Hard drive died. Is revival possible?
August 6, 2020 4:42 PM   Subscribe

My external hard drive died. Is there a way to bring it back to life?

The drive is a 3.5-in HDD that was originally part of a WD MyBook, which has an enclosure that lets you plug in USB and a power adapter.

I thought it was the enclosure that broke, so I purchased a different external enclosure. The new one, when I push the power button, acts the same way as the old one. The drive never turns on. Nothing spins. No noises. My computer never recognizes the existence of the drive.

I don't remember any type of chirping or odd sounds in the previous months of backing up data.

Is there any part of the drive itself I can replace or fiddle with to get my data back?
posted by mr_bovis to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Search google for your specific drive. There will have been people in the past who have tried this.

The chances are pretty slim to be brutally honest, but it depends on the specific problem. If it's an internal failure of the platters you are screwed. Other mechanisms might be salvageable, but ask an expert and pay if you really need that data.

Get yourself a good cloud backup service and future proof yourself.
posted by 0bvious at 5:02 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

In the olden days... this could be frozen bearings. Look at the bottom of the drive and see if there's a spindle (where the center of the spinning disks would be). There used to be a bit of visible space where you could take a paperclip or something and spin the platters of the drive around just a little bit (un-freezing the stuck bearings). Then the drive would spin up for that final attempt to get the data off.

Another common thing... put it in a plastic ziplock bag and toss it in the freezer. Cold metal shrinks a bit and can maybe make the drive spin again.

All of this is sorta old-school things that may be totally out of date or not applicable to your drive.

There's also generally the option of getting another drive that's the *exact* same as your drive and swapping out the logic board part.

The final option is to send it to some data recovery service where they can crack it open and get whatever data is on it off of it.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:09 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

It could also be the USB port/cable or the power supply (if your enclosure isn't powered over USB itself). Basic, but plug something else into the USB to make sure it works, try a different USB port if you have one, try a different cable, does the enclosure circuitry have any LED power indicators. That's the turn it off and on again / check your cable first check that's often the actual problem (or at least worth checking first).
posted by zengargoyle at 5:18 PM on August 6, 2020

If it's critical data you can send it in to Gillware for repair. I used them a few years back and they did good work. They do no-cost evaluations and send you a free listing of all the files they were able to recover, only charging you if you choose to accept the data. It's not cheap, generally in the range of several hundred dollars for a physical HDD depending on the size, type of damage, etc. But it's a good, low-risk option if you don't want to fiddle with the drive yourself and risk further damage.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:40 PM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

If the above suggestions don't work, and you need a shot at that data being recovered, I can vouch for the fine folks over at ADR Data. Back in 2012 I sent a HD out to them and they were able to recover everything on it by rebuilding the whole thing. It clocked in at just shy of $1500, but worth every penny. Also know that recovery is not guaranteed. It's clearly been a few years, but IIRC Pixar or Disney sent a bunch of shit their way and thats why I went with them.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Another rec for Gillware. I've sent a number of people their way, and they've always come through.
posted by humbug at 6:03 PM on August 6, 2020

Be certain it's plugged in to the right USB port with a proper cable. I thought my backup drive was dead, but a higher power USB port made it spin right up, and the data is now on 2 drives. 3 soon.
posted by theora55 at 6:17 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just to head off further "maybe it's not getting enough power from the USB port" suggestions: 3.5" external drives can't be powered from a USB port in the first place, and always come with their own 12V power adapter.

That said: if you're using the same power adapter to fire up the new enclosure as you were to fire up the old one, try a different one. Power adapters do die.

If it's anything more complicated than that, and you really don't have backups of everything on this drive that you care about, then paying for professional data recovery is certainly your best option.

The only happy part about this is that complete failure to spin up at all points to motor, motor controller or power supply faults that almost certainly won't have done Bad Things to the data on the platters.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another thought worth following up on, though: the drives that Western Digital puts in its external USB-connected offerings usually have a pin on the SATA power supply connector that the controller has to avoid grounding in order to let them spin up. It's possible that your new enclosure doesn't support this arrangement and is grounding that pin at the connector, which disables the drive.

If you're careful, you can isolate the relevant pin on the SATA power connector with a bit of Kapton tape. Instructions here.
posted by flabdablet at 10:32 PM on August 6, 2020

Sorry, not grounding; taking to logic High. In any case, disconnecting the relevant pin does work.
posted by flabdablet at 10:39 PM on August 6, 2020

If the contents of the drive are critical, DriveSavers has been around for decades. It won’t be cheap though.
posted by vitout at 4:06 AM on August 7, 2020

flabdablet, thanks, that's useful. Mine uses a USB cable and plug that's got extra pins on the drive end and is thankfully rare.
posted by theora55 at 6:08 AM on August 7, 2020

theora55, the cable you linked appears to have a standard USB 3.0 micro B plug on the drive end. These are standard. And although the more robust full-size USB 3.0 B connector strikes me as a far more sensible choice for something as chunky as a 3.5" drive enclosure, Seagate and Western Digital both make USB-connected 3.5" external drives with micro B sockets.

The connector I'm talking about using Kapton tape to nobble is not any of the USB connectors, but the SATA power connector on the drive mechanism itself. Unless you've taken your USB drive apart to get the drive mechanism out in order to transplant it into a different enclosure (or into a PC or NAS), you won't see that connector.
posted by flabdablet at 7:04 AM on August 7, 2020

Coincidentally, a YouTube video was posted very recently that shows how to repair a common failure on Western Digital 3.5" drives of this approximate vintage that results in these exact symptoms. If the protection diode on the 12V supply goes short circuit, the drive becomes completely nonresponsive.

If you have a multimeter handy, you can diagnose or rule out the TVSS diode in a few seconds. If you're comfortable switching enclosures, the diagnosis should be well within your wheelhouse. Depending on your level of experience and value of the data, you may or may not want to try to remove the diode yourself.
posted by wierdo at 3:33 PM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your suggestions. There's a lot to investigate here.

zengargoyle: I tried freezing the drive. It did not work.

wierdo: I'll be trying the multimeter soon to see if that's the fix I'll need.

The drive doesn't have a standalone ROM chip (the firmware is on the controller chip), so I'd feel best having a professional replace the PCB board and handle the firmware issue. But I'm confident I can remove/replace the protection diode.

I appreciate all the suggestions for where I can take the drive if I need professional assistance.
posted by mr_bovis at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2020

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