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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk Storage Devices
This hint is not specific to OS X, but I think it's worth sharing as it might save you a lot of time and heartache!

If you have a dying hard disk (it might have started making clunking noises, or is reported by Disk Utility as 'failing'), try removing it from your Mac and placing it in an external HD enclosure if you can. You will then be able to change to orientation of the drive (stand it on it's end, or lay it upside-down). If you're lucky, a different position will allow the drive platter to spin smoothly for long enough to get your data off.

It worked for me! In the space of the last hour I've gone from deep depression to skip-round-the-room-singing joy as I've just recovered all of my data from my PowerBook's dying HD.

Earlier this evening the PB's internal drive began to make terrible clunking noises. OS X was intermittently locking up as it tried to write data to the drive. Things were not looking good--my most recent back-up (a bootable clone on an external Firewire drive) was over three weeks old (oops!); I was facing the loss of a fair amount of work. I tried booting from the backup so that I had a stable system and then spent the next couple of hours desperately trying to copy files off the internal drive. I didn't have much luck and the drive was sounding worse.

I guessed that the drive was failing due to the disk platter bearing wearing out (hence the noise) so I decided to swap the internal failing HD with the drive in the Firewire enclosure. I thought that once the bad drive was in the external enclosure I would be able to change its orientation, maybe allowing the drive to spin steadily.

A few minutes later, I rebooted the PowerBook, plugged in the Firewire enclosure with the failing drive and crossed my fingers. At first the drive was not recognized at all. It was spinning, and clunking a bit, but no data was being read. I slowly picked up the enclosure and rotated it. Suddenly, as the drive came into an inverted state, the bearing noise stopped and the drive icon popped onto my Desktop. An hour later and I have all my data safely on another drive!

It's worth noting that I was lucky, but I also had a few factors in my favor:
  1. I had a recent(ish) back-up
  2. The back-up was bootable
  3. I knew how to get to my PowerBook's hard disk (I've upgraded it numerous times)
If any one of these factors had been missing I'd probably be down the pub by now drowning my sorrows.

[kirkmc adds: Well, I have to comment on this... I guess the poster didn't realize that he could have simply tried moving the PowerBook into different positions? :-) Seriously, it's an interesting idea to bear in mind when a drive is dying. While it's easy to move a laptop around, it's much harder to spin a Mac Pro or other tower Mac. It's also much easier to remove a hard disk from a desktop Mac and place it in a Firewire enclosure. So, while I'm sure this hint is not anything scientific, it's another technique to try if you're hard disk has crashed and you absolutely need to recover its data.]
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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: BrentT on Nov 01, '06 08:00:18AM
I also remember hearing about letting the drive cool will sometimes buy a little time to recover data as described in this hint.

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: BrentT on Nov 01, '06 08:01:59AM
Oops. I thought the html code worked. The freezer hint was at--

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the freezer trick -- my comment resurfaces
Authored by: mikerose on Nov 02, '06 03:21:00PM

I'm flattered to be the author of the source comment for the "freezer trick." Ah, fame...

Just to update that, two years later on: as drive densities get higher, the cooldown cycle has proved somewhat less effective at getting a drive to mount in a recoverable state. Older drives may have been easier to force into a thermal recalibration mode; I don't know for sure. Our 'hit rate' on freezing drives has dropped from about 4/5 success to perhaps half the time.

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the freezer trick -- my comment resurfaces
Authored by: tobyvoss on Nov 02, '06 04:00:05PM

great hint of yours of old! if only i'd looked for (or found) it about 3 years ago, when my pb's disk was about to fail.
i found out i could prevent its immediate demise by cooling the madly clicking pb with a former power-supply fan, while Data Rescue X was peeling off every bit of a bit, numerous times, it seemed. it was a successful but rather tedious procedure.
external casing would have been my next try at retrieving the data.
physically rotating the drive would not have occured to me at that time - DUH!
thanks for the parent hint, too!

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a word of warning
Authored by: chrisrosa on Nov 01, '06 08:51:48AM

If it's critical data - meaning it's irreplaceable or it would take an inordinate amount of time to recreate - don't attempt a recovery in this situation yourself. Allowing a drive that's making abnormal sounds to continue to spin, regardless of its position, could just be scraping the data off of the platters. Leaving you in an unrecoverable situation. Leave data recovery to the experts.

If it's data that you can live without, but would *like* to save...go for it.

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What about this?
Authored by: googoo on Nov 01, '06 09:12:05AM

If you have a PowerBook, could you try changing its orientation without removing the hard drive? For example, you could try turning it over or laying it on its side. These options may work better in Firewire target mode or when you boot from an external drive because the failing drive would not be the startup drive.


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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: mike666 on Nov 01, '06 10:54:22AM
Specifically, an angle of 45° is recommended although I had one drive that wouldn't read unless I gently rocked it back and forth the entire time...

The cooling thing works in many cases too, especially since failing 2.5" drives do tend to overheat. I've found that a small desk mounted fan pointed at the drive while it's externally hooked up and sitting at an angle will usually do the job. I personally believe that for 2.5" drives propping them at an angle usually does more for cooling than for any mechanical assistance with spinning. I don't recommend putting an entire PowerBook into the freezer though - the freezer trick is a last resort and should be done just with the drive itself, bagged and sealed with as much silica gel as you can stick in with it. Condensation is a drag.

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Just went through that
Authored by: bonkydooky on Nov 01, '06 11:06:54AM
I know a guy who just did a very similar thing. When combined with DiskWarrior and prayer, it all came out good!

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: ateichman on Nov 01, '06 12:43:12PM

I'll vouch for this.

As noted above, data recovery is a dicey business, and if the data is critical, leave it to experts.

In my case, a friend's PowerBook drive was failing, and I replaced it for her. Although she was not desperate for the old data, it would still be a nice thing to retrieve, so I tried pretty much everything, figuring that I (she) had nothing to lose that was not already 99% gone.

I tried mounting the drive repeatedly. It got more and more ornery as time went on. When I had to give up for a bit, and left it alone overnight, it was decidedly better (not having been moved at all in the interim), so the cooling theory seems to have some merit to it. However, even in this situation, the best it would do was partially mount, but I could not access contents.

Changing the orientation of the drive made noticeable differences in how far into the mounting process it would get before things hung up. Eventually, I settled on upside-down as the preferred position. (Hard to work with a whole laptop this way!)

Finally, I left it (abandoned it) for several days, upside down, and then tried again. It mounted first time, and I copied the most critical stuff immediately before it changed its mind.

Definitely worth a try, both cooling and reorienting. Two more cautions for you all:

1. Have patience. The more impatient I got, the less success I had.
2. When it the HD starts to misbehave, deal with it IMMEDIATELY before it gets worse.

Good luck to all who find themselves in this situation, up the creek without a recent backup.

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: nickvisic on Nov 01, '06 12:46:35PM

i have another CRAZY idea. this is what i do, and it works 100% of the time:

are you ready?

man, your gonna think i'm nuts!!!

do a FULL backup of the internal drive to another EXTERNAL drive. oh yeah, and do it REGULARLY!!!

crazy, huh? it AMAZES me to no end that people don't backup to an external hard drive. for less than $100 and using some software (superduper! being the best), you can eliminate A LOT of prayer and anger!!!! trust me, i've dropped my laptop and damaged my hard drive (also known as "concrete contamination!") and didn't have to do any crazy stuff! just send back the damaged hard drive and re-mirrored back!

chance favors the prepared mind!


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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: Panjandrum on Nov 01, '06 01:59:22PM

You know, this reminds me that it has been a long LONG time since I've seen a drive that needed whanged on the side with the handle-end of a screwdriver to get it to spin-up! That used to be one of the greatest little "miracle" fixes. Somewhere along the way the manufacturers must have overcome whatever flaws ultimately led to drives which refused to spin-up.

But count that as another hint. If you've got an old drive that isn't spinning up at all, and upon which is data you would like to have but which isn't really worth paying to get back, plug the drive into an external case, hold the drive itself by the sides (obviously the case needs to have long enough cables for you to do this), and holding the drive flat and securely, give it one nice hard rap on the side with the handle end of a screwdriver (a regular house-hold sized screwdriver, not a tiny electronics screwdriver). If the drive spins-up, sit it down gently and backup your data!

David Butler

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: Auricchio on Nov 01, '06 02:38:20PM

Yes to all of the above. I've done the rotating and operating in different orientations when recovering failing drives. Most of the time that stuff does the trick.

I haven't done the freezer trick, but I've used a small fan to cool the drive.

I wouldn't try moving a laptop into odd orientations, because the newer models have the Sudden Motion Sensor. This device will interfere with the drive operation by attempting to park the heads.

EMOJO: mojo no longer workin'

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: barrysharp on Nov 01, '06 06:33:32PM

I whole heartedly agree with nickvisic.

I have little sympathy for people who simply do not backup their data - especially data that would cause a person to go 'crazy' if there was any sign of losing it.

A daily backup is very easily done today and backup HDs are not that expensive anymore. Only the other day COSTCO was selling the FW800/FW400/USB 2 Maxtor 600 gig Turbo Edition for a mere $300 or thereabouts. Of course they (ie smaller HD sizes) also come cheaper than this also.

BACKUP your data please is my advice.

Regards... Barry Sharp

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: monday1313 on Nov 01, '06 07:20:25PM

a data forensics guy i know said to actually put the disk in the fridge and let it cool so that the metal contracts and the disk will hopefully work long enough to get the critical data off it...i know a guy who actually did this and he said it works...

i myself haven't had the pleasure...

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: yubbie2 on Nov 01, '06 08:16:17PM

I've done the freezer trick twice - once with an iPod, once with an iBook. Both times just wrapped it in a towel and tossed it in the freezer for an hour or two.

100% data recovery, both times, with no side effects. Of course, I could have just been lucky. So be careful.

However, it's a great party story to tell...

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Use the fridge, not the freezer
Authored by: lionel77 on Nov 01, '06 11:32:55PM

If you put your drive in the freezer for 2 hours, it won't spin up (i.e., the hard drive motor seems completely dead) . That's at least the experience I made. What has worked for me in the past is to put the drive wrapped in a towel inside a big zip lock bag and then leave it in the fridge for like 30 minutes. I've recovered data from two fire wire hard drives this way, which had overheated in the summer so that their motor would get stuck when

Whether the "fridge trick" works or not, however, really depends on why the drive has failed in the first place. If your drive has experienced a head crash for example (happened once to me b/c of a power outage -- since then all my machines are hooked up to UPSs) then no amount of cooling can get you back your data. So remember, save early, save often. ;)

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: dirtymouse on Nov 02, '06 06:17:54AM

Sometimes failing drives get stuck and freeze the OS when they are attached to an ATA bus (internal desktop or laptop). One trick i've used a few times is insert the drive in a firewire case like this hint.

Transfer your data (usually a finder copy). When or if it fails (mechanical or intermittent power), cycle the power!. This will reset the drive state and throw up a firewire alert in the Finder (about disconnected disk).

Once the drive spins back up and registers with the OS again, you can usually find that the finder will continue the copy after the interruption. It might thow up an error saying a file could not be copied (note filename for later), but it can still proceed with other files. Your mileage may very, but i have succesfully retrieve potentially lost data this way for an entire 80gb drive. Cooling or orientation were of no help in that situation.

Of course, professional services are more reliable, but more expensive as well.

dirtymouse - 'fix a troubled Mac' - troubleshooting PDF book

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Hit it!
Authored by: jcooper11 on Nov 02, '06 10:49:37AM

My favorite technique. Bang it on the desk. Just hard enough.

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: macgruder on Nov 06, '06 02:24:45AM

Pick up your drive
Smack it against your head for not buying SuperDuper
If you're lucky the drive will boot up just fine

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A possible way of getting data off a dying hard disk
Authored by: sammich on Nov 06, '06 03:23:26AM

I had a dead PB 15 inch, one day I came home to fan-whirring-black-screen, no response. So I forced a restart and it sounded as if it would startup normally for about 2 seonds then it stalls, with the spinning grey thing.

I went through everything, disk util, firewire, and terminal (the disk dumping-into-image thing -can't remember the command-). Using Target Disk Mode, it PB HDD wouldn't even show up sometimes (using disktool -l). All was lost, until I found DW, rebuilt the dir like a charm, started backing up everything was going smoothly. That was until I realised that (using Acitivity Viewer) that the transfer seed was going about 300 kbps...max. Then it hit me (about 3 hours later, and roughly 1%) I have another (external) drive which has the same problem, it would work 95% of the time if I put it on some angle even slight, like say putting a PB battery on one end. While copying my 40 gb of music and photos, I (simultaneously watching activity viewer) tilted the PB on about a 10 degree angle, and watched the trailing red and green disappear, the speed jumped to about 30mb/s+ and it finished in about an half and hour, as opposed to an eternity.
Anyway, applecare replaced the HDD, but not an entirely happy ending though, there were some files that were royally corrupted (like my entourage email DB, ARRRRGHHHH!).

mbp 17 inch in 2 weeks should console me.

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