How can I recover data from my dead external hard drive?
Question by Rescue Me! /

I think my 750 GB external hard drive burned out today. It’s a WD Scorpio Blue housed in a Best Buy RocketFish 2.5″ enclosure. It’s worked fine for quite some time, but just this afternoon when moving some stuff back and forth between the external and my laptop, I got “cannot find sector” errors (I use the third-party file management app TeraCopy). This gave me cause for concern, so I spent quite a while in Windows 7 Safe Mode Robocopying most everything off of it. Finally, though, Windows no longer recognized the USB as being inserted, and even Diskpart no longer recognizes it either.

Right now, I’m trying the last-resort “drive in the freezer” trick that many swear by, while others claim is an urban myth. First off, can anyone confirm if this works (I plan on leaving it in the freezer over the long weekend), and secondly, can anyone give some (free) methods of recovering my data, should the freezer bring it back to life even for a little while?

The drive still spins, i.e. you can hear it humming (almost “breathing”) inside, but Windows does not recognize it as being plugged in. And it was just working about a couple hours ago…

I’ve heard of using a Linux Live CD, and either the GUI desktop to copy files off the Frankendrive or the DDRescue shell command in Linux. I am not at all very Linux knowledgeable, but I want the best chance of recovering my files (about 170-200G still there on the disc!) Can someone point me in the right direction to a totally n00bish guide to LiveCD HD rescuing, including doing this with DDRescue? And/or another very effective solution with a GUI?

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Answers (5)
  • FIDELIS

    Hello, the freezer trick works some times but not for long….it works as long as the drive is cold….once it heats up it ceases again.  Of course, if your drive is completely dead the only thing you can do is take it to a recovery professional, but it will cost you.  If it works the first time, you can keep doing it until you recover all your stuff. 

    If as you said, you can hear your drive spinning you might be able to see the contents with a linux live cd.  You do not necessarily have to use terminal to copy/transfer files.  You can navigate to folder in gui and then copy/paste the files to a flashdrive.

    You might also have a chance of regenerating bad sectors, specially if you drive spins.  This is a freeware program that is similar to hdd regenerator.  It does what it says it does.  In the following link you can download the program and also the .pdf manual.

    http://www.hdat2.com/ 

    Your best options would be either spinrite or hdd regenerator, only thing though is that they are paid programs.  This programs are pretty good at fixing sector errors without destroying your operating system.  Keep in mind that it takes along time for this program to run….at least 12 hours.  Also if they recognize the disk and the disk is about to fail completely, these programs would let you know as a warning because these programs give deep scan to the drives and they mind end up killing it.  If you are interested, these are the links:

    http://www.grc.com/spinrite.htm
    http://www.dposoft.net/hdd.html

    • Richard Carpenter

      That completely sums it all up. :-)

      I have used the freezer trick to do a quick grab and go of files. I had this happen to one of my SCSI drive (almost lost my mind when it first happened…) recently. My fortune was I was running in a RAID 1, so no real damage.

      If Windows Disk Management is not seeing the disk, options go down hill really fast.

    • FIDELIS

      Hello, Also the trick is to connect the drive as soon as you take it out of freezer without letting it stay at room temperature too long.  Those other programs I have mention work good too as long as they recognize the drive.

    • Richard Carpenter

      Oh, yeah. You made that clear before, I did not mean to imply otherwise. All of the options you gave were right on the money. 

      Yeah, I tend to use a laptop setup close by and try to get it done as quick as possible. Someone once mentioned actually leaving it in the freezer and running the cables from it. I have never got the chance to try it and don’t know if I even have cable long enough to even consider it. 

      I have also heard of pulling the drive apart, taking the disk out and putting it in another drive. But I am not very sure of how that would actually work.

    • FIDELIS

      Hello, I did replace a card interface once.  It is still working and I use the drive with an enclosure once in a while to try different operating systems.  As long as the drives are same make and model it works.   About the platters, actuators and stuff like that I have never done it.