Help me get my data off this broken hard drive?
August 11, 2016 6:49 PM   Subscribe

The hard drive in my 2011 27" iMac was failing, and has been replaced. It's a 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 and I was told to try recovering the data myself first. But Googling has only left me more confused. Walk me through this?

I'm kicking myself for not asking more questions at the Apple Store when I brought it in! The man who helped me suggested that all I'd need is a Cat3(???)-to-USB cable and I'd be able to mount it on my repaired computer, no enclosure necessary.

However, when I sat down this evening to Google the process I realized that either this process is much more complicated than he implied, or I'm using the wrong search terms.

All I want to do is connect this hard drive to my iMac and recover the data. After that, I never have to use this hard drive again. All three members of my household have done this KIND of thing before, but not with this specific type of hard drive and not recently.

How do I do this? Can you walk me through it step-by-step, and tell me what exactly I'll need in terms of cables, software, or other equipment? Or else, link me to a video or article which explains the process?

THANK YOU for any help you can offer. This has been a triple-backup-failure worst nightmare of a situation.
posted by Narrative Priorities to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
He probably said SATA3 to USB cable.

Something like this: Newegg link.

Plug the SATA end into your hard drive and the USB end into your computer and the drive should mount. Assuming the drive still functions...
posted by LoveHam at 6:59 PM on August 11, 2016

You want a SATA 3 to USB (3, if you care about speed) adapter.

It will include a small board that has a SATA controller, allowing the internal drive to show up as a generic USB external volume. Just plug everything in. SATA is theoretically hot-swappable, but I'd plug the drive in before connecting to the computer just to be sure.

You can get one in a cable or enclosure form factor. If you get the enclosure, you can reuse it to turn any SATA internal drive into an external one, modulo power consumption. Just make sure you get the right size to match your drive: 3.5".
posted by lozierj at 7:02 PM on August 11, 2016

SATA to USB 3.0 cables, like the one LoveHam linked, only work for 2.5" drives (and on USB 3.0 ports). So if it's a 3.5" drive you need a enclosure like this one from Amazon that has external power.
posted by zinon at 7:07 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your drive appears to be 3.5", which is explicitly not supported by the adapter LoveHam linked, presumably due to power consumption concerns. Make sure the adapter supports the size of your drive. It will likely have a separate wall wart power supply, because most 3.5" drives draw more than the 500 mA the USB standard allows.
posted by lozierj at 7:09 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here is another docking station.
posted by yclipse at 7:55 PM on August 11, 2016

I don't want to be a naysayer, but from your question, I'm not sure you'll be able to pull this off by yourself if things don't go totally straightforwardly. I say this not to discourage you from trying, but to encourage you look into things further if the hard drive doesn't just straightforwardly mount when you first plug it in. There are many options to recover data that professionals (or geeky friends) can take advantage of. Some of these are very expensive (>$1k), but others are much more affordable or even free.

Also, let me take this opportunity to scream into the ether (and hope someone will hear me) to please do regular backups. The ~$150 I spend on Crashplan every year is money that is well worth it to not to even have to think about backups (plus, there are even cheaper options out there!).
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:04 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just used this one to much success. I had no idea what I was doing before having it recommended to me and it couldn't have been easier. Plug in transfer cord and power cord and the old drive popped up on the new computer like it was a flash drive.
posted by bowmaniac at 8:16 PM on August 11, 2016

Yup, you need a docking station or an enclosure or something like that. The one yclipse links is good but a bit expensive. I have one of these which is half the price and works pretty well. (caveat: if you close the lid the drive gets pretty toasty in there, which isn't exactly good for it.)

The kind that bowmaniac links (combo SATA/IDE interface) is the most flexible but also the least user-friendly. You'd need to plug in an external power supply, a SATA cable, etc. Plus the one linked is USB2 when USB3 is only slightly more.

What your guy at the Apple store said was likely "SATA3 to USB cable". I wouldn't really recommend these, especially for a failing drive, since they draw power from the USB port which isn't quite enough.
posted by neckro23 at 11:22 PM on August 11, 2016

I only ever allow one software tool to touch a failing drive, and that tool is GNU ddrescue. If that failing Barracuda is indeed your only remaining hope of recovering what's important to you, I strongly recommend that you find a local technician with the same attitude.

You could certainly learn enough about data recovery to do it yourself, but being emotionally attached to what you're trying to recover substantially increases the risk of cocking it up.

Bummer about the backup failures, but now you've found out what testing them is for.
posted by flabdablet at 2:14 AM on August 12, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these suggestions. I'll be going through them this afternoon.

FWIW, I actually DO have a CrashPlan subscription and I'm currently waiting for them to get back to me about my ticket. The slow-motion failure of my HD seems to have quietly fucked up my CP backup somewhere along the way and I have no idea if I'm going to be able to recover anything. Thus, this question.

I also have all of my most essential files backed up in even MORE places, so those are fine. But it would be ideal to not lose literally everything else on my computer.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:42 AM on August 12, 2016

The slow-motion failure of my HD seems to have quietly fucked up my CP backup somewhere along the way

The worst thing I would expect unreadable hard disk blocks to be capable of doing to a CrashPlan backup is to make the backup engine treat the files or folders containing those blocks as deleted, in which case all you should need to do to get them back is tell CP to show deleted files.
posted by flabdablet at 5:54 AM on August 12, 2016

Response by poster: UPDATE for anyone curious: My CrashPlan backup was only medium-fucked. I lost everything more recent than mid-July, but that's not the end of the world.

Here's hoping I can extract everything else from that damned HD.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2016

lost everything more recent than mid-July

Is that because the Crashplan client stopped uploading stuff then, possibly due to spending all its time trying unsuccessfully to read broken data?

Here's hoping I can extract everything else from that damned HD.

I strongly recommend that you (or somebody you find to do this for you) use GNU ddrescue to clone the failing drive to a new one of the same size, or to a 1TB .dmg file if you've got room to make one, before you do any actual file recovery work; then you'd do that work against the clone, not the original drive.
posted by flabdablet at 12:46 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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