Getting data off a broken external hard drive?
December 21, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I have a maxtor 1tb external hard drive which is broken - it kinda works but then starts clicking and the playback locks up or the data doesn't transfer. Is there any software that can deal with this and reset the head and try again, and remove as much of the data as possible? Preferably free - I am currently using ubuntu - but anything that works will do.
posted by marienbad to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Clicking is the terrible sound that means you have to get your data expertly removed $$$ :(
posted by sexyrobot at 1:38 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, mechanical issues are a super bad sign. I'd guess you're looking at the high hundreds or low thousands for that data; unless you're willing to do that, I'd count it as lost.

That said there are some wacky options like freezing it (in a vacuumed out bag) then grabbing the data you need real fast. Probably won't work, mind.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:50 PM on December 21, 2014

I'd try putting it pulling it out of the USB case and putting it in your computer, then copying all the data off it as soon as possible. The symptoms sound a bit less like the classic clicking drive syndrome and more like a specific, important set of sectors are dead. There are some Linux based recovery kits for imaging a failing drive, so that you can mount the image, but you can google Linux disk recovery as readily as I can. Most important: do it now, the problem will never be less bad than it is this moment.
posted by wotsac at 1:59 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is purely anecdata but I have 100% recovered data from a clicking drive by freezing. I got about a half hour with the first freeze and 15 minutes from the second. I tried to help myself out by keeping the drive between two blue ice packs while it was connected.

If the data had been irreplaceable I would have gone professional immediately rather than risk further damage with home remedies.
posted by ftm at 2:33 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The problem with freezing is dew when it comes into warm air. Dew inside of electronic equipment is not a good thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:46 PM on December 21, 2014

If the data is important to you, I would suggest spending money on a professional.

Anecdote as well - I have pulled data off of an otherwise unusable drive after doing the freezer trick. It died part of the way through, but the partial recovery was better than nothing and once a drive reaches the clicky point, it's physically damaged and should never be used again. If you get any read access to it again, consider it borrowed time and work fast. If you can read files from it, copy the most important ones to you as fast as possible. Don't try to copy more than one file at a time. If it's still working after that or if it doesn't mount at all, you can make an image of the entire drive to try to recover files from.

Here's what you can do to create an image of the drive. At the command line, use:

dd bs=4k if=/dev/hdx of=/dev/hdy conv=noerror,sync

Please note that "if" and "of" are very easy to typo and reversing the two will permanently destroy your data. Be very careful. hdx is the name of the full drive that you are trying to recover - substitute in whatever the actual path is. The output will be the size of the entire drive so you must have at least that much space available.

Here's a longer explanation. You may find other tutorials on using dd to make the image that omit the noerror setting - they are wrong, you must use that setting especially if the drive is physically failing.

This will create an image of the drive, which you can then use tools such as Autopsy or Foremost to recover your files with.
posted by Candleman at 4:45 PM on December 21, 2014

If the drive still works, just with a lot of failures, you can image it with ddrescue. It's more or less a version of dd (as mentioned by Candleman above) that tries really hard to read data off damaged disks. The online manual covers what you need to know. Just be aware that there's also another tool called "dd_rescue" that does more or less the same thing. I've used the former; I don't know how the latter compares.

The general procedure would be:
1. Make an image of your drive with ddrescue (may take a while)
2. Mount the disk image using a loopback device
3. Copy your data off to somewhere else.
posted by strangecargo at 5:46 PM on December 21, 2014

A long shot, but I once had an external drive that sounded like it was having mechanical problems, but Google search suggested my model had a crappy power supply (I could actually hear it arcing when I held it to my ear), which I replaced and found that the drive worked fine.

Another time it wasn't the power supply but I figured I had nothing to lose and pulled the drive out of the enclosure (always a pain in the neck) but it worked fine when I mounted it in my Ubuntu tower...maybe it was the USB/Sata interface electronics that fried.

And finally, just this week I had another external drive fail so I pulled it out and mounted it in my Ubuntu tower, but this time the S.M.A.R.T. data confirmed it really was the drive itself that was going.

I just wanted to give you some "out of the box" ideas (no pun intended).
posted by forthright at 6:56 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for ddrescue. I recovered very important data once from a clicking drive using it (or possibly dd_rescue - it's been a while). The key is trying to work around/through the bad sectors.
Once you have an image you might not have a functional file system on the image, depending on how much damage had been done. You may need to use a file scavenging program like Testdisk too.
posted by dweingart at 7:09 PM on December 21, 2014

testdisk is a freaking excellent recommendation. i've gotten 100% of my data back from horribly fucked up drives with that.

data recovery is going to be over $1000. the only time it's $500 is when it's just a controller problem and they can plug it in to a special controller-emulator. if it's actually having mechanical problems, they have to pull it apart in a clean room and bla bla bla. I'd write off basically any data i had to not spend that $1000+ obviously i don't know what's wrong with your drive from a 2 sentence description over the internet, but i just wanted to outline the fact that data recovery companies basically lie by bringing up their cheap minimums that are almost never the case.

Testdisk takes patience though. i think i left it running, copying my stuff off, for like 17-18 hours as it tried and retried and retried and retried. It worked, though. I pretty much moonwalked all the way from my desk to the garbage outside with that junk drive to slamdunk it in after i realized i had gotten everything back. I've recovered data from messed up drives for clients with it too, faith-healing preacher style.
posted by emptythought at 3:31 AM on December 22, 2014

Best answer: There's some marginally good advice in here and some bad advice too. Data recovery is part of what I do, although I don't currently have the resources for mechanical reconstruction, I do some pretty intense stuff.

There's one rule here:
If the data is critical, send it to a professional. I can send you references. At the low end you're looking at $300, there is no high end, but quotes over $2k are generally someone trying to steal from you. You're probably looking at $300-500 (plus new media) as the drive is currently still readable. Some places won't charge you if there is no recovery.

Most people hear those numbers and say "It's not THAT critical!"
And that's fine. Here's what you do in successive order.

Step the first: UNPLUG the drive and DISCONNECT IT. NOW.

You take it to a data reconstructionist (like me) who doesn't have clean rooms and head-rebuilding capacities but who does have special hardware and software. We will give you no guarantees and make you promise to not sue us if the drive comes back inoperable. I'm generally in the ~200-300 range plus new media for drives up through 2TB.

Next, DO NOT USE TESTDISK. Testdisk is for drives that only have logical corruption of data, like a format or that were improperly ejected or that don't have their tables in order any more.

Next, if you really feel that you must try this yourself, the very most first most critical step in dealing with damaged drives is that you MAKE AN IMAGE AND THEN RECOVER FROM THE IMAGE. DDRescue is your friend here, NOT dd_rescue. The easiest and most accessible way to do this is using a piece of software called PartedMagic, which is almost free but not quite. If you want to try this yourself, let me know and I'll help you. The right way to do it involves removing the drive from its enclosure, attaching it inside your tower, and going from there, as imaging from USB can be problematic. From there you still have to have something that can peek inside the image and pull files out. This ranges from very expensive and easy (I use R-Studio), to free and extremely difficult. Your call. DD can take days to complete, analyzing the image can take weeks. Just FYI.

Also, do NOT attempt to freeze the drive unless the data is NOT critical and you have NO OTHER OPTIONS.

Here's just some additional info:
-Most "mechanical" damage isn't mechanical at all, it's firmware bugs, and yes firmware can cause heads to tick and lock. The higher dollar places will try this first and quite often it works.

-The power adapter and/or heat are probably your enemies here. I just recovered a drive this weekend, a nearly new Seagate External 2TB, whose problems were caused by a 12V power supply that decided it wanted to throw everything between 9V and 23V.

-One backup is zero backups. Backblaze and Crashplan are worth their weight in gold. There are cheaper options too.
posted by TomMelee at 6:17 AM on December 22, 2014

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