) or just eat the $100 and buy a whole new drive. If Seagate can repair and resell the drive then I'd be really screwed.
posted by Auden at 7:12 PM on August 25, 2008

I've tried the freezer trick a few times (mainly on 2.5" disks) and had zero luck. Some people swear by the trick though.

I don't know of any other tricks though.
posted by schwa at 7:23 PM on August 25, 2008

should I return the drive and take my chances that my private data will truly be unrecoverable

Your data won't be irrecoverable to a trained professional who is willing to replace the shot board (or if it's a larger problem, extract the platters and place them into a working drive). This isn't something that joe schmoe off the street can do, though. I'm willing to bet that it's just not worth the time and effort when all they'll get in return is a CC number or two. There are so many easier ways to get that kind of info from people.

You'll have to make your own decision, but if it was just your run of the mill personal data, even with a credit card number or two, I'd just send it back to the manufacturer. Ostensibly, they should be destroying the disks anyway.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:04 PM on August 25, 2008

Mind if I ask brand/model?
posted by disillusioned at 11:02 PM on August 25, 2008

As a rule, dead hard-drives get destroyed if they're old, or refurbed to function and wiped before being reissued as warranty replacements by drive manufacturers, if you were to go back to the OEM directly. Over 50% of drives actually work fine when sent in under warranty, so those are just erased and reissued as refurbs, or sent back to the original owner depending upon policy.

Ask what new-egg disposal policies are directly before you send the drive back to them. It's pretty unlikely anybody is going to go to the effort to retrieve the data, but if it really worries you it's probably worth just destroying the thing with a hammer and forgetting about it.

Some places use really big degaussers to erase even dead drives for a fee, according to this. Running a home-made electromagnet over it ain't gonna cut it though.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:10 AM on August 26, 2008

A few random ideas. Probably only the last one has any sort of guarantee of working:

- Shake the spinning drive like a mofo, attempting to force the heads against the platters at speed. This only works if the heads actually go out over the platters, which, how would you ever know? The drive I have here says the warranty is void if the drive experiences shock in excess of 350Gs.

- If you are able to disconnect the controller board from the body of the drive, walk across a fuzzy carpet on a dry day and touch the head connector of the drive. The idea is to zap the chip inside the drive, so that even a replaced controller board won't fix the problem.

- Buy a magnet strong enough to crush a child's hand. But I believe that you may not be able to get the magnet close enough to the platters to actually change the data.

- Find a friend with access to an MRI machine.

- Find a friend with access to a High Energy Pulse Degausser.
posted by IvyMike at 1:24 AM on August 26, 2008

disillusioned - it's a 750GB Seagate 7200.10 Baracuda

... well, the freezer trick didn't work... the only difference I can detect is a brighter, cleaner sound on the rattling click of death.
posted by Auden at 4:31 AM on August 26, 2008

Find a friend with access to an MRI machine.

Yeah, you probably shouldn't put large magnetic things into MRI machines.

There are services where you mail in your drives to be degaussed (example, $30 minimum order) but obviously you have to trust the service provider.

You might be able to find a local service provider where you could drive to their offices and have them degauss the disk in front of you - depends if there's such a company near you (and they aren't exactly common).
posted by Mike1024 at 6:00 AM on August 26, 2008

The dban idea is moot anyway because a 750gb drive is going to take many hours to overwrite. The freezer trick usually only works for upwards of 15-30 minutes of use before the drive warms back up and crashes. I've tried it a few times and almost believe it to be urban legend because it has never worked in my office no matter how long I kept in in the freezer.

Ultimately you have to decide what is worth more to you, $100 or the very small chance that the data you had on there would be accessed by a third party. To put some perspective on this, if Newegg gets it back they will likely return it to Seagate who will promptly trash it rather than care about your details that are still on there.

Be wary of any recommendation that could cause real damage to the drive, lest you end up unable to get your money back as a result.
posted by genial at 6:27 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The freezer trick only work on stuck platters. Your click of death is the read/write head actuating mechanism trying (unsuccessfully) to calibrate itself. This could be a failure of one of many things: read/write head, voice coil, connecting wires, sync/calib track fubar, driving circuitry (very often), etc.

To add to your paranoia, most HD companies will attempt to repair the drive (especially if it's just a circuit board swap-out) and re-sell it. Sometimes it's just a hardware "tweak" which will get the drive working for a few months (enough for a refurbished "warranty"). Your data will be "wiped", but someone intent on getting the "lost" data might be successful, given the right tools, knowledge, and time.

Consider the following ratio:
(value of loss of sleep + value of personal data) / value of drive

If this "number" is high enough, destroy the drive, yourself, with a large-ish hammer. New 750 GB drives are priced around $100-125, right?

Only you can decide whether peace of mind is worth the cost.
posted by catkins at 8:39 AM on August 26, 2008

an update, should anyone read this Q & A in the future: I ended up arranging for a RMA with NewEgg and was given the option of replacement or refund. NewEgg will basically ship the returned drive to Seagate to deal with it.

I also called Seagate (the drive manufacturer) and the tech representative assured me that the only parts of the drive which might be re-used were the casing and electronics, but absolutely NOT the platters, which are destroyed. So, good.
posted by Auden at 11:52 AM on August 26, 2008

I also called Seagate (the drive manufacturer) and the tech representative assured me that the only parts of the drive which might be re-used were the casing and electronics, but absolutely NOT the platters, which are destroyed. So, good.

That's excellent to hear. Thank you!
posted by gjc at 5:17 PM on August 26, 2008

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