How do I figure out if I've lost all my data?
September 11, 2009 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, my portable hard drive got knocked over while it was being read from and began making a vicious gurgle. My husband unplugged it before I could try to disconnect it. When I turned it back on, it's still sounds terrible.

As I am currently not backed up, my brain is refusing to really approach this, and I'm drawing a total blank on what to do next. I'm very attached to this data.
posted by droomoord to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, conservation of angular momentum. I gather the sound is too disturbing to try just plugging it in and seeing if it's still alive? If you have tried this, and it does nothing, it's a case of taking it to some expensive experts, or just having to chalk it up to experience.

(Why do people stand their drives up, anyway? This is what happens. Lay it flat.)
posted by Dysk at 6:31 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, (sorry) when I connect it, the PC doesn't recognize that it's there. I remember hearing something at some point about 'whether the drive is reading' being significant when something horrible happens to it, but I can't grasp the details in my memory.

Thank you.
posted by droomoord at 6:43 PM on September 11, 2009

If it's making noises I'd stop trying to futz with it and decide whether to send it to a data recovery service. They have machines to read the data directly off the platters.

This will be expensive, several hundred dollars at least.
posted by Palamedes at 6:46 PM on September 11, 2009

Stop immediately. Do not run it, as you run the risk of devastating the drive. Seconding sending it to data recovery.
posted by yoyoceramic at 6:47 PM on September 11, 2009

Is it making a "death-rattle" sort of sound (i.e., lots of loud clicking and whirring)? If so, the first thing you should try is unplugging the drive and letting it "rest" for awhile. Then re-plug-in and try to get it to mount on your computer's desktop. If this doesn't work, try un-plugging and re-plugging the drive into the computer multiple times, experimenting with different spatial orientations for the drive each time. I've found that sometimes it's possible to get a hosed drive to work briefly (and to mount briefly) using this method, which may result in it working long enough for you to recover your data.

Failing that, if you really need the data on there, you're probably going to have to resort to a professional drive recovery service, which won't be cheap.
posted by killdevil at 6:50 PM on September 11, 2009

If it was making a scratching sound that is the sound of a drive needle gouging the platter (think phonograph record). Pack it up and send it directly to data recover (which in your favor will cost you probably 1/5 of what it did me 8 years ago).
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:52 PM on September 11, 2009

You have crashed the head. Probably the head has been physically damaged. Certainly the surface of the drive has been. Some of your data is gone forever. Depending on the amount of damage, and how fragmented it was, maybe all of your data is gone.

But you have no chance at all of retrieving any of it. Only a data recovery company can even make the attempt.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:52 PM on September 11, 2009


good luck!
posted by jchaw at 6:54 PM on September 11, 2009

Yeah, I'll n-th what everyone else has said. Do not plug in the drive again under any circumstances - you're probably just going to make things worse.

You have to weigh how important the data is versus how obscenely much it's going to be to recover it - and it's going to very possibly involve clean rooms and men in bunny suits and lots and lots of money.

We have a data recovery place on campus at the University of Michigan and they only charge if they can recover data. I don't know if that's the norm.

Not to be a total "told ya so" but every single hard drive fails. Every drive comes rated with a "mean time before failure" - the number of hours you can reasonably expect to use it before failure, give or take. It is absolutely imperative that everyone out there BACK UP YOUR DATA. Gmail it to yourself. Get another external hard drive. Use a service like FolderShare or something to sync your data to another machine. Get a home backup server. Do something.
posted by kbanas at 7:10 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Something similar happened to me last week because I always yank the drive out of the USB port instead of exiting properly. I learned my lesson, no more of that.

This is what worked for me. First I scoured the internet for support forums for my specific product. I started with the help file in my external drive's file manager. My drive is a Seagate Freeagent Go.

I did a lot of googling and learning about boring things. For instance, I learned that you don't really need the external hard drive's manager packaged with your product. Free downloadable managers out there work just as well, apparently.

After the learning I advanced to doing.
(1) I ran out and bought a large flash drive to do emergency backups if my "fixing" failed.
I strongly recommend doing this right now. The flash drive I needed cost only 34USD.
(2) Then I uninstalled the Seagate file manager for the external HD. I used the freeware Revo Uninstaller for this.
(3) Next I deleted all registry files associated with the Seagate file manager from my computer. I used the freeware CCleaner for this.
(4) Then I reformatted the external hard drive.
(5) Finally, after reinstalling the product's software on my computer, I backed everything up to the external drive. Since then no burping.
(6) In between most of these steps if not all I restarted my system just to be on the safe side.

After installing Revo Uninstaller, select "moderate uninstall" of your external HD file manager. Read CCleaner's FAQ before running it. Opinions vary about whether laypeople should use registry cleaners at all, but in your circumstances I would. CCleaner will remove from your system all traces of the gurgler's uninstall and related registry items. You really want to do this before you proceed to reinstall and back up again. FWIW, I have used CCleaner hundreds of times and never have had, or caused, a problem for myself with the software.

I hope this information helps. Like I said I am not an expert. I figured this all out by reading forums and googling. This is an account of my victory in my battle with that obnoxious external HD.
posted by vincele at 7:12 PM on September 11, 2009

OK, upon re-reading your question I see that you are attached to the data. I misunderstood the exact nature of your dilemma, sorry. Still, I recommend going on a full-on google hunt for information about retrieving data from your portable HD. You never know what fixes you will find.
posted by vincele at 7:22 PM on September 11, 2009

Depending on what is damaged on the drive, I would consider using SpinRite. Follow the link and see if it looks like it can help. In fact it is running on one of my drives as we speak. Has been for 48 hours now and I expect it may take at least 2 weeks to complete its work. I anticipate retrieving most of my data eventually. I will go the pro route if it doesn't work, but I think it is worth trying. I caution that mine does not make that terrible of a noise as yours sounds like it does and I do not know if your needle is damaging your platter whenever you turn it on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:42 PM on September 11, 2009

If you're going to go the data recovery route, I'd recommend Gillware. I've heard very good things about them on AskMe -- they let you preview the files they manage to recover online, and you only have to pay if you decide to accept what they have to offer. Their prices are also several hundred dollars cheaper than comparable recovery services -- $380 for basic power failure, and up to $680 if the drive physically failed (for a single Windows machine).
posted by Rhaomi at 7:57 PM on September 11, 2009

vincele doesn't really know what he's talking about.

The other posters are right that if it's making a really loud noise, it's a bad idea to run the drive. In theory it might just be the drive motor, which means the data won't be hurt, but if the drive head is dragging across the platters, then just running it could damage the data even worse. If you have data you really want, you should leave it to the pros.

If you decide you don't need the data enough to spend the money and want to try spin-rite or something, it might be a good idea to remove the internal drive from enclosure and use it directly as an IDE or SATA drive.

In the future, if you have important data that you're willing to spend money keeping safe a good idea is getting a an external disk with a built in Raid Array like This one, which has a configuration where the drives mirror each other, so if one goes bad the other has a mirror copy. It's still a good idea to do regular backups, though. I had a Raid Mirror in my last PC but when my windows install got corrupted it just meant I had two perfect copies of a bad windows install. Not very helpful.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on September 11, 2009

To emphasize what others have said, take a look at this picture of a hard drive.

The large circular object in this picture is the platter. There are often several of these stacked on top of eachother. The silver arm that's reaching across it is the read/write head. The small end of the head which looks like it's resting on top of the platter is what reads and writes data to the platter. Though it looks like it's resting on top, it's actually carefully positioned so that it just barely glides above the platter's surface without actually touching it.

When the drive is in-use, that head is positioned somewhere over the platter. When you turn off the drive and the last thing you hear is a little "click" noise, it's the head gliding off the platter and parking out of the way.

Have you ever had the chance to hold a gyroscope, or a spinning bicycle wheel while trying to move it? You know how it pulls back against this movement? Well, that's what happened when your drive got knocked over. The platters are spinning anywhere from 5,400 - 10,000 RPMs. Any tilting of the drive can easily cause the head to bounce into the surface where it will scrape and cause severe damage to the data. This is why newer laptops are making use of an accelerometer to determine when the computer is moving too much. When this is detected the hard drive is signaled to park the read/write head out of the way of the platters. Once it's parked, even if the laptop is on its way to the floor, there's little chance of physical damage to the platters once it hits the floor since the head is parked.
posted by odinsdream at 8:31 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the admonitions, the insight, and the links.
I had just moved all my redundancies to the one drive, last week, with aims to organize and back it up, when I got a website gig and put that first. I was TWO days from getting back to plan A. I am kicking myself so very hard, and working on forgiving he who paid no attention to the cord.
Lesson. Learned. x999.
Thank you for helping me jump-start rationality on this. Seriously.
posted by droomoord at 10:19 PM on September 11, 2009

Everybody who has advised you to do anything involving running the drive yourself, rather than take it to a data recovery service, wants to kill your data.

There is a big difference between the failure mode you've experienced (mechanical failure due to excess acceleration) and all of the others. Once you've caused mechanical damage to a drive, any amount of running time will only ever destroy, not recover, data.

In particular: damage caused to drives by yanking the USB cable is mere data damage, not mechanical damage. No amount of data recovery software will help you with mechanical damage. If the heads are no longer flying on their microscopic air cushion above the disk surfaces - and when a drive starts making horrid noises immediately after a mechanical shock, that's what's happened - then they are busy sanding off the coating where your data physically resides, for as long as the drive is powered up.

That's why the suggestion to try Spinrite (which attempts to recover data from your drive by running it for a long time and reading it over and over and over and over, strikes me as mind-manglingly wrong. Don't do that.

Your only hope for data recovery is for a professional recovery service, having taken the drive apart in their clean room, to discover that what you've done is bent the head supports rather than the actual disk(s). Head assemblies can be replaced, but if the disks themselves are bent, there is no reasonable way to make the heads fly on them any more and data recovery is no longer economically feasible.
posted by flabdablet at 11:17 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I defer to flabdablet and withdraw my previous comment. Even with my qualifier "depending on what is damaged on the drive..." I do not want to in any way contribute to potentially more damage.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:20 AM on September 12, 2009

My off the cuff guess is that this will cost between 600-1100 to get the data off the unit - the nature of the accident + the sound = someone taking the unit apart & getting directly to the platters. I just ran someone through this last week- still waiting on the full price. Be willing to pay an assessment fee that ascertains if the drive can be repaired - and ask the recovery service if they do everything in house or send it out to another firm. The places that resell others services are a waste of time- you'll need a firm who can do it all, not some shop running a software solution. Good luck.
posted by zenon at 8:18 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

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