Laptop hard drive broke. How do I fix it?
November 13, 2014 7:21 PM   Subscribe

My laptop hard drive broke. I have an idea of how to fix/replace it and recover the data but want to know if my plan makes sense.

Starting up my laptop today, I got a black screen and "A disk read error ocurred. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart." Rebooting got me the same message, and some weird-sounding scratchy noises from my laptop hard drive. I've had the laptop for 3 years and I'm guessing the HD failed. I use the laptop as a desktop replacement and never move it around, so it's surprising the HD suddenly failed, but I guess all parts fail eventually.

The laptop itself is perfectly good so I'm not inclined to buy a new one. Looking on NewEgg, it seems I can buy a new hard drive for pretty cheap, around $50. I also want to recover the data if possible, so I'm thinking of buying this USB adapter.

My plan is to 1) buy and install new laptop hard drive and reinstall Windows with recovery CD, then 2) hook up old hard drive to laptop with USB adapter and attempt to transfer over files.

Does that sound doable? In particular I'm unsure about the logistics of 2), if I hook up the old had drive via USB does it just pop up like any USB flash drive and I can just copy/paste files over? Is it even worth trying or is all the data a write-off?

Thanks.
posted by pravit to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
 
That sounds possible. My experience with drives that fail boot is that they often are readable to recover data, just not bootable. Those noises you mention are a concern. My experience has been failed drives that also make unusual noises are not recoverable, but maybe you'll get lucky.
posted by nogero at 7:36 PM on November 13, 2014


yeah it should pop up like any flash drive, i have a similar usb hd adapter, but haven't used it with laptop drives. Funny noises on spin up don't inspire confidence that it will be readable though.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2014


If the hard drive has actually failed, you should be prepared to face the eventuality that you'll get no data off of it. In that case, you'll have to look at more expensive data recovery options, but your plan seems sound as a first step.

Ditto what nogero said about unusual noises not being a very good sign for your chances of recovery though.
posted by Aleyn at 7:39 PM on November 13, 2014


Yes, all of that is correct. You can also buy this instead of the USB adapter (upside: if you have a working drive, you can use it as a convenient external drive. Downside: only works with laptop-size SATA disks, whereas the other one works with desktop drives and older PATA-type drives too).
posted by alexei at 7:40 PM on November 13, 2014


I agree that your plan is the correct one in terms of DIY data recovery, but would also counsel you to be prepared for the worst. One other point, though: you say it's "surprising" that the hard drive failed after three years, but it should never come as a surprise when a hard drive goes down. They are frail, finicky things and it's a wonder they work as well as they do. In future treat all hard disks as though they might die tomorrow, and plan your backups accordingly. The current crop of cloud backup services (CrashPlan, Carbonite, etc.) make this really easy to set up.

Also, if you can bear the capacity hit you should really consider SSD for your replacement drive, it'll make that 3 year old machine feel like you gave it a big shot of adrenaline.
posted by contraption at 7:48 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


FWIW the last time I had a Windows hard drive fail, Windows was unable to read it as a USB drive, but I booted up in Linux I could mount it and grab almost everything. It's been 8 or so years since I had to do it, but I think I used Knoppix to create the boot CD and then, there are a bunch of old, old Lifehacker articles about it, there is probably a newer slicker way of doing it.
posted by snowymorninblues at 8:29 PM on November 13, 2014


If you are having problems pulling data off of the old drive (and the scratchy noises are troubling), try the freezer trick. Seems weird, but it is supposed to help.
posted by rtimmel at 8:43 PM on November 13, 2014


It's not a surprise that it failed. If it's not dead dead mechanical ugh dead, it should mount in USB. If it mounts, you might get data off it. Getting data off it doesn't guarantee that it's not corrupted. Mechanical noises correlate highly with "stick it in a freezer, get the most important data off it first if you can, but work on the assumption that you're up shit creek if you don't have a backup."

Looking on NewEgg, it seems I can buy a new hard drive for pretty cheap, around $50.

It's 2014. Please don't buy a spinnydisk for a laptop. Please pay for cloud backup.
posted by holgate at 10:12 PM on November 13, 2014


Also, if you can bear the capacity hit you should really consider SSD for your replacement drive, it'll make that 3 year old machine feel like you gave it a big shot of adrenaline.

Caveat to this: SSDs can also fail, and sooner than you expect if you're used to long hard drive lives, and surprisingly suddenly. Be extra sure to make backups of important files if you do this.
posted by JHarris at 1:08 AM on November 14, 2014


It's 2014. Please don't buy a spinnydisk for a laptop.

What's that mean? Buy an SSD drive?
posted by pravit at 4:08 AM on November 14, 2014


Yes, that's what holgate meant (buy an SSD).

While that's great advice if you can afford it, that's not always the case.

There's nothing wrong with buying a regular "spinny" hard drive. Just be aware that these things break down much faster than SSDs (which also break, I'd point out).
posted by kuanes at 6:16 AM on November 14, 2014


While that's great advice if you can afford it, that's not always the case.

I appreciate that, but the calculation needs to be "can I afford the cost/hassle of restoring or recreating lost data?" SSDs fail in new, catastrophic ways, but mechanical laptop drives are fragile things. If an SSD is out of your budget, then buy two mechanical drives (one for cloned backups) and/or a subscription to a cloud backup service. If you don't think you can afford that, and you value your data, then reassess your budget.
posted by holgate at 9:54 AM on November 14, 2014


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