Macbook data recovery
January 5, 2007 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Powerbook, er, Macbook Harddrive filter: Has anyone had real luck with "send the drive to us" data recovery firms?

Harddrive on brand new Macbook (2 months old) failed catastrophically. Our local experts here in SF (Rosai Group) is currently running recovery software, but to no avail. I'd like to hear mefites recommendations for data recovery firms.
I don't care about my software, but I've got about 15 gigs of files I want off that machine.

Don't worry about telling me to back up, I have much of the totally critical old stuff backed up, but this would lose me about 6 months of day-to-day work.

What should I expect to spend? How successful are they at file heirarchy recovery, or is it just a jumble of files?

Finally, has anyone else had this problem with their macbooks?
posted by asavage to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does it really matter that its a mac? I had my completely failed Toshiba laptop hardrive completely recovered (including file structure/hierarchy) (but minus the occasional bad file that might have been bad anyway) by these people who also do mac. I sent them the dead drive and a new drive and they sent me back the new drive with the dead drive's data on it. pretty much I think they take the platter out in a sterile room and then read the data off. Unless the drive died because of magnetic flux or a neutron bomb or napalm or something....

I was happy with their service, and relieved.
posted by Rumple at 12:20 AM on January 5, 2007

Try Drivesavers or OnTrack. I've had experiences with both. Expect to pay $500-1500, or more.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:01 AM on January 5, 2007

While I've never used their services personally, many of my customers have used and been pleased with Drive Savers. Though costly, they've been able to recover a large portion of the data from individual drives and I can only recall one instance in the past three months where no data at all was recoverable. One nice thing about using them is that they won't void your warranty and so the drive can be exchanged under AppleCare, thereby reducing some of the cost of drive failure.

Expect to pay a lot. Start at $500 and count up quickly.

The recovered data has come back in two forms: DVDs with the individually requested files/folders in one case; 40+ GB of uncorrupted user data on a new HDD similar to Rumple's mail-in. Transferring the data with the Migration Assistant worked in both cases.

(I'm not sure how it'd be taken here [so I won't post it], but I have a reference number you can give them so that in the event no data is recovered, you're not charged anything. We do get a small percentage admittedly, but based on my second-hand experiences they'd be the first ones I'd call. You or anyone else is welcome to email me for the discount number. Email is in my profile.)
posted by now i'm piste at 1:02 AM on January 5, 2007

Note that DriveSavers (and their peers) recommend that if you plan to send the drive to a recovery service, you shouldn't attempt to run recovery tools on the drive. You may hinder the recovery process.
posted by Mikey-San at 1:29 AM on January 5, 2007

Finally, has anyone else had this problem with their macbooks?
Not so much the MacBook (or the MBPro for that matter) but all the lines are less than a year old. There's the bathtub effect to keep in mind, and considering how HDD manufactures have been stressing capacity and cost over reliability (five years ago a 5- or 3-year warranty was common, now most are 1-year) I think you just got a bum one. It happens.

All hard drives are going to fail eventually. It's how it fails that determines the ease of data recovery. In certain situations, I've been able to just swap the magnetic platters (the data) to a new drive with working electronics (the interface and power part) and soldier on like nothing happened. But it all depends on what state the drive is in -- failing SMART status is chump change to the drive not spinning at all.

on preview:
mike-san's right, depending on what's wrong with the drive, any attempts now could add time and money to the ultimate repair picture. Stop and get an estimate from pros. Most non-dedicated shops will just be running commercially available software anyway (Data Rescue, Disc Warrior, Drive Genius, etc.)
posted by now i'm piste at 1:42 AM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

There was just a similar question* a few days ago in which someone answered that many of these "send the drive to us" places work on ransom — they tell you they've recovered part of your files, and for an extra fee, they'll recover all of your files and then send them to you. Caveat emptor, obviously.

*I'd search for this question but I am lazy. Sorry.
posted by Brittanie at 3:50 AM on January 5, 2007

Okay, I looked for it anyway. Here is the comment I quoted above, and the OP is also asking about a Powerbook.
posted by Brittanie at 4:06 AM on January 5, 2007

I also recommend Drivesavers; they are 4/4 in recovering data so far (for users, not myself!). But yes, expensive.
posted by wearyaswater at 5:15 AM on January 5, 2007

I've used both Drivesavers and OnTrack. Both are very good. Both are expensive, because this is picky detail work done by trained technicians, supported by a great deal of expensive (and often customized) equipment.

pretty much I think they take the platter out in a sterile room and then read the data off.

Depends. If it is a controller failure, and they have the right control board, they'll swap that in and read the data off. They do open the case first, to make sure the heads aren't damaged (or causing damage to the platter.)

If you're dealing with a head crash, that's when you need to disassemble the drive and reassemble the platters onto a readout system. With smoked and burned drives, they have to clean the platters (or the soot and such will destroy the heads they're using to read out.) All of this is slow work, which is why the "and up" cost can be so scary.

However, it costs what it costs. What is the data worth to you? I had a company that had a redundant drive, and off site tape backups. Over the weekend, the server caught fire, and then they found out that the tape drive wasn't working.

It cost them $1200 -- in 1994 -- for OnTrack to do the recovery. They got all the data back. The comment from the owner was "it sucks to have to pay it, but it was worth every penny."

He then noted the cost of the tape drive and tapes, and wondered if backing up was needed -- if he lost both drives again, he'd just pay the $1200. (Answer: Yes. There's ways to lose all the data and have a perfectly good drive. More than yes, nowadays, given the cost of external hard drives (much lower than 1995) and the cost of drive recovery (not so much lower than 1995)).

He did get religion, and tested his restores after that
posted by eriko at 5:45 AM on January 5, 2007

There was just a similar question* a few days ago in which someone answered that many of these "send the drive to us" places work on ransom — they tell you they've recovered part of your files, and for an extra fee, they'll recover all of your files and then send them to you. Caveat emptor, obviously.

I think that's a little unfair. For one thing, nothing is being held to ransom. Just ask for the drive back. For another, the alternatives are either worse or unrealistic.

The options are:
  1. the customers pays up front. The recovery firm refund (less some labor charges) if they can't recover anything.
  2. the recovery firm spend time and money recovering all the data, then tell the customer what they found and ask where to mail the DVDs/new HDD.
  3. They take a quick look at the drive, see what they might be able to recover, and ask the customer for go-ahead (and payment) to get it
1. is not obviously better than the "ransom" for the customer. I think it's actually worse. 2. is not an option for a business dealing with consumers, since they may find that the customer no longer wants or needs the data, or are not willing to pay the charges (which may come in above estimate). Which leaves 3.

Back to the question. Anecdotally, I've heard good things about the principle of data recovery labs, and a blog search should throw up plenty of specific recommendations. The fact that this drive is from a Mac should make no difference, although you want to check that the lab speaks HFS+ (the filesystem your drive probably uses). As others have said, if the drive has failed physically, you could easily make things worse by trying to power it up, never mind read data. However, if you're feeling brave, your options include Techtool and Boomerang.
posted by caek at 5:55 AM on January 5, 2007

If you want to recover the files, get the local "experts" the fuck away from the thing, ASAP. If it's a physical problem, operating the drive could be driving the heads into the media, destroying whatever is left. I had Apple walk me through some diagnostics once that destroyed the drive; it was making the physical-failure clicking noise, and was readable before, but not after.
posted by raf at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2007

OnTrack is based out of Minneapolis, where I live. I've had many a coworker who sent a bunk drive their way.

There's a difference between drive with corrupted/lost files and a hardware failure. While the former can be because of the latter, something physically wrong with the drive isn't going to be fixed by software.

I'm fascinated by the whole drive recovery field. They've recovered drives from bullet holes, submerged from the bottom of a lake, and many fires. Per the link, be sure to pack for mailing it well...
posted by pedantic at 7:55 AM on January 5, 2007

p.s. OnTrack has a Los Angeles office.
posted by pedantic at 7:58 AM on January 5, 2007

I'll never understand how DriveSavers can rescue every half-melted drive but be unable to do anything with my iMac G4.
posted by thejoshu at 10:06 AM on January 5, 2007

Haven't read the thread but I used these cheap Chinese guys in Vancouver. THEY WERE AWESOME. SAVED MY LIFE. First Data Recovery. Don't waste your money.
posted by scazza at 10:24 AM on January 5, 2007

scazza -- seems those are the same guys I used under the name "datarecoverybc", and linked to above. So make that a 2nd for them. Their written command of the English language doesn't inspire huge confidence but they brought the data back.
posted by Rumple at 10:32 AM on January 5, 2007

Another vote for DriveSavers. We've used them 3 times in the past few years and they are always fast, professional, and of course very expensive.
posted by J-Garr at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2007

I dealt with Drivesavers a couple years back. $150 fee to check out the drive. They quoted me nearly $8,000 for their speedy service. I said they could take their time.

They called me and said that because of the way the laptop drive was built (Toshiba drive from a Dell Inspiron 8600) they were unable to separate the platters from the motor, and thus couldn't retrieve any data.

"currently running recovery software"

OH NOES! This is exactly what all of the recovery places tell you to *not* do. :-(
posted by drstein at 5:31 PM on January 5, 2007

Another vote for OnTrack. Out of all of the data recovery firms, I've heard the most success stories from them.
Did the computer contain any MythBusters work? God I hope not... I would hate to have such an awesome show suffer!
posted by fvox13 at 7:12 PM on January 5, 2007

Well, my guys at the Rosai group were able to get the info off the drive.
And it's backed up now.
Lost most of the top level file structure, and some disparate bits of the lower structure, but it's well more than 99% there.

posted by asavage at 11:20 PM on January 5, 2007

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