Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rescuing dead hard disks

Reviving the dead Hard disk

Complete halt is the most dreaded part of one’s life especially when it is spinning throughout its whole life. That’s what your hard disk is destined to. If you are regular in backing up data, then you can safely give a dejected look to your dead hard disk, bury it somewhere, install a new one and shed a tear in between for the expenses. But life isn’t easier and you may not be so lucky. You may forget to run backup script just before the final spin of your Hard disk. You have valuable data stored in that hard disk and is declared dead by your BIOS since it is not detecting it. Prior to sending it to professional expert for data recovery that may cost you fortune enough to buy a couple of Hard disk, here are some self help tips that you can try to put some extended, artificial life on your dead hard disk, at least for recovering Data.

Beware, some tips given here can do more harm than good and try these only if you know what you are doing. Further, if your data is valuable and you do not want to lose it than immediately get the help of professional data recovery experts without giving any second thought. But if the data are not so important and allows you to experiment (that you always love!) then go ahead. Some of these tips are taken from real life experiences and have nothing to do with logic and are actually against the recommendations provided for handling hard disks by their manufacturers.

Be a spy

Hard disk failures are among most common problem that you encounter in your computing life. In fact, this is the only moving part in your computer which is always running through its toes to deliver things for you. Before giving a final good bye a hard disk may or may not give symptoms. However, you have to dig out common symptoms to find out whether your dead hard disk can be revived.

As a first step, boot your machine and minutely observe the indications for possible error messages. When the machine boots up, the hard disk gives up a peculiar spinning and clicking sound sound. Older hard disks produce more sound but newer ones are calmer and you have to have a good ear to hear it. If you don’t listen sounds then feel it through your fingers that whether its parts are moving inside or not. Similarly, keenly watch the boot-up messages you get from BIOS. If your hard disk is not giving spinning sound and your BIOS is not detecting the hard disk, then you can certify that your hard disk is dead and need immediate measures to revive it. The warning is repeated here- if the data is indispensable; call immediately the professional experts in the field that have necessary expertise and equipments for data recovery. Despite warning, if you feel you can live without those data then go ahead to try to inject some life in your dead hard disk.

Check for the damaged hardware

If the hard disk is not showing sign of activity, then check the power supply of hard disk. Swap with a spare power supply cable. Also check for the hard disk cable. If your hard disk is SCSI, then check for the SCSI card. If possible try with a new, tested, running cable or card. The best way to detect the hard disk problem is to attach it to another working PC as slave hard disk and try to auto detect it. If you are able to access the hard disk then the problem may not be on Hard disk, but on the supporting parts of computers which may be replaced or repaired.

If the hard disk is still not giving any sign of activity, then real emergency has come. Following tricks taken as last, desperate measures are said to have saved skins of number of system administrators several times. Try any of them single or in several combinations and by luck you may be able to start your Hard disk one more time. And as soon you are able to boot or start your hard disk, immediately back up all your data. The trick will not work for second time in a row and certainly not for the third time.

  • Remove the fixing screw of hard disk and with all cables on, shake it violently for a few times. Then power on the machine. If this trick does not work, try booting the machine with hard disk having other position than it normally have i.e. in vertical position. If this effort fails, then insulate yourself electrically to avoid electrical shock and while power is on, shake the hard disk in circular motion, but only if your hard disk cable permits you. The platter may start spinning due to its inertia. If this also not works, then tap gently on the hard disk on the cover side with the back of your screw driver. Start tapping just after one or two seconds when you switch on the machine. Another try may also help you - pick the hard disk horizontally with its cover down. The circuit part of logic card should face upward. Now drop the hard disk from 6 to 8 inches high over a hard surface. Reconnect the hard disk to the machine and try to restart machine. Try this two-three times. Tricks mentioned above work for some older hard disk whose motor or platters are jammed due to reasons such as stickiness of their bearings. With minor shock, the motor and bearing gets free and hard disk starts spinning.
  • If the tricks stated above fails then remove the hard disk and put it in air tight sealed plastic bag. Put it in freezer for 2-4 hours with minimum temperature (maximum cooling). After cooling, immediately put it on machine as slave drive and start your machine. While the troubled hard disk is still cold, it normally starts working miraculously. This trick has known to work on several incidents of hard disk failure arising due to temperature problems. The logic behind this trick is - the extreme cold temperature shrunk the platters and head of hard disk to allow them more room to move dropped head.
  • When the cold treatment failed to give result, give the hot treatment. Put hard disk on flat surface and blow hot air through hair dryer or hot air blower over its metal casing side and when temperature raises for above 5-10 degrees to the ambient, start the machine with hot hard disk. The disk may start functioning for the last time.
  • Find exactly similar type of hard disk that is working and swap the logic board of hard disk. If there is problem in the hard disk’s logic board’s circuitry, then the hard disk will start functioning after swapping its Logic card. But the model and make of hard disk should be exactly same.
  • You can open hard disk metal cover carefully, connect the hard disk in open position and while power is still on, rotate the platters manually through some solid yet soft materials like pencil eraser. But try this extreme measure in clean dust free environment, all other measures fail and finally you are going to throw away the disk.
  • If you have similar type hard disk then you can swap the platters, and see if you can retrieve something.
  • If the hard disk starts and gives spinning sound, but you are not able to detect the hard disk in BIOS automatically, then from BIOS settings, try to detect it manually. For that you have to give information like head and cylinder etc. which you can get from product’s web site or from hard disk’s cover. Once BIOS detects your hard disk then there are several tools and methods through which you can use your hard disk.

Once you revive your hard disk, then immediately back up your data without shutting it down and never trust on it as it may go dead any time.

As you see, extending life of hard disk is not easy and it is wise to be prepared for its unpredictable last breath.

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