Invisible hard drive
November 30, 2012 10:08 AM   Subscribe

External hard drive not showing up on Mac. Customer service tells me to go to a computer shop to recover my data before they'll send me a replacement (it's in warranty until January). Computer shops do not seem to offer this service. Help?

I'm very much a technophobe with this sort of thing, so please bear with me...

My Seagate Expansion Portable Drive has been failing to show up on my Mac (OS 10.6) both on desktop and on disk utility. Customer service think the drive's probably crashed (light is on, but fan's not working), and gave me an email "authorizing the opening of the external drive enclosure for data recovery purposes only. Please open the casing carefully and extract the internal drive. Connect the internal drive to your PC Motherboard via SATA or via a different USB enclosure and recover your data onto another storage device ."

I have no idea what this means. Customer service seems to think I can take it to a random computer shop and they'll do it for me - is this true, and if so which? (I'm based in the UK. Customer service guy was based in India and seemed pretty vague so wasn't helpful.) If not, how do I do this?

Bonus question: what's the best way to keep my data backed up in the future? All I used to do was use TimeMachine to back up onto this external hard drive, nothing else. Should I be doing anything else? Are cloud-based solutions better? (Again, please just treat me as a technology dummy.)

Many thanks.
posted by pikeandshield to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can only answer the bonus question.

Cloud based solutions are better because they try to guarantee that your backed up data will always be available. This means a reputable company SHOULD back it up to three different copies in different locations, in case some disaster strikes two of them down. If you are only backing up to your external harddrive, you have two copies in one location. If there's a fire, all your data is lost.

Different services are better for different data types. I back up all my text/doc/spreadsheet files on Google Drive. I just bought CrashPlan to back up my larger files like audio and video. Other services to consider include DropBox (more like Google Drive) and Carbonite (more like CrashPlan).
posted by ethidda at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's a good possibility that the drive is fine and the enclosure's broken. A computer shop should be able to extract the drive, place it in a new enclosure, and then recover your data. If your data can't be recovered, for instance if there's data corruption, they can at least image the drive and place that data on another drive, so that someone can try to recover your data at a later date.

The first service should be cheap, data recovery services if that fails are usually expensive. A friend who is good with computers should be able to take out the drive and try it in a new enclosure.
posted by iamscott at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since this is in an external enclosure it's possible the electronics in the enclosure (which adapt the disk interface, IDE or SATA, to USB) are bad but the drive itself is okay. What you want is a shop to open up the enclosure, remove the drive and plug it into a different enclosure so they can copy the drive contents. Then you can reassemble it and send it back to the manufacturer.
posted by tommasz at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Before assuming that the drive is the thing that's failing, you should do some reconaissance at home to see if it's actually just a faulty cable or a faulty USB port that's causing you issues.

Eliminate USB Port as Cause:
== Plug drive into each available USB port on your Mac. Be sure to wait for the drive to spin up so you don't inadvertently unplug it while it's trying to connect. Did any of them connect? Cool. Identify which port does not work and place some tape or a sticker over it so you don't use it anymore. Drive still not connecting? Find another device that your would normally plug into your USB ports and see if it connects. If not, your usb ports may be funky. You could try connecting your drive to someone else's computer. If it still doesn't connect...

Eliminate Cable as Cause:
== Acquire different drive to computer cable. This is trickier -- if you aren't somebody that keeps a lot of different cables around your office, you're going to need to bring your current cable with you to an electronics store to acquire another, or borrow one from a friend. Once you've acquired a new cable, repeat the eliminate USB port process to verify whether or not your drive connects. If drive connects, great. Toss that wonky other cable. If not, this is the time to contact your local big box electronics store and see what they charge for data recovery and/or external enclosure replacement (your drive and your data may be fine: it could be that the enclosure is failing). Others can provide better input on that process.

Good luck!
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:20 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Customer service seems to think I can take it to a random computer shop and they'll do it for me - is this true, and if so which?

This is a pretty common service in the US at least. The terms you're using are basically right and so if you call shops they will understand what you mean.

If you are at all inclined to deal with things like hard drives directly, this is also pretty easy to do by getting a cheap usb drive enclosure yourself and just sticking the thing in there, just make sure to get one that fits your drive.
posted by advil at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2012

I've hired people on Craigslist for this kind of work, and they're generally fine and reasonably priced.
posted by jeather at 10:43 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The hardest part will be opening the case. Once it's out of the case, you can use one of these to connect it to the computer and retrieve the data. If it still doesn't show up, the drive itself is not working and more advanced/expensive data recovery services will be required.
posted by chazlarson at 11:23 AM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: If by "fan" you mean the enclosure has a fan in it and it's not spinning, this definitely sounds like it's the enclosure having a problem and not the drive itself.

This is what customer service is telling you to do: Get a cheap SATA-to-USB adapter (like the one chazlarson links above), attack your enclosure with a screwdriver and get the drive out (it's just a normal hard drive), connect the drive to the enclosure, plug it in, and see if it works. Or, any halfway competent computer repair shop should be able to do this for you, if you feel like paying too much for 10 minutes' work.

The rub is that even if your drive does still work, you'll need someplace to copy your data to, because I imagine Seagate wants you to return the whole thing for warranty. But, you don't have the replacement yet! If you have the spare drive space or another drive, you're fine. Otherwise you'll have to buy another drive so you have someplace to copy the data, and then you'll end up with two drives in the end.

(If you don't care about the Time Machine backup, you can just send the thing in for warranty and get a replacement, but then you'll be without your backup for that long and that's probably not a good idea.)
posted by neckro23 at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2012

Er, connect the bare drive to the adapter, not the enclosure.
posted by neckro23 at 12:56 PM on November 30, 2012

One other thing to try if you haven't already - try connecting it to a different computer. The drive is probably shot, but this is worth a shot if at a possible. ( And if it works on another computer, back up the data to another drive pronto! )
posted by azpenguin at 3:51 PM on November 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, really appreciate all the answers and it all seems clear to me now. Tried connecting to a different USB port, a different computer and with a different cable and the drive is still kaputt, so I think it is a hard drive problem. I've called up my friend who said they'll do the enclosure thing for me on Monday. In the meantime I've just downloaded the free version of CrashPlan and will seriously consider buying a cloud backup package as well as TimeMachine in the future. Thanks all!
posted by pikeandshield at 1:09 AM on December 1, 2012

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