Is the data on my SATA drive recoverable?
February 8, 2006 11:56 PM   Subscribe

Is there any hope for my dying/dead Serial ATA drive?

I've searched through previous posts for the past 10 minutes or so, and while I've found a lot of posts about recovering data from dead or dying disks, none of them included the symptoms that the drive in my computer is suffering from. I figured I'd post yet another question before purchasing some commercial recovery software.

The drive that failed is a 250GB Western Digital SATA drive. After having the computer completely lock up and need to be rebooted a few times throughout the day, eventually the computer would not start Windows at all, normally or in any kind of Safe Mode. It got as far as the animated Windows loading screen before it would reboot and the process started all over again.

After nothing seemed to be working to get this thing to load Windows, I ended up trying to reinstall XP on one of the IDE drives in the computer. It would get as far as examining the SATA drive before the installer froze and the computer needed to be rebooted. I unplugged the SATA drive, installed XP on the IDE drive without a problem, then reattached the SATA drive. Windows takes about 15 minutes just to boot with the SATA drive attached. When it does boot, the system is very slow and unstable. The Event Viewer lists all kinds of errors coming from the disk. I'm unable to open the drive or even Right Click on it under Explorer; doing so causes explorer itself to crash.

However, when I boot from a Knoppix CD I am able to browse through the drive's contents with no problem. I used captive-ntfs to copy about 1.2GB of data off the SATA drive and onto one of the IDE drives, but it took a lot longer than it should have. When I tried to copy more data later that night, it was almost impossible. It would start to copy and then stall immediately, over and over again.

At that is where I am at the moment. I'm sorry if this post is really long and I know it's been asked here countless times before but I'd really like to get my 4 years worth of data off the drive, while spending as little money as possible. Does anyone recognize the symptoms and know exactly what's going on with the drive, and if it's repairable?
posted by Venadium to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
If it still has enough life left that it spins up and you can copy things from it (albeit painfully) then you're way past most the standard recovery procedures. For instance the "put it in a freezer" or "whack it against the desk" are usually aimed at working around a failing spindle bearing that is preventing the drive from even spinning up.

I think your best plan is to stick to copying what you can using the knoppix disk. From what you've said it sounds like you've already gotten a good deal of data off it so just keep at it. It could be heat related, if you find that it works well for the first 20 minutes and then starts to get painfully slow. If that's the case then you may just have to keep repeating the process, each time letting the drive cool back down.

I wouldn't waste any money on recovery software, I don't see how that is going to somehow be any more effective at convincing failing hardware to work than what you're trying now. That stuff is usually more for the "oh shit I deleted my file and now want to undelete it" kind of scenario.

Oh, and next time make backups.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:08 AM on February 9, 2006

Oh, and I hope it goes without saying but at this point you should treat any "on time" that you can muster out of the drive as precious. You should be copying data off it like mad during the times you can even manage to get it spinning and recognised. Don't even think about just letting it sit there powered on doing nothing. You probably have limited time left where it still works.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:10 AM on February 9, 2006

My friends used to put the hdd in the fridge for a couple of days, It works aparantly.
posted by spinko at 2:42 AM on February 9, 2006

What the other two said. Keep it cool and keep copying data off as fast as you can. Give it a break inbetween 'bursts' of 500Mb or so. Prioritise your data and get the important things off first. Also, backups.
posted by blag at 6:40 AM on February 9, 2006

I've heard a LOT of good stuff about SpinRite, but don't know if it can help. It's $90 but they do have a 30-day, no-questions-asked guaranty.
posted by JamesMessick at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2006

you should try to install smartmontools, if you can, to dump out the SMART data from the disk. i had very similar symptoms on my mac with a maxtor SATA drive; it turns out what was happening was that a section of the disk was slowly dying and it kept having to reallocate sectors until it was completely out of spare sectors.

in this case, the good news is that its only a few files that are corrupted, and you should be able to read most of the rest of the disk with no problems.

of course, the parts of the disk that are corrupted could be filesystem metadata, which then can be very bad, as just listing the contents of the disk can cause the OS to hang, or other badness.

anyway, seconded what blag says above.
posted by joeblough at 8:21 AM on February 9, 2006

As odd as it sounds, I've also had luck refrigerating devices that have had problems w/ overheating.
posted by subgenius at 8:49 AM on February 9, 2006

Recovery software could still be useful with a drive that's yielding some data. Something like R-studio is a lot better at extracting useful data in marginal situations than an ordinary disk and filesystem driver.

It can be set to retry bad sectors repeatedly, which can sometimes recover data that would otherwise cause a standard filesyste & diskdriver to error out. It can also deal with partially corrupted filesystems.
posted by Good Brain at 10:07 AM on February 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses guys, I just wanted to post a follow-up and let you know that the problem doesn't seem to be as bad as I first thought.

The slow transfer speeds from the SATA drive might have actually been because of the method I was using to write to an NTFS partition in Linux. I took an old 40gig HD I had sitting around and formatted it in FAT32 and I'm copying about 18gigs of data to it as I type this, with no problems whatsoever. I figured I would post this here just in case someone with a similar problem is searching AskMe. Thanks again, everyone.
posted by Venadium at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2006

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