Dead Macbook: how do I get the data off?
March 7, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

My MacBook (mid-2007) just crapped out. I can't afford a pro data extraction fix. Is there any other option?

The hard drive is dead and Apple says they've had luck extracting the applications but nothing from the user file.

Also, if I want my bad hard drive, Apple says they have to reverse their repairs and put the old drive in. I can;t have the fixed laptop AND the old hard drive. I've heard people fighting about this at the Genius Bar before. Is there any way around this?
posted by jeffmshaw to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is purely a time issue, right? It's not like if they give it back to you with a bad drive they're refusing to every fix it again.

I question how much luck you're going to have getting these files off. However if you want to try I'd try one of two tacts.

One, ask them to simply sell you the replacement drive with an agreement to refund your money when you return the bad one. The real problem here is that they don't want to be giving away equipment, yes?

Alternately, ask them to send the replacement parts to your local apple store (I assume you have one if you have been eavesdropping at the genius bar) so you can get this repair done more quickly when you're done with your extraction efforts. Since I've heard them say "this isn't something I have the parts to fix here" I assume that means they DO fix things on site.

If all that fails, decide how bad you want that data compared to how quickly you want a working computer again. You seem to be stuck in the classic "cheap, quick, correct: pick two" conundrum.
posted by phearlez at 2:02 PM on March 7, 2008

It's not exactly a time issue. The issue is that they say the only way to get the data is to pay a pro to extract the data, and that would be prohibitively expensive cost-wise (~$3K). I need this data, and while I'd like to have it soon, it's more a "is it possible to get this data at all without paying that kind of money" issue.

The other portion of the issue is this: they've fixed the machine, but the new machine doesn't have the data. The data is on the old, bad drive. And they won't give up the old, bad drive. So I either tell them to reverse the repairs (giving me the data back, and the potential of maybe accessing it in the future) or I get a working machine but they keep my old, non-working hard drive -- meaning I have no shot at getting the data back.
posted by jeffmshaw at 2:11 PM on March 7, 2008

Don't go to a genius bar. Find an apple-authorized service provider other than the genius bar.

Macbook hard drives are dropping like flies so other readers beware and ALWAYS backup any data that you actually care about. (Not just because these drives are prone to failure, there are countless occurrences that could result in your data being unrecoverable: you drop your computer, some meth-head steals it, data corruption, your cat walks on the keyboard in the middle of the night and accidentally boots it to the install DVD then launches disk utility then writes zeroes to the drive, or some ants could decide that the inside of your computer is the perfect place to raise a family (this last one not actually a joke).

The line they gave you about them having luck extracting apps but not user data sounds like it came from someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. If they can get the drive to mount long enough to get the apps then they should just skip recovering the re-installable apps and recover your user data instead.

Don't buy a new hard drive from apple because they'll charge twice as much as you can find one for online. Also they will only give you a 90 day warranty on the part. Most hard drives come with a 5 year warranty. You can buy a new drive and then install it yourself. I promise, its easy.

If you really want apple to do this repair and still keep your old drive tell them you're willing to pay the "stock price" for the new drive.

As far as data recovery goes I'm afraid chances of recovery are slim. If you have the money and the data is worth it you can pay a company like Drive Savers $2000 or so and they'll probably be able to do it. I consider myself quite skilled in the data recovery arts but those drives fail catastrophically and without the help of guys in white lab coats chances are close to nil.

on preview: If you want your old drive back you should call these people ASAP because they are required to return the old drive to apple. Once it goes in the mail you will never see it again.
posted by J-Garr at 2:19 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think phearlz was suggesting that, after getting your computer back with the old, bad drive, you can attempt data recovery and then return it to Apple for repair with a new drive. It's just that you'll have to go longer without a working computer.

As for what you can do with this, we need to know more about the drive failure itself to give any sort of semi-informed answer. If it's a mechanical seize-up, there's always the freezer trick, but that's a bit of a long shot, especially now that the drive has likely been fussed over in repair.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:20 PM on March 7, 2008

Here's an end-of-the-line option for trying to recover your files:

Freeze Your Hard Drive.

Take the hard drive out and place it in a zip-lock bag. Place the bag in your freezer for a few hours and let it get nice and cold. Take it out, place it back in the computer and boot up.

There is no guarantee that this will work, but I've had a certain amount of luck in the past. The key is making sure you have a quick back-up solution handy to get those files off. This technique CAN work, but it seems to only work for brief periods, if at all.

Like I said, this is kinda a last ditch effort and I've never tried it with a laptop drive. Just another option if you're at your wit's end.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2008

Is it possible to (1) have Apple to reverse the repairs, and get the machine back temporarily, so you can attempt to retrieve the lost data [*]? And (2) once the retrieval is complete, return your machine to Apple, and have them put back the new drive?

[*] If it's possible to get hold of the old hard drive, I would try using a PC-based program called SpinRite. For best results, you would need to plug the bad drive internally into a PC (you may need an adapter). Run the program and see if it can fix it, then put the drive back into your Macbook. SpinRite is remarkable in reviving bad drives, and it doesn't care how the drive is formatted.
posted by jaimev at 2:26 PM on March 7, 2008

A combination of SpinRite and the freezer trick are pretty much your best chances. Put the drive in a static safe bag but please don't put it in a ziplock bag. You're likely to zap the thing with static electricity and ruin the control board. Leave it there for a few hours then take the drive out and see if it will mount. If not then while the drive is still very cold SpinRite might be able to work some magic.

The freezer trick definitely works... sometimes. Sadly these macbook drives fail such that the freezer trick isn't enough to make the drive readable.
posted by J-Garr at 2:34 PM on March 7, 2008

Replacing a hard drive in a Mac Book (not Pro) is a cakewalk compared to swapping it in most laptops. Get yourself a sata usb or fw hard drive case and a new drive (2.5" 5400RPM, they're cheap). Replace the hard drive, install OS X, hook up your old hard drive to the SATA case (3.5" and 2.5" sata drives have the same connectors) and see what you can do.
posted by jedrek at 2:39 PM on March 7, 2008

I had a similar problem If you are not afraid to try it, this is what I successfully did to restore my drive: (I was using 10.4.x then on a first gen MacBook)

* rebooted into the Installer mode (DVD 1 and ‘c’ at boot time),
* opened the terminal,
* used diskutil to mount the drives,
* copied the User and Application directories from the internal HDD to the external drive,
* used diskutil to verify both disks,
* rebooted and did a clean install,
* rebooted and used NetInfo to activate the root account,
* copied the old Users back on to the internal HDD as root,
* fixed Users permissions,
* ran software update and installed essential apps,
* ran software update again and updated MS Office,
posted by dantodd at 3:05 PM on March 7, 2008

Also, if I want my bad hard drive, Apple says they have to reverse their repairs and put the old drive in. I can;t have the fixed laptop AND the old hard drive
I did this by going to a service center and telling them Apple said I could have the old hard drive back. They gave me it back, then called up months later going "uh, Apple want that hard drive back". I said again Apple had said I could have it, and they went away.
posted by bonaldi at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2008

(Apple had actually said that I could keep the hard drive -- they said it would be up to the service centre)
posted by bonaldi at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2008

Yeah, it depends on what type of hard drive errors you're having, but I think SpinRite is a good option. Even though it's a PC program, it doesn't care what data is on your drive or even what format it is. I would give that a shot.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:47 PM on March 7, 2008

I had the drive on me and Apple had the machine, so they could not take the drive from me, just withhold replacement and repair, so this may not apply to your situation.

When my brother's hard drive failed and the third-party specialist recommended by the Apple Genius could not recover anything from it—I was willing to pay the thousands of dollars—the Apple folks wanted the failed disk back before they would replace it. I had to have myself referred to the store manager, who said that it was policy to keep the failed disk. I made an emotional appeal—the possibility of recovering my dead brother’s data in some future technological advance—which got me a phone number. I called, explained the situation, and got to keep the drive.

So: as with any bureaucracy, keep going up the chain. Also: it helps to have a personal connection to the hard drive that trumps corporate rules.

Good luck.
posted by gentilknight at 8:41 AM on March 8, 2008

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