wife wants to recover hard drive
February 26, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Should I agree with my wife to spend $1000 or more to recover an external hard drive?

Several months ago my wife accidentally dropped an external hard drive. Now the hard drive won't work. She takes a lot of photographs and had a lot of her recent pictures on the drive which weren't backed up anywhere else. While my wife doesn't make her living as a photographer, she plans on someday trying to make some money doing it. She feels strongly that some of the pictures on this hard drive were very valuable and she might want to sell them in the future. Some of the pictures on the drive also had sentimental value. Beyond the pictures, there is nothing else important on the drive. We've both done a lot of research as to the cost of recovering the drive. We're looking at anywhere from $400-$2,000 depending on how severe the damage is to the drive. We won’t know until it’s worked on by a technician. The drive holds about a terabyte. My wife isn't sure how much space was being used. While I'd be fine with spending a couple hundred on this, I feel like anything above $300 is beyond the value of what's on there. We aren't having a major fight over this, but we're in a polite dispute. We make all our financial decisions together when spending more then $100 on something. I feel like this money could be spent elsewhere like towards a new computer in a few years, car repairs that may come up, money towards buying a house, vacations. I'd like to get some opinions from others out there. Do we go ahead and spend the money? Or should I convince my wife to let the drive go? It'd be really frustrating to spend $1000 plus on something like this. But to my wife, the pictures are important. What's your opinion?
posted by ljs30 to Human Relations (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not an expert and don't know if time will hurt the hard drive, but can't she stick it in a box and wait until she actually establishes herself and wants to sell the photos?
posted by acidic at 6:10 PM on February 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

But to my wife, the pictures are important.

They are important to her, spend the money. You're trying to be understandably rational in an emotional situation and it's just not going to work. Spend the money, support her on this and move on.

And next times, have a back scheme in place. This was entirely preventable, ya'll should have done this once she dropped the drive. Hardrive space is much cheaper than trying to recover files.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:10 PM on February 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

Are any of the photos from trips that can't readily be replicated? That might make them more valuable. Otherwise I'd say your limit is reasonable.

Next time, she should back up her data.
posted by zadcat at 6:11 PM on February 26, 2012

Not to get too personal, but the specific dollar figure is less important than what that amount will do to your short-term cash flow, and what portion of your budget it represents. If you can afford it, it might be within reason to spend that much to recover a lot of otherwise irreplaceable work of hers that also has sentimental value. If you can float it (like, on a Credit card or by drawing from savings which you will repay in short order) then even more so.

In the interest of splitting the baby, maybe this is something that is exclusively your wife's problem, like, she withdraws the money from savings and then it's up to her to pack lunches or only drink ginger ale at the bar until she's paid it back.
posted by gauche at 6:13 PM on February 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

I feel like this money could be spent elsewhere like towards a new computer in a few years, car repairs that may come up, money towards buying a house, vacations.

The fact that you can imagine spending the money on that wide range of things at any point in the near to distant future suggests to me that you have enough of it saved up to spend some NOW on something very important to your wife.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:13 PM on February 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

Unless you've had it looked at by a professional, I wouldn't assume it's going to cost $1000 to recover or it, or that it'll cost you any money at all. Depending on how damaged it is, you might even be able to recover it with software. Does it make any noises when it's powered on? If not, it might be recoverable with software.
posted by empath at 6:15 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your geekier friends. Someone might able to retrieve the data at low or no cost.
posted by jbenben at 6:16 PM on February 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

I wonder if a connection got knocked loose when the drive was dropped. Do you have any tech-y friends who would be comfortable taking the harddrive out of the enclosure to check for loose connections? Just saying, if this is the case, you could save yourself a whole lot of money.

If that is not the case and you need professional skills, spend the money.

On preview, yes, geekier friends. Or if your area has a Make/hack shop workspace kind of deal, the people there would potentially offer you guidance in the way of finding someone to fix it for cheap(er).
posted by sarae at 6:18 PM on February 26, 2012

Can you buy a new case and switch the drive? New enclosures are pretty cheap and it's really easy to swap them out. I've done it several times to recover info from dead desktops. And I'm a 55-year-old grandma, if I can do it anyone can. Here's some instructions, and there are lots more out there.
posted by raisingsand at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like this money could be spent elsewhere like towards a new computer in a few years, car repairs that may come up, money towards buying a house, vacations. I'd like to get some opinions from others out there. Do we go ahead and spend the money? Or should I convince my wife to let the drive go? It'd be really frustrating to spend $1000 plus on something like this. But to my wife, the pictures are important. What's your opinion?

What percentage of your savings does the $1000 represent? If it's your whole emergency fund and you're scraping by, my answer is different than if you have a six-month emergency fund and a car repair fund and you're basically stable.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

This reminds me of the ol' mefi standard of "it's better to be happy than right". Agreed that if y'all can swing it and it means that much to her, you will be better served in spending it (after checking with those geeky friends, because happy for less money is always better).
posted by ldthomps at 6:35 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

$1000 is a big sum of money to my wife and me. But, if something were important enough to her to spend that much on saving it, I'd be in favor. I know she would feel the same if something were that important to me.

That said, remember that once that money has been spent, it has been spent. No use in bringing it up during future discussions/arguments. Don't ask me how I know that. :)
posted by tkerugger at 6:36 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is software that might be able to recover it without going to the expense - Google it if you want - data recovery software.

But AFAIK it will only really work if the drive is not actually damaged and it's unclear as to whether that's the case (not working isn't enough info).

But see, it's not really about the money. The point here is whether you're being supportive of your wife and her interests. The decision you make now will massively affect your relationship with her.

I would advise spending the money. This is also a good opportunity for your wife to realize that she needs to have multiple backups of important things.
posted by mleigh at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I honestly wouldn't assume it's going to be $1k to fix, without any kind of investigation. Just googling around isn't going to give you a cost for this particular scenario. Find someone to check it out for $100 and see what else it'll take.

Have you tried any of the software solutions first?
posted by barnone at 7:01 PM on February 26, 2012

I suggest doing it, but I know from (unfortunately...) first hand experience that you can spend that thousand bucks and not actually recover ANYTHING. It'd be less painful to lose that thousand if she actually was in business since it could become an expense but regardless, you should just do it.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:06 PM on February 26, 2012


Before going in blind and dropping a lot of money on hardware, I ALWAYS get a geek friend to diagnose first. Saves being ripped off.
posted by jbenben at 7:08 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely find a geeky friend and see if they can put the hard drive in a different case, or internally in a computer, and see if that works. If the drive was not active when dropped, you may have a chance of doing this relatively cheaply. If it was running at the time, though, that means the platters were spinning and there is a good chance that a lot of damage occurred.
posted by markblasco at 7:15 PM on February 26, 2012

according to my husband, who is a big computer geek for a living, one can remove the drive from the case and hook it up to a computer via one of these:


sorry i can't go into much more detail...but my point is you may be able to recover the data yourself (or ask a geeky friend).
posted by virginia_clemm at 7:27 PM on February 26, 2012

Happy Wife, Happy Life.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:42 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

via virginia_clemm, that's exactly how my friend did it for me.
posted by jbenben at 8:14 PM on February 26, 2012

I had a drive fail, two weeks after the drive I was backing up to failed. I lost about three years of stuff, including the paper I was in the process of submitting.

I decided I really needed the data and sent the drive to DriveSavers. It cost $1800 (apparently my platters were like Swiss cheese) plus the cost of a drive to send back the data.

But I got all the data back (or at least all the critical data) and gave not regretted the money spent. (and yes, I now use belt-and-suspenders backup solutions.)

I say, if she wants the data, it's worth it.

My recollection is that DriveSavers gave an estimate before they did the work. It would at least be worth a phone call. I highly recommend them for this sort of thing.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:14 PM on February 26, 2012

I had a complete hard drive failure last year and I was unfortunate enough not to have a backup. I was also working on a novel I had a contract for with a publisher. You bet I spent $1000 trying to get the data back. (It turned out they couldn't recover anything, and refunded my money).

It was really hard on me emotionally to have lost the product of so much time and hard work. Those days after it happened were some of the worst of my life.

It's not just about whether the photos could earn any money; it's the emotional attachment. If you can spare the money, I would go for it.
posted by Jeanne at 9:15 PM on February 26, 2012

Put the drive in a safe place. Ask a lot of people if they know a good drive recovery specialist. It can be not too difficult, or a pain, or, worst-case, require a cleanroom and special equipment. It's probably worthwhile having a qualified person pull the drive from its case, mount it on another computer, and use software to try to recover data. Caution - don't let people fiddle around; get 1 professional. If that fails, absolutely spend the money, and spend some time working on how you and your wife make financial (and other?) decisions.
posted by theora55 at 10:06 PM on February 26, 2012

How much is it worth to you to not have her resent you if she reluctantly agrees to save the money?
posted by desjardins at 10:14 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would ask a geeky friend or try to do it myself. Or I'd ask around my local college town to see if any college nerds want to do it for a few bucks.

Also, this may be a dumb question, but: have you contacted the manufacturer? You might be able to send it to them for repair as well.

Ultimately, I think you either need to throw money or time at this problem til it goes away. I know as a wife that I would really resent my husband for not listening to me when I said this was important.
posted by spunweb at 11:29 PM on February 26, 2012

i had an hard drive die on on me once. if you get it fixed by the manufacturer you typically won't be able to recover the data.

i can see 3 different things that could be wrong with the hard drive:

1. the connection between the case and the drive is broken. i think it's worth it to get an external enclosure, and try to put it in that and see if it works. this will void your warranty, but that doesn't matter in your case b/c the important part is the data on the hard drive.

2. the thing that reads the disks in the hard drive (like the arm on a record player) is broken. this will be the expensive situation b/c the'll have to remove the disks and put them into a new part that can read the disks.

3. the disk is broken. there is nothing you can do.


spend the ~$30 to get a new external enclosure and see if that fixes it. if not, then try to get solid estimates on repairing the hard drive. then sincerely ask the wife what she wants to do. i'd say do it if the new external enclosure doesn't work. is 1-3k woth having your wife be discontent about this?
posted by cupcake1337 at 12:03 AM on February 27, 2012

How much is your marriage worth?

How much is this going to affect your marriage?

How much do you want to bet that your wife might, at some point, think to herself, "If I were single I totally could have spent the money and got this fixed."?

A compromise might be to get your wife to try to start selling photos NOW. If she can set herself up as a legit business with a few sales, she might then be able to deduct the cost of the hard drive repair as a business expense. Also, her sales might offset the repair a little.
posted by lollusc at 12:25 AM on February 27, 2012

A possible reality check on data recovery services from someone who has had to use them twice: almost all data recovery services will say that in 90-95% of cases they can recover data from a disk. What this really means is that they will be able to recover something from the disk and it may be in the form of unidentifiable files. I once got a recovery back that that over 10,000 files with random alphanumerical names and no extensions, i.e. next to useless. So you should temper your expectations.

Having said that, most data recovery places will do an assessment. If a geek friend can't help you on the cheap, that may be a good place to start.
posted by outlier at 2:06 AM on February 27, 2012

I feel like I have been in this precise situation. When attempting to back up a one terabyte drive I made some sort of error and the entire disk broke. The disk contained data of sentimental value - music, photos etc. My first attempt was to ask MeFi. So I followed all the advice about enclosures and special software etc and nothing was doing. My second route was to take it to various cheap data recovery services, the kind that advertise online with "no fee if we can't fix it". Three companies and many months later, no luck.

Eventually I phoned up the manufacturer of the disk drive and used their in-house recovery lab. It cost me GBP £1,500. A huge amount of money. But they got everything back. And every time I go back to that drive and look at those photos or listen to that music I'm delighted I spent the cash. With something like data recovery it's worth spending on something you can trust.

And with something like a relationship it's worth sympathising over the importance of those files. Then setting up an online backup service so that you never have to worry about losing a disk again.
posted by skylar at 2:33 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of different ways you can try to recover the data that most likely won't cost you anywhere near $1000 but would it matter? The photos are important to your wife, the only question should be your current financial situation, as you didn't list paying bills or day to day expenses as something to do with the money I am assuming you can afford it. They are important to her so find a way to get them for her. Maybe she can budget to "repay" the money into your savings from later photo sales ( or her current work) if that would make you feel better.

As a heads up, I moved to the US from Australia and spent $4000 bucks shipping things my husband very happily noticed I could buy in the US for half the price. These items where important to me and contained a lot of memories, I told him that and he then pretty much moved heaven and earth to make sure we had the money to ship them. They weren't important to him, but by being important to me they became important to him. No matter what happens in our relationship I will always remember how much he loved me to do that.

You love your wife, if the two of you can afford the money do it with good grace and a loving heart. If finances don't permit then sit down together and work out a budget where she can save up try some of the cheaper alternatives offered here.
posted by wwax at 9:03 AM on February 27, 2012

My parents did this. Yes, the folks at OnTrack are geniuses. Yes, it cost and arm and a leg. Yes, I think it was worth it.

But speaking as the kind of guy that friends would ask for help in a situation like this, either Phone A Nerd Friend or take a plate of brownies down to your employer's IT department and ask around. (The brownies are just to hold the conversation; promise them booze for success. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2012

Data recovery from a damaged hard drive is well beyond the range of your typical neighborhood nerd. It is incredibly delicate work, and any small mistakes can be totally irreversible.

Whatever you do, I don't recommend waiting. I don't imagine that data gets more easily recoverable with time.

You might not be grasping the value of the photos. I don't make a living off photos, but I take them constantly. It might not be monetary. If my photo hard drive and backup both failed, I would damn near empty my savings account to get the data back. Those hard drives contain every memory, vision, and shred of my life, and when I moved that box got the absolute most loving care out of any of my possessions.

Anything else that breaks, be it your dishwasher, dryer, or stove, can be replaced with an equally useful model. No photo can ever be replicated. Once it's gone, it takes the moment with it.

Be thrifty about what matters. Don't be a cheapass about the invaluable.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2012

Whatever you do, I don't recommend waiting. I don't imagine that data gets more easily recoverable with time.

In terms of a damaged drive, this isn't true at all. Come back to it in a year.
posted by rr at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2012

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