External Hard Drive Failure
May 11, 2005 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way to recover data from an external USB 2/Firewire hard drive that has apparently decided to stop working?

The drive will power up, and the motor will start, but instead of the sound of the head reading the disk that i'm used to hearing next, it starts making the most disconcerting "click" noise, as if it's repeastedly trying and failing to do something. It won't mount as a drive, and the failure seems to be mechanical in nature, since the same thing happens whether it's currently attached to a computer or not. I stopped trying to get it to start after it did this, so hopefully there's not too much damage done. Do I have any recourse? I'd prefer something I can do myself, but I'm willing to consider professional recovery efforts, assuming it's not ridiculously expensive.
posted by cathodeheart to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
It's pretty easy to just yank the drive out of the enclosure and plug it in to your IDE cable internally. If you don't have an open IDE plug inside your box, you can just unplug your cd/dvd drive temporarily, as it's the same kind of cable. However, make sure you fix the little jumper switch on the back of the new HD so that it's set to "slave" or "cable select" since it will most likely be the 2nd drive on that particular IDE cable. This won't fix any mechanical problems with the drive, but if the problem is in the USB/FW bridge, then it should do the trick. If the problem is mechanical in nature, then I'm afraid you'll have to leave any data recovery efforts to professionals, or at least to people who are way more hardcore about this kind of thing than I am. Also, of course, this is all assuming you have the kind of computer that you can actually open up and pull IDE cables in (so not an iMac, basically =P)
posted by idontlikewords at 9:20 PM on May 11, 2005

I've heard good things about Drive Savers, although I've also heard they're expensive, but they might be worth a call. At least read their Recovery Tips page, particularly the second paragraph (starting with Warning).
posted by blm at 11:25 PM on May 11, 2005

As idontlikewords says, you can plug the drive itself into another machine. If that fails, and it's mechanical, meaning the data is on the disc, but the drive won't read the disc, you can go to the store and buy another USB HD--the same model--take the drive out, and swap platters. I did that once with a drive that got zapped by a power surge. Worked like a charm and was very simple. Four screws I think. Your milage may vary.
posted by airguitar at 6:18 AM on May 12, 2005

Whoa, whoa, whoa - airguitar, swapping a hard drive's platters is not a "very simple", four-screws affair. The platters are the internal disks in the drive. You have to really know what you are doing, be very careful, have the right tools, etc. to swap platters. Swapping the entire drive between external enclosures, that's an easy one.

See this thread for tips on data recovery providers.

If you want something else you can try yourself, there's always the "percussive realignment." WARNING: this can ruin the drive, possibly even physically destroying chunks of the platters so that even professionals cannot recover that data!! I don't recommend this! I've only used it as a last shot to try to get the drive to work temporarily, and only if the data on the drive isn't that important. That being said, power the drive up, holding it in one hand, and in the other, have a rubber mallet, medium sized screwdriver, etc. Let it click a couple of times to get the rhythm down, then just as it clicks, give it a tap (not a whack, but not too soft, either.) This could unstick a stuck head - if that's your problem. Then copy the data off quick before it does it again.

Another option somewhere between "smack it" and changing out the platters would be swapping the controller card - the circuit board that is built right onto the drive. This will likely only work if you can get the exact same drive to use as a donor, and may not be feasible with many brands and models of drive. If that's the problem, and you can get your data and swap controllers back with no damage to the donor drive, you can then (probably) return the donor. No net cost! Then again, I guess you'd probably need a new drive anyway - might as well keep it.
posted by attercoppe at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2005

What attercoppe said about the circuit board swap out. Bonus points if use Wal-Mart's return policy to your advantage in this.

Also, I'm really really interested in attercoppe's 'smack it' idea.
posted by sublivious at 10:54 AM on May 12, 2005

hmm....some good ideas here. luckily, the data on the drive isn't life-threateningly important.....mostly music files ripped from cd, and a lot of odds and ends. the worst loss would be my digital photos, and i have some (not all, alas) of those backed up.

well, got a few things to try. i'll give that "percussive re-alignment" idea a try if nothing else works, i guess.
posted by cathodeheart at 12:14 PM on May 12, 2005

What did I say? I said your milage may vary, but if you haven't done it before, there's not much to it. We made sure to get the same model drive, and it worked very simply. The alternative of smacking it seems likely to add damage to damage. Plus when you swap platters, you get to see the inside of the hard drive, the platters look like super shiny CD-ROMs. It's pretty cool.
posted by airguitar at 3:49 PM on May 16, 2005

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