Hard drive repair?

Thread Starter

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
Is there even a remote chance of a DIY repair of a failed hard drive? I have an external drive that fails to spin up and mount. (Software solutions are out of the question.) I have no interest in the drive itself, only the data.

This drive came in a case with an interface from Ultra ATA on the drive to both USB and Firewire in the case. I believe the power supply brick is OK (steady 12.00V during start-up) but I have no way to know about the interface card. I've ordered an IDE-to-SATA adapter to rule that out. I'll plug into the drive into SATA on a working desktop. Maybe I'll get lucky.

Assuming the worst, I looked into drive recovery and it looks like the going rate is $1K-1.5K. I hate to lose what I think is on that drive, but not that much!

So I'm wondering about options. I gather some people have had success with replacing the controller on the drive. This drive is probably 10 years old, so finding one could be a challenge. How pointless is it to crack open the case? Is there anything in there that might be fixed by a normal person? I don't have a clean room but I only need enough life to extract the data.
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,482
Is there even a remote chance of a DIY repair of a failed hard drive? I have an external drive that fails to spin up and mount. (Software solutions are out of the question.) I have no interest in the drive itself, only the data.

This drive came in a case with an interface from Ultra ATA on the drive to both USB and Firewire in the case. I believe the power supply brick is OK (steady 12.00V during start-up) but I have no way to know about the interface card. I've ordered an IDE-to-SATA adapter to rule that out. I'll plug into the drive into SATA on a working desktop. Maybe I'll get lucky.

Assuming the worst, I looked into drive recovery and it looks like the going rate is $1K-1.5K. I hate to lose what I think is on that drive, but not that much!

So I'm wondering about options. I gather some people have had success with replacing the controller on the drive. This drive is probably 10 years old, so finding one could be a challenge. How pointless is it to crack open the case? Is there anything in there that might be fixed by a normal person? I don't have a clean room but I only need enough life to extract the data.
I have recovered many drives by replacing the electronics. We used to keep a library of drive electronics for the purpose. I have even disassembled and lubricated stuck spindle motors. You need a clean room but not a cleanroom. It's quite possible.

Here's one where I opened it, removed the platters, freed the motor and lubed it. This is the recovery part. I had no expectation, of course, that the drive would last for any time afterwards...

(By the way, the data belonged to a very high powered professor and my staff was absolutely terrified as I tore the drive apart and fixed it. It was one of the events that cemented wizard status.)

https://kovaya.com/movies/drive.mov
 

Hymie

Joined Mar 30, 2018
991
Many years ago I attempted recovery of a failed hard drive – I managed to get it recognised by the PC, but not any useful data.

This was achieved by placing the drive sealed within a plastic bag in a freezer for a few hours. On removal from the freezer, connection was made to the drive without removing the drive from the plastic bag (to minimise any condensation). Interestingly the drive was recognised by the PC for a short while, once warmed it would not be recognised.
So if the above trick works, you need to copy the data ASAP.

I can’t recall where I learned of the technique, but it might have been from a magazine article back in the early 2000’s.
I also used data recovery software on the cooled drive - to no avail.
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,482
That's a believable cause - it sounds like its just can't spin. It never gets to the point where you'd hear the heads start moving. Tempting.
First, open the top (there will be a screw under the label, don’t miss it. Then, try to manually start the spindle. It might just start and run, or it might start but not spin up. That’s when you have to disassemble the spindle motor to get at the bearing for lube.
 

sagor

Joined Mar 10, 2019
479
It might be a lesson learned, the hard way. Never, never store important data on only one device. Odds are it will die when you need that data. External drives are ok for backups ONLY, not for regular interactive storage. That said, 2 or 3 external drives used as a backup will generally allow a recovery should one of them fail.
That is what backups are for, to protect your data. Does not matter is you use physical drives, network storage or some Cloud service, but always backup your data.....

As for DIY repair, remember that if you mess something up and the heads crash on the platters, they will score the platters and make any future data recovery nearly impossible (at least from the scratched areas). If you are comfortable with the risk, fine, try it yourself. But if you are afraid of losing the data, your only real choice is a data recovery service.
Making regular backups is a lot cheaper than using a data recovery service....
 

djsfantasi

Joined Apr 11, 2010
7,826
Or you can put two drives into the PC and mirror them. Then, if one drive fails, the OS can let you know while using the second (now unprotected) drive, until you replace the failed drive. Or if you have a lot of data, you can use multiple drives in a RAID5 configuration. This requires a RAID controller, and if a drive fails, the OS can reconstruct the data on the failed drive without interrupting operations. Cool drive/controllers allow you to replace the failed drive WHILE the system is powered up and running. The new drive will be rebuilt with its original data. These latter two solutions are not cheap and used in critical production systems.
 

Thread Starter

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
Great news this morning! First I discovered that, although the hard drives in my computer use SATA connectors, the DVD drive already has an IDE interface and nice "long" cables, so the IDE-to-SATA adapter I got isn't even needed. I can yank out the DVD drive and plug the failed naked drive directly into it.

Fingers crossed, boot up. And the drive mounted! So the failure was probably the IDE-to-Firewire interface card, or maybe the spindle motor loosened up after a little handling. Whatever, I'm scraping all the data off the drive and it will hit my basement "museum" before lunchtime.

Whew!!

Now to shop for another external backup drive so this never happens again.
 

andrewmm

Joined Feb 25, 2011
1,751
Great news this morning! First I discovered that, although the hard drives in my computer use SATA connectors, the DVD drive already has an IDE interface and nice "long" cables, so the IDE-to-SATA adapter I got isn't even needed. I can yank out the DVD drive and plug the failed naked drive directly into it.

Fingers crossed, boot up. And the drive mounted! So the failure was probably the IDE-to-Firewire interface card, or maybe the spindle motor loosened up after a little handling. Whatever, I'm scraping all the data off the drive and it will hit my basement "museum" before lunchtime.

Whew!!

Now to shop for another external backup drive so this never happens again.
good idea to bin the old drive

Its a well known "fix" that some drives need a hit with the handle of a screw driver to start up.
Im wondering if your moving it had the same effect ,

It does not last long, especially if you power down the drive, so its good that you have imaged it .
 

Thread Starter

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
FWIW, after I got the data off I placed the drive back together with its original power supply and interface card, and it did not spin up. It appears that the drive itself may be fine. But a 300Gb drive isn't worth much these days. Most folks are looking at 1Tb and up.
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,482
FWIW, after I got the data off I placed the drive back together with its original power supply and interface card, and it did not spin up. It appears that the drive itself may be fine. But a 300Gb drive isn't worth much these days. Most folks are looking at 1Tb and up.
It's not a LaCie, is it?
 

Jhonwx

Joined Mar 20, 2021
4
FWIW, after I got the data off I placed the drive back together with its original power supply and interface card, and it did not spin up. It appears that the drive itself may be fine. But a 300Gb drive isn't worth much these days. Most folks are looking at 1Tb and up.
Thank you for this valuable information :D
 

Thread Starter

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
It's not a LaCie, is it?
Nope, a Seagate drive. It was actually a very nice drive until it wasn't. The case and interface card look professional and well designed and constructed. But kaput.

The case was designed to prevent entry. Gosh I hate that.
 
Top