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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data Storage Devices
My wife carries a portable 40 GB 2.5" drive back and forth to work, and has on it all her professional and personal files (30 GB); in other words her digital life. It has worked fine for the past 4 years, and she treats it carefully. However, without warning and without reason, it simply would not mount yesterday. I tried everything; I could hear the drive spinning and feel it running, but it would not mount so no utility could touch it. It was obviously some kind of mechanical problem. I removed it and installed it into another working case, but that didn't help. I guessed it was the end of her data on that drive, and the only backup was months old.

And the solution? Putting the drive in the freezer!

I enclosed the naked drive in a plastic bag to keep out moisture and froze it overnight. Then in the morning I let it warm up for several hours and plugged it in. I let it run for about an hour to get it warm again (like drives normally get when running; remember the drive would spin but not mount). And it mounted, and ran fine! And I was able to copy all 30 GB of data to a new drive. The theory being that the freezing caused parts to contract and the rewarming caused them to re-expand and this release the stuck parts (probably the read/write arms).

[kirkmc adds: This hint follows another hint about cooling an iPod to get it to work that was published a few days ago. Several people mentioned similar techniques in the comments to the previous hint: either putting a drive in the freezer, refrigerator, or simply on a cool-pack. While this sounds like hard-drive voodoo, I'd certainly try anything if I was in that situation.]
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Works for me
Authored by: dcclark on Nov 03, '06 07:43:59AM

When my powerbook HD was dying last summer (the temps got very very high, and something expanded too much and started grinding inside the drive), I actually stuck the powerbook in our fridge for a while and then operated it from there. It worked well enough to do a quick backup, but it *only* postpones the death of the drive. If it's gonna die, it's gonna die.

Be very careful about doing this and then taking the laptop out of the fridge/freezer -- the author mentions putting his in a bag, which is a good idea but might not be enough. You really don't want liquid condensing inside your laptop!



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I guess I need to post more hints
Authored by: shoobe01 on Nov 03, '06 08:13:47AM

I've known about this for years.

Biggest use I saw was a batch of bad Portege HDDs about 5-6 years ago. However, they only worked when frozen. Put the drive in the freezer for an hour or so (small item, so cold soak does NOT take 8 hours) and then got about 20 minutes of good runtime before it warmed up enough to fail again. Took about 5 cycles to get all the data pulled from the drive.

Personally, I'd get a longer drive and power cable and just run the drive from INSIDE the freezer. Avoids the codensation issues, and once you remove it, its going straight to the trash, anyway.


Conjecture is that it has something to do with the bearings. This /seems/ to be so, as the drive sounds like its running slower when it starts to fail, then will not spin reliably at all. Not, of course, sure what's actually happening. Coule be motor, voice coil, control circuits, resistors, or anything else, also.



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Bag alone helps little, one needs silica gel
Authored by: hamarkus on Nov 03, '06 11:29:20AM

A bag alone will not prevent condensation or ice formation since the air in the bag will have maybe 50% humidity at room temperature, which in the fridge/freezer when cooled down will reach 100% pretty quickly, pretty much what you have in the fridge/freezer already.

It will prevent condensation dropping from above on the drive, though.

To really prevent condensation, you need a sealed back plus enough silica gel (or similar material), let the silica gel adsorb the humidity for mabye an hour before you put everything in the fridge/freezer.



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Bag alone helps little, one needs silica gel
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Nov 03, '06 01:46:32PM

Hard drives are sealed anyway, so I doubt any of this is a problem.

---
G4/Digital Audio/1GHz, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.4.8 • www.david-schwab.com



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Bag alone helps little, one needs silica gel
Authored by: vonleigh on Nov 03, '06 10:40:24PM

Hard drives are not completely sealed.



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Works for cassette tapes too!
Authored by: pete on Nov 03, '06 07:58:29AM

I recall a trip years ago to Singapore, seeing people selling boxloads of pirated cassette tapes. These were the days before CD's ok, remember those? hehehe

One seller said that the tapes last longer if you put them in the freezer!

A friend who bought a large box full of these later mentioned that it seemed to work.

Funny how differing technologies have the same longevity solutions!


Pete



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: TheBlockster on Nov 03, '06 09:08:49AM

Last year I had a client bring me a laptop with a clicking hard drive. I ran all sorts of utilities on it and NOTHING worked. After many hours and about half a bottle of scotch, I rethought what was happening. The read/write head was hot, or the platters were hot. How could I get the internal components to shrink and come apart? High school physics taught us that cold makes things smaller.

I developed a GREAT method using the freezing idea. I put the drive in a bag in the freezer overnight, but when I took it out, I figured that as it heated up, it would build up condensation. I used an external drive case and a bunch of processor fans I had lying around and built a "recovery enclosure". The fans will dry off any condensation as the drive was put to use.

Without waiting for the drive to warm up at all, I just plugged it in and everything worked perfectly. I recovered the entire drive to my machine, then transferred all the data to a new drive at my leisure. Then I wrote a letter to my old physics professor and thanked him for helping me look like a miracle worker.

I've used this method professionally and am happy to say I have over an 80% success rate!

Three cheers for thinking outside the box!!



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This is *not* hard drive "voodoo" Kirk!
Authored by: jiclark on Nov 03, '06 09:11:28AM

I've recently heard this from a couple of veteran IT people, in reply to my question about an unmountable-but-clicking laptop drive. In my case, I tried the freezer trick and it didn't help, but I've since heard that it will often work, due to the contraction that occurs at lower temps.

Makes sense to me, and I'll be keeping this trick filed away for the future.

As another poster said though, there's no replacement for a good backup, and all hard drives will eventually fail, usually quite suddenly! I four-year old drive is certainly approaching end-of-life

John-o



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This is *not* hard drive "voodoo" Kirk!
Authored by: Reasonbmor on Nov 03, '06 01:25:05PM

How long do hard drives usually last? I have a Power Book (G4) which I've had for about 2 years now. Is mine nearing an end and should I consider trying to back up all of my data now?



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This is *not* hard drive "voodoo" Kirk!
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Nov 03, '06 01:50:19PM

I have hard drives that are well over 10 years old and work fine. I have one that's attached to a Mac Plus! The big problem is heat, and most Firewire drives, for instance, don't have fans. This is why they fail so often. External hard drives used to have fans. Same is true for laptops....

---
G4/Digital Audio/1GHz, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.4.8 • www.david-schwab.com



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This is *not* hard drive "voodoo" Kirk!
Authored by: vonleigh on Nov 03, '06 10:43:09PM

All hard drives fail, it's just a matter of time; it's a mechanical, magnetic spinning disk. Some will last 3 months, some will last 10 years. This is why it's important to always have a backup.



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This is *not* hard drive "voodoo" Kirk!
Authored by: styrafome on Nov 04, '06 02:21:34AM

It isn't easy to say how long hard drives last, but hard drives are rated with Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF), in hours. For example, 200,000 hours. The number's an average (Mean), so MTBF is like 5 years then there can be many drives on the long end and equally many at the short end. Like many here, I've had both. Drives that have lasted disappointingly few months, others that have lasted a surprising number of years. From the same manufacturer. You can't expect much else from a device that has to spin so fast for so long, and under stressful conditions of heat, shock, and frequent starting/stopping if in a notebook.

And that's why recent, frequent, redundant backups are always important.



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taking it just a bit further...
Authored by: schaps on Nov 03, '06 09:41:50AM

assuming that this works because the contraction of the materials causes something stuck to become unstuck, it would be the ultimate (at least ultimate available to the common man), to let the drive spend some quality time in a chest of dry ice. That ought to make it shrink back from its recalcitrant behavior.

Probably not wise to run it that cold, though.

T



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taking it just a bit further...
Authored by: hamarkus on Nov 03, '06 11:35:03AM

I am wondering if at some point, some of the lubricating fluids (if there are lubricating fluids at all, and not all carbon and steel) might seperate in different components.

Another issue, might be, particulary if cooled too quickly, tensions build up in some parts, which can cause damage.

And for sure, everything that cold should be handled very carefully since things become quite brittle at these temperatures.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: wootest on Nov 03, '06 10:40:24AM

What makes this work is not just "leaving things off" or "getting things unstuck". Sometimes the reader arm will have crashed into the disk. Freezing a disk builds up a small layer between the arm and the disk, giving it the altitude needed to continue once started.



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Back in the old days...
Authored by: mikerose on Nov 03, '06 10:54:23AM
Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: Doc Swift on Nov 03, '06 12:11:08PM

Having worked in tech support for 20 years now, I would like to mention a few cautions. Personally, I would hesitate to put any electronic into the freezer except if it was already "dead to you". Thus, I did not put the entire portable drive unit into the freezer- I first disassembled it and put only the hard drive into the freezer. In the case of a powerbook or an ipod, I would first remove the hard drive before freezing. Also, be aware of protecting from condensation (even tho hard drives are supposedly air tight, some actually have an air hole in them (ex Travelstars).

---
Doc Swift



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: Reasonbmor on Nov 03, '06 01:21:51PM

This was the most fascinating fix I've ever come across, and it makes a whole lot of sense. Good thinking! This is why parents tell children to stay in school...so you can remember what you were taught in science class. (smile!)



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: moonaust on Nov 03, '06 02:57:54PM

I have been doing this for years and it works fantastic, just put the hard drive in a sealed plastic bag so no moisture gets into it.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: BlackJade on Nov 03, '06 07:53:54PM

If you are very desperate some times the opposite will some times aid. I have seen a case where (my theory is) the bearings ceased due to old overworked grease and heating the HD worked. The HD was put on a coffee pot warmer for a while letting it heat up and then able to recover the server data.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: BMarsh on Nov 06, '06 06:58:07AM

yeah, I've heard of someone else doing this... again it was a Server, drives running constantly for years, they had to shut it down and start it up again at one point eventually, and one of the hard drives would not spin back up.

(this was long enough ago it was still physical bearings, with some kind of lubricant that had solidified when it cooled down)

a bit of heat, recovered the data before replacing the drive (they did have backups as well, but was much faster to recover from the HD, instead of the copy speeds from tape.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: johnsawyercjs on Nov 07, '06 06:41:09PM

I can vouch for heat sometimes being the fix--I use a toaster oven set to a low temperature (it doesn't have to get too hot to help, and you don't want it to get too hot anyway, which might melt some plastic inside the drive). I've been recovering data from bad drives since hard drives first became available for the Mac, and depending on the way the drive is behaving, I'll either first freeze it or heat it. I haven't tried running a drive while it's still in the freezer, but maybe I'll try it the next time I have a drive that might qualify. What I've been doing to keep a drive cool, has been to put a couple wet sponges into the freezer too, and place the drive on top of one of them (metal topside down) while it's on the workbench, and when the sponge starts to warm up, I replace it with the other sponge that's still in the freezer, and keep doing this until the data is recovered. To keep a hard drive warm, sometimes I run a hair dryer over it while the recovery is proceeding.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: johnsawyercjs on Nov 07, '06 06:54:21PM

I should add: don't get the hair dryer too close to the drive, since the EMF from the hair dryer might interfere with the drive's electronics.

If one cycle of cooling and/or heating doesn't allow the drive to run long enough to recover its files, try several more cooling and/or heating cycles, letting it rest for a while, etc.--if you keep at it, sometimes a bad drive revives just long enough to let you copy the crucial files--grab them first. Sometimes after a cooling and/or heating process, if you just let the drive sit at room temperature for a while (several hours or overnight tends to be best, in my experience anyway), the drive sometimes revives just long enough to allow you to copy the files. Sometimes it runs just one more time after a round of cooling/heating, and never again no matter what you do, so have your backup drive running at the same time, ready to receive the files!



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: dabbler on Nov 04, '06 05:10:10AM

I did a freeze job on an intermittent-starting APS external SCSI drive about 10 years ago. Finallly that didn't help, so back to APS. It was a bad power switch.



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Mount Me!
Authored by: fanboy on Nov 04, '06 02:01:01PM

I had a similar problem with an external firewire drive I back up onto.

If your drive is spinning up but not mounting, it could be a physical port mapping/ low level system driver issue. So before you send your equipment to the kitchen you can try a little piece of freeware called "Mount Me!" which did the trick for me :-) You can find it on VersionTracker.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: gref on Nov 05, '06 01:41:47PM

There was a problem with avid harddrives some years ago called sticktion (from friction and getting stuck). the read/write arms got stuck due to problems with the lubricant or something. to get the drives spinning up again you had to give them a firm whack. i tried it a several times and it worked most of the times. if you don't want to wait for your drive to freeze and warm up again and as it might die anyway this might as well be an option.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: BMarsh on Nov 06, '06 07:00:06AM

a firm "whack" to the side of the drive if I'm not mistaken, and not to the top or bottom

especially if the drive is spinning, impacting the top or bottom of the drive could put the read head into the platter, which you really want to avoid.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: bongo_x on Nov 06, '06 10:34:07AM

I've done this several times to save data but I didn't freeze overnight. I just put the drive in the freezer for an hour or so until it got cold then plugged it right in. it usually works until it heats up again. I've had to put a drive in the freezer several times to get all the data off.

I guess different methods work for different problems. it usually stops working for me as soon as it heats up which is quite different from others reports here.

bb



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: swkent on Nov 06, '06 12:26:05PM

I have used a similar method professionally multiple times. Rather than put the drive in the freezer, I put it into a thin external HD case. The MetalGearBox is perfect for this. Then I set the case on top of one of those freezer cold packs and rest another on top of the case. I have recovered over a terabyte of mission critical data for three different companies using this method.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: rlandsiedel on Nov 06, '06 12:53:39PM

I find this kind of funny. About 12 years ago one of our techs left a dead hard drive in his car overnight. That night it got to -40F. The tech took the drive into the shop and it spun up. Saved all the data. Freezing works often enough to be tried. Some freezers are not cold enough to cause enough thermal contractions to "fix" the drive.

An old trick is now out in the open.



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Freeze a dead hard drive to copy its data
Authored by: smplsnt on Nov 12, '06 11:19:17AM

An alternative is to wrap the drive in seal blubber and toss it into the polar bear habitat at the zoo. The sub-zero temperature of the bear habitat, along with the G forces caused by the bears' gnashing and gnawing, usually permit a full backup once you jump in and wrest the drive from the bear's powerful jaws. The seal blubber helps to minimize condensation, which could harm the drive. This technique also helps to remind you of the importance of frequent backups.



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