Dead drive DIY hardware-level data recovery?
June 3, 2010 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Hardware-level hard drive data recovery. Anyone in the business care to share for a DIY attempt?

I have a Seagate Freeagent Go 1TB external USB drive. Today the drive wouldn't mount. No prior indications of trouble.

I've opened the case and inside is a Seagate FreePlay 1TB 2.5" drive.

I have: swapped USB cables, tried the drive in a different external case with a different power source. Same symptoms.

I know there are services that would attempt recovery for me. But I see this as a chance to learn something, and am willing to fail in the process. So, what would a recovery service do, in what order, to attempt to get the data off of this drive?

I have an engineering background and I would be pretty comfortable swapping platters or heads if it came to that.

Details follow:

Internal drive is a Seagate FreePlay 1 TB model ST91000430AS.

The drive makes a repeated deet 'beeping' sound (about 1 sec of 'deet' followed by one sec of silence) when powered up. When in the enclosure, the enclosure's white LED flashes steadily. There's no sound of the drive splnning normally or the head seeking. My computer (a Mac) does not see the drive, even in Disk Utility.

On the bright side, I don't hear a click of death or terrible metallic scraping noises. I haven't dropped the drive and it was working fine yesterday, with nothing odd between yesterday and today's failure. Two days earlier, I used it heavily for reads and writes over a 5 - 10 hour session. Aside from occasional heavy use, and the odd 'unplugged USB without unmounting first' case, it's been well-treated.

So far, I have swapped out everything related to the external enclosure, USB cable, and power source. Same symptoms. So I'm pretty sure it's the drive itself.

I have a second FreeAgent Go 1TB that I am willing to sacrifice for the recovery process.

So, if you've done hardware tricks to recover data off a drive, or had a service do this on your drive, I'd like to hear what was involved. I am especially interested in solutions that might work for Seagate FreePlay/FreeAgent 1TB drives.
posted by zippy to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you are feeling gutsy, you could buy the same model drive and firmware level, then swap the logic boards. Failing that, a platter transplant in your very own homemade clean room, which probably means "aquarium with a lot of saran wrap." I am going to try that some dull day myself.
posted by adipocere at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2010

Best answer: There's no sound of the drive splnning normally

So you're saying it doesn't spin up at all? You should be able to definitely tell whether it's spinning when you're holding it by feeling the precession. If it can't spin up then it sounds like stiction which you can sometimes cure by, ahem, percussive maintenance or possibly the freezer trick.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:03 PM on June 3, 2010

Before you open it, put it in a plastic bag in the freezer. When it's good and cold, try and boot it up. Be prepared to take all of your data off at that time - you aren't likely to get another chance.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:10 PM on June 3, 2010

I'd go in this order (from least likely to destroy your hd to most):

1) Freezer trick

2) give it a solid whack on the desk

3) replace the logic board

4) Major surgery on the platters or heads, if you're uber-daring

Honestly, if I really cared about the data, I'd try 1 and 2, then ship it off to a recovery service.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:17 PM on June 3, 2010

Response by poster: So you're saying it doesn't spin up at all? You should be able to definitely tell whether it's spinning when you're holding it by feeling the precession.

I can normally hear a drive spinning. This doesn't sound or feel like a spinning drive. It sounds a lot like this (Youtube, diff. model Seagate).
posted by zippy at 10:04 PM on June 3, 2010

Just joined. You mention that you swapped out all the external device equipment (ie power/usb etc) In my experience external usb drives can be major pains in the butt. Before you start worrying about the disk being physically or electromagnetically damaged, open up the casing and you'll find a sata hard disk or pata (if it's quite old.) Plug that into a desktop computer as a normal drive, boot into your operating system of choice and try and access the data.

If that fails then you can start considering much more drastic methods.
posted by ebrummer at 12:04 AM on June 4, 2010

Additionally, I would agree with chrisamiller freezer trick (perhaps with rice or some other moisture absorbing matter to minimize the moisture in the air in the bag from wreaking havoc.) Thermal expansion can cause the alignment to go off in the disk. I had a 2TB Mirrorbook go bad. After letting it rest for a while in a cool environment it worked again. Hitting it approaches a similar way: jarring it in the hopes that things will move enough the device can function on it's own after realigning itself. I would recommend (though I'm no expert just a computer nerd and engineering student) to hit it parallel to the platters. Search lifehacker and a few other sites for DIY platter swapping/firmware swapping if you get that desperate.
posted by ebrummer at 12:09 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: ... open up the casing and you'll find a sata hard disk or pata (if it's quite old.) Plug that into a desktop computer as a normal drive

Did that two ways. I have a sata to USB adaptor which I plugged into the drive's internal sata connector, and a sata drive enclosure that also has an external power supply. Same symptoms with both. So it's definitely the drive or the drive's controller board, rather than the enclosure and USB adapter.

perhaps with rice or some other moisture absorbing matter to minimize the moisture in the air in the bag from wreaking havoc

I was wondering where I was going to get enough silica gel packets. Much better idea if I go the freezer route.
posted by zippy at 3:11 AM on June 4, 2010

If you have SMART on the drive, you may be able to interrogate it once it's plugged in. If so, you'll get a better idea about the failure's root causes.

Wikipedia has a pretty good list of SMART tools for various OS's.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:38 AM on June 4, 2010

From the sound of that youtube video, it sounds like the motor is failing to spin. Instead, it is vibrating back and forth. This could be a short in one of the legs on the motor, or it could be a failure in the motor controller on the circuit board, or, if you are really lucky, just a bad connection.

I would first remove the circuit board from the back of the drive and clean the contacts. If it is the circuit board, finding another drive with the same board has worked for me. If it is the motor itself, yes, it is *possible* that you could remove and replace the platter(s) to another drive. But the chances of success are really small. Take apart another dead drive to see just how tiny everything is, and how hard it will be to transplant... A fingerprint will fuck it up permanently.
posted by gjc at 7:51 AM on June 4, 2010

2nding The Light Fantastic's suggestion to freeze the unit then power up. I have done this before, however I was able to scoop data for a brief period of time, then I had to re-freeze and repeat several times until the data was recovered.
posted by No Shmoobles at 3:18 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: For what it's worth, tried the freezing method (both 2 hrs and overnight) as well as the percussive maintenance and neither seemed to change anything. I did not get around to swapping the circuit board. Next stop: data recovery place, leading candidate is Gillware.
posted by zippy at 3:39 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have the same drive with exact same symptoms, SN starting with 9YE0Gxxx, maybe Seagate has problems with a batch? I bought the drive on my vacation in Seattle and Disneyland and filled up some 50 GB of photos before it stopped working:-(
I have tried another USB-sata card, I have made sure the drive gets enough power, I have cooled it. I have not measured the power consumption, but I will probably not be able detect the problem anyway.

Did you contact Gillware?
Could they say anything about what caused the problem or do they just provide lost data?
posted by authority at 4:51 AM on July 12, 2010

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