Can I try to rescue data off my dead macbook?
August 21, 2008 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Looks like my macbook's harddrive just failed. Sucks. Some of my data is not backed up. What should I do before taking it to the apple store?

Running 'first aid' disk repair off the installation disk failed. Should I still try target mode? Is it possible to back up, or even inspect, a mac drive over target mode with a firewire-equipped PC? Or will I need to borrow a mac from someone?
posted by kickingtheground to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could buy a SATA adaptor. You can remove your hard drive and hook it up to another computer as a second drive. You might be able to pull some files off of it that way.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:56 PM on August 21, 2008

have you tried going over it using disk warrior? that program saved my hard drive. also consider searching the apple discussion forum for help, that place is solid gold.
posted by krautland at 6:05 PM on August 21, 2008

You haven't explicated what 'failed' means when you tried Disk Repair. Did the drive not show up at all, or did the disk show up and then failed in the attempted recovery?

If the disk isn't showing up at all, then it may have failed. You should be able to hear the disk initializing...or perhaps they are so silent now that's no longer a factor. If it isn't showing in Disk Repair, you could try Target mode on another Mac. A PC will not see the volume though it may acknowledge a disk is there. Don't go that route.

If you take it to an Apple store, you will need to inquire about recovering data. Unless they promise to recover with flaming letters in the sky, don't give it to them or it will come back with a formatted new drive under warranty replacement. Take it to a professional, or at least a Mac store or pro that does this kind of thing. Even there they will probably use some kind of software package to try to spelunk the data out, which assumes the drive is still working in some fashion.

Last bet: drive recovery services. Can be pricey, but your best bet for getting it back. Any major city probably has a few, and there's always DriveSavers.

Disk Warrior is a good call if your drive is showing in Disk Repair but not mounting the volume. The only caveat is that if your drive is in the process of hardware failing, your mucking around with it could be the kiss of death for your data. That's an unusual combination, hardware failure that gives you an illusion of safety but it does happen. I usually go with DW if the drive seems stable but the data index is hammered. Best all around utility for Mac ever made I think.
posted by diode at 6:24 PM on August 21, 2008

Hi -- you are me a few weeks ago. I am sorry, that totally sucks. Here is what I have learned over the past few weeks....

- what is the failure mode? Does it make a click sound or do you just reboot and get the question mark folder of doom?
- you can take the drive out [this is VERY easy in a macbook, a bit of a pain in a macbook pro] and put it in a SATA adaptor and plug it in to pretty much anything. Linux boxes usually is what the restoration people do because it's easiest to make a copy of whatever data is still readable on your drive.
- check the datarecovery tag here, people have some advice including a few I will restate

1. the less you fuck with it, the more chance that you are not doing additional damage
2. sometimes putting a drive in the freezer works [don't take my word for it, read up first]

- data recovery people charge between $99 [for the "plug it into a linux box" solution] to thousands [for "clean room omgomgomg" recovery] standard fees are about $300-$700 from what I've determined. Gillware is recommended but expensive. I had a very nice conversation with MacMedics who have lower prices and at the end of the converation basically convinced me that I could likely do what they'd be doing [putting my old drive on to a new controller board - my drive spins up but isn't recognized. my HD was almost new] on my own. I found them friendly and honest.

That's what I know on my end. The drives are pretty easy to deal with and putting them in a SATA enclosure [a $30 piece] and attaching them to something else should work fine if you just need to copy whatever data you can. I'm sure other people will be along to give you software suggestions. The nature of my HD crash means that I'm in a different boat but I hope Ive been helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 6:32 PM on August 21, 2008

Not a Mac guy (yet...), so I'll defer on the specifics to someone who is, but does First Aid give an error? I'm wondering whether it "just" can't fix the drive, or whether it doesn't even see the drive.

BTW, do you have an external hard drive that you could plug in? The almost-cliche advice these days for rescuing a failing drive is to burn an Ubuntu CD and use that to read the disk... Ubuntu has a package to access HFS filesystems. Thus you might be able to copy data over to an external disk.

It does sound as if Target Disk Mode can be used with a 'bad' disk, which I frankly wouldn't have guessed. Macdrive is a Windows app to read HFS+.

Oh, and jessamyn's right when she said "the less you fuck with it, the more chance that you are not doing additional damage" -- I'd focus your efforts solely on copying the data at this point, in a read-only manner.

But again, I'm not a Mac guy, so I haven't actually tried any of these things.
posted by fogster at 6:46 PM on August 21, 2008

Response by poster: Great advice so far. So far it looks like my best bet is to borrow a friend's mac and try target disk mode. With diskwarrior as a backup if that fails.
In terms of more details on the failure: on boot, I get stuck at a white screen with apple logo and spinning greyscale wheel/gear-thing. 'First aid' sees the disk - it is simply unable to repair it.
BTW, do you have an external hard drive that you could plug in? The almost-cliche advice these days for rescuing a failing drive is to burn an Ubuntu CD and use that to read the disk... Ubuntu has a package to access HFS filesystems. Thus you might be able to copy data over to an external disk.
Is there a way to burn an ubuntu disk with that package already on it?
posted by kickingtheground at 6:58 PM on August 21, 2008

Once Again: You need to ask the $1000 question, which is:

Is my data worth $1000 to me?

If the answer is yes, do *NOTHING* to that drive. Call OnTrack or DriveSavers for a consultation. Do what they tell you to do if you accept their services. Yes, it could, in complicated circumstances, cost you $1000. However, the chances of either of them not restores 99.999% of the data are extremely low -- indeed, they'll probably recover every bit.

All the other suggestions above are fine -- but if you screw up, you may damage the drive more, which will increase the cost of recovery, quite possibly to infinity. Do not try to save $1000 with $10, if the data is really worth over $1000.

Now, if your data isn't worth that, go for it. But if you do really care -- or you have real billable work that you need to recover -- do *not fuck with the drive.* Power it off, call one of the above firms, and let the pros with the tools save your bacon.

It'll probably be even cheaper than that -- they'll give you a ballpark to hard quote. But if you really care, call them first. If you decide the price isn't worth it, break out the adapters and DR software.
posted by eriko at 8:30 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are a-few-weeks-ago-Jessamyn, you are also a-few-months-ago-me. Sorry to hear it; after it happened to me, I became stringent about backup, and ran around like the stereotypical end-of-the-world placard guy telling everyone I knew to back up their stuff too.

That said, as soon as I got the question mark of doom (and a sound like gravel spitting up into a wheel-well: never what you want to hear from your computer), I went straight in to my authorized Mac dealer. (Sounds like you're brave enough for other steps in between, but just thought I'd give you my experience...) Getting a new hard drive was covered by warranty, but data retrieval was not. I paid for an hour of their time to try to retrieve data from the damaged drive; no luck. They said they can send it to their specialist off-site data retrieval place. I paid shipping ($25 or something), but their time to estimate whether they could do anything with it was free. They looked at it and said they could get stuff back, and gave me the total figure as to what this would cost, so I could decide. (Jessamyn is correct with her figures; it was slightly north of two grand, in my case. Ouch). Unfortunately, though they estimated they could retrieve data, that process failed as well, so be aware that sometimes even the experts can't save the day. I did get a full refund, though; I think everyone involved felt too sorry for me to take my money.

Anyway, despite my bad experience, my advice is to pass it over to an authorized Mac repair place you trust. No, I didn't get my data back; yes, I was treated well by all concerned, meaning I ended up shaking my fist at the sky, and not a human being or myself. Hope yours turns out better, but really, it's your hard drive. Take it to people who do this for a living. Good luck!
posted by roombythelake at 8:34 PM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: I'm just popping my head in here to give the always necessary warning to NOT listen to anyone who recommends that you try SpinRite to recover your data. SpinRite is NOT a proper datarecovery tool, and immensely increases the chances of your drive completely failing beyond repair if you use it.

Get as much data off the drive as possible first. Data Rescue II is one of the best low-level recovery packages on the Mac, and they'll let you use it for free in order to perform a complete disk scan to verify that your data is recoverable before purchasing it.

eriko speaks much wisdom, though. Before you try anything, you need to assess just how valuable and irreplaceable your data is. If your world will literally end if you can't get the data back, I would just stop, package your drive securely, and send it to a data recovery company, instead of trying off-the-shelf software. Much of the time, you only have one or two chances to recover your data before the drive hardware goes 100% tits-up. I wouldn't waste any of those chances if the data is that important to you.

Many data recovery companies, such as the aforementioned (and highly recommended) Gillware, will analyze the salvageability of your drives for free, and if they can't recover the data, you only pay for the shipping charges to have the drive mailed back to you. Gillware, for example, will send you a listing of all the files they found (or you can tell them to specifically recover only certain filetypes, i.e. .doc, .psd, etc), and they'll charge you accordingly based on what they recover.
posted by melorama at 10:02 PM on August 21, 2008

If you're like me you may be wondering whether DiskWarrior does what it says on the box. After all it isn't free. Well, in my one experience it does recover files in such a way that if you copy the files on to an attached external hard disk (say USB 2.0/FireWire disk) you are OK. But, it won't necessarily be willing to repair the disk itself, especially if it's a startup disk.

Ongoingly, DiskWarrior promises that it can be installed on a working OS to monitor the disk frequently for possible errors. In this mode, it seems to just trust a flag from internal monitoring (S.M.A.R.T.) technology in the disk itself, because it spends very little time in testing.

With this testing utility, DiskWarrior declares that the drive is OK. But, I simply do not trust it now, because within a couple of weeks of restoring my system, the drive has disappeared again (cannot boot from it). I set DiskWarrior running and now the disk is emitting the tell-tale regular clicks of impending death. So, in my one experience, trusting DiskWarrior that the drive was not malfunctioning and could be re-used turned out to be worthless. I would advise anyone to be skeptical of what DiskWarrior reports about the health of hardware.
posted by galaksit at 6:02 AM on August 22, 2008

This just happened to me, luckily I was under Applecare.

When the MacBook's drive failed the computer wouldn't even boot - I just got a gray screen and a flashing "?" [question mark]. So I took it to the Applestore Genius Bar and the guy tried to plug his external "Triage Drive" into it. No luck, still wouldn't boot, and was diagnosed with a catastrophic hard drive failure. The solution was for them to install a new drive with OS X and iLife pre-loaded. I asked if I could have the old drive back - to which he responded that it would be sent to Apple for diagnostics and if I wanted to do any data recovery I would have to do it myself before I handed over my laptop. I got the Macbook back at the end of the day and the invoice said $184 for a 80gb replacement, but waived under Applecare.
posted by spoons at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2008

this just happened to me, too, on a macbook less than a year old. might be confirmation bias, but i found a lot of posting on web forums from other people with the same issue. a common denominator was heat, which makes sense to me as my machine was constantly getting very hot and running that fan like crazy. i wasn't backed up, either. here's something to consider. if you take it in to the apple store for them to replace the hard drive (mine was still under warranty), they will need to keep the drive. so if you want to try your luck with one of the date recover joints, you need to do that before you have apple swap out the drive.

if anyone is reading this and is not backed up, DO IT. do it now. and if you are working on one of these macbooks, be especially alert.
posted by apostrophe at 7:00 AM on August 22, 2008

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