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February 4, 2010 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to recover a failing hard drive, when it's making a clicking sound? Is there a cheap way?

I've got a 120Gb Western Digital WD1200 - I just dug a couple old computers out of the closet. The one was my primary machine for almost 8 years. The OS was in poor condition so I took this drive out of the other computer and started moving data to it... mostly 10yr old digital photos and other random documents. Yes Moving, not copying.

So I have this drive, I brought it to work with me today and now it's not reading. It spins up, and clicks a few times before deciding to quit.
From what I've read, swapping the circuit board is sometimes useful if the drive doesn't spin at all, which is not the case. This one is clicking. I did try the "freezer trick", which did not change the activity as far as I can tell.

One data recovery company I called told me they could probably ship it to their lab, but it would cost $1200. Is there a cheaper way to work on this? A device that might let me take the platters out and access the data?

I have little to no money to spend on this. It'd be awful to loose this data, but for the last two years, it was good as gone to us. Can anyone provide me a sliver of hope?
posted by TuxHeDoh to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If its clicking and doing it not much you can do .

the only other thing that has worked for me is connecting the drive to your machine but keep the drive vertical. You might get one more read out of it.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:06 PM on February 4, 2010

One risky thing to do is to purchase the same drive and then swap your platters into it. Without the right training, you are likely to screw this up and destroy both drives.
posted by about_time at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2010


Saved my butt once. Although I'm not sure if it can help a "clicking" drive
posted by teg4rvn at 1:11 PM on February 4, 2010

Some people say you can get hard disks to temporarily work again by cooling them in the freezer. I googled for more details about this, but I can't find any credible links to put in this post.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:12 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: majortom- I've tried that. I've tried it upside down, sideways, tapping it a couple times.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:12 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: About_time , got any pointers to docs about this?
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2010

Oh god. Please don't try to swap platters. This will almost certainly end poorly, as removing multiple platters is an ordeal that requires special tools, and things need to be incredibly clean as even the slightest foreign material can cause serious trouble.
posted by disillusioned at 1:23 PM on February 4, 2010

Jesus; don't try swapping platters. Try the freezer trick, but if that doesn't work, you're probably out of luck.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:28 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: As stated in the OP- I tried the freezer trick. If I'm out of luck, is there any reason NOT to try swapping platters?
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:32 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: You still have the drive you moved the data from from? That's your best bet to get the data back. Write nothing else to it. Hook it up to another machine and use your favorite undelete tool on it. NTFS Undelete or Recuva have both worked for me in the past.
posted by IanMorr at 1:38 PM on February 4, 2010

Try the 'whack once hard with a rubbet mallet' trick and try to spin it up. You can also drop it from 18 inches or so onto a hard surface.

If that doesnt work, set your oven to a low temp like around 150-200 and let it sit in there for a good 10 or 20 minutes.

More tricks here.

Of course, doing these crazy things might mean that the professional recovery firm wont be able to get your data off, so if youre thinking of sending it off, then you should skip these steps.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2010

If it's clicking, it's a mechanical failure. If you crack the case, you *might* be able to jog the read arm and see where it's sticking, or swap the platters. Most likely, though, you'll just contaminate the platters and toast the drive (or both drives.)

If you can afford to lose the second drive, I suppose there's no reason not to go for it, but if the data really is critical, I'd shop around instead for a data recovery service.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: You can try swapping platters. You need a dust free area to work. You need an identical drive (Same drive firmware etc.) I have no idea if that will work or not. How long did you leave it in the freezer? I've gotten lucky, it took a cycle or two in the freezer (10 min? 20 min? something like that). Also, transport it as little as possible.

The data you moved from the other drive, have you written new data to it? Try an undelete program? You may get lucky.
posted by defcom1 at 1:43 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: The drive was sealed in a ziplock with silica beads for a few hours. My fingers were freezing to the outside of the drive it was so cold.

Undelete is a good idea. I shall try that.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: Also, there is absolutely nothing critical on the drive. Just archived pics that had yet to make it into the cloud. How unfortunate.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:54 PM on February 4, 2010

Why not to try swapping platters? Because one day you may have the $1,200 and desire to actually solve the problem. If you keep this drive on the shelf until then, your story could end happily. If you swap platters, you will be out the cost of the new drive, and very bitter at yourself for attempting to do a precision task that almost always ends in failure. It's like cutting hair -- you can always cut more, but it's quite a bit harder to undo the damage caused by cutting too much.

If you are going to try, use your bathroom as a clean room. Less dust in the air.
posted by thejoshu at 2:01 PM on February 4, 2010

You can most likelly pay a recovery firm to recover all the data on the drive, however it very expensive. and since you say there is nothing cirtical on it, its probably not worth it.
It is amazing what can be recovered from broken drives, with enough funding though.
posted by digividal at 2:04 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: I am going to second Ianmorr here. The pics you need are probably still on the drive you moved them FROM. I would try to recover the files from there.
posted by poyorick at 2:37 PM on February 4, 2010

I've actually had the freezer trick work, but the drive was left frozen overnight. Try spinrite.
posted by theora55 at 2:55 PM on February 4, 2010

The best service I've heard of is Gillware Data Recovery. You can use their online tool to get an estimate for repair, which is generally cheaper than other comparable companies -- I think $680 is the price for physical failure of a drive. You send your drive in, they inspect it in a cleanroom and determine what needs to be done.

Once they recover all the information they can they'll post the file structure on a web interface for you to browse. You only have to pay them if you decide you want the files they managed to save. Compare this to other recovery services which charge you more up front and make no guarantees that they'll save any data.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:09 PM on February 4, 2010

I've had the thump-it-hard-with-a-mallet trick work for me before; it's worth a go if you're at the point of giving up.

(even if you're at that point, though, don't try the platter swap. It's like trying out surgery on yourself to see if you can. You never know, someday you might be rich enough to afford a surgeon)
posted by bonaldi at 4:14 PM on February 4, 2010

Swapping hard drive controller boards between like-for-like models, sure. Swapping platters? Outside of a clean room, that's absolutely nuts. And no, I'm not talking about "well, my living room's pretty clean," either.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:49 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: The Undelete is working fabulously. Thanks folks!
posted by TuxHeDoh at 10:11 AM on February 5, 2010

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