Old hard drive is inaccessible
February 10, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get some files off an internal hard drive I haven't used in 5 years or so. I believe this used to be my system drive for an old Macbook. I have a SATA to USB adapter, and just tried plugging it in to my current Macbook Pro (late 2009 model running latest version of Mavericks). I got the dreaded error, "The disk you inserted is not readable by this computer." What should I do next?

I've tried clicking "Initialize," but that just takes me to Disk Utility. I can see the drive there, but it's named "Disk Name Media" and there is no info or tools available. "Total capacity" says 0 bytes, and for "Partition map scheme" it says "Unformatted."

Do I need to try one of the disk recovery programs I've been hearing about for so long? They seem really expensive. Do any of them have a trial mode, or at least a way for me to see whether they can help before I pay for them? Do any of you have experience with any of these? Which would you recommend?

Thanks in advance.
posted by dondiego87 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For what it's worth, I just found the free trial of Boomerang Data Recovery Software. It was able to see the disk, but I got the message "No partitions found after scan" upon attempting a scan.
posted by dondiego87 at 6:35 PM on February 10, 2014

Boomerang has extremely poor reviews on MacUpdate; I would take a look at DiskWarrior or Data Rescue.

[And by the way, don't click on buttons like "Initialize" if you aren't sure what they're for. That's the first step in wiping a drive, not a way to get your data back. Eek!]
posted by bcwinters at 6:51 PM on February 10, 2014

Supposedly low temperatures can help temporarily resuscitate (non-solid-state) hard drives if they have suffered mechanical failures. There are apparently condensation-related risks but it may well be worth trying as a last resort. See, for example, "Save Your Hard Drive by Freezing It".
posted by yz at 7:04 PM on February 10, 2014

I just tried the Data Rescue demo, and nothing was able to find anything :-/. Quick and Deep scans both failed to find any files, and all the Analyze options gave me the error "Analyze could not read this drive at all."

I'll give the freezer treatment a try if all else fails, I suppose, but that does scare me quite a bit.
posted by dondiego87 at 7:12 PM on February 10, 2014

Does the adapter provide DC power to the drive? You can't read something that's not spinning.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:55 PM on February 10, 2014

I agree, are you providing DC power to the drive? is the drive making noise?
posted by humboldt32 at 8:48 PM on February 10, 2014

Do you have a PC that you can plug the drive into? This has worked for me before a few times in the past. (Which is weird because Macs are usually really good about reading anything you throw at it.)
posted by azpenguin at 9:19 PM on February 10, 2014

Does the adapter work with other known-to-be-working drives? I've gone through several of the cheap ones and had at least one that was DOA.
posted by Sequence at 9:59 PM on February 10, 2014

The adapter does work with other drives, including both a spinning drive and an SSD. The drive makes noise for about 5-10 seconds upon being plugged in, and then stops making noise at the same time the "not readable by this computer" error appears.

I'll try to find a PC to test the drive with today. Thanks for the suggestions!
posted by dondiego87 at 4:53 AM on February 11, 2014

Oooh, that's bad. Sounds like a mechanical problem. If the freezer trick doesn't work and the data are critically important, you'll most likely need a data recovery service such as Drive Savers.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:47 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

The other suggestion I have is to boot the Mac in recovery mode. I was able to mount a disk that couldn't otherwise be mounted with Disk Utility. Shut down, hold down the option key, and power on. Instead of the normal boot, you should see icons for two drives. The one on the left, Macintosh HD, is your regular boot drive. Select the one on the right, which is a small recovery partition, labeled something like Mavericks Recovery. Try the Disk Utility there. If it still can't see the drive, you're probably looking at a few hundred bucks for a data recovery place to try, if it's worth that to you.
posted by wnissen at 9:43 AM on February 11, 2014

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