Sadly, few people make regular and complete backups–so system administrators often need to fix failed hard disks using less than ideal methods. These methods are temporary and designed to quickly get data off a hard drive between the time it fails normally and fails permanently. If you tried all the usual to fix failed hard disks like repairing the hard drive boot sector or doing what the FBI does to recover deleted files and nothing has worked, then this is your last step.
Fix Failed Hard Drives By Understanding How They Work
The core technology behind hard drives has remained unchanged since an IBM team lead by Rey Johnson built the first hard disk in 1954. The disk in hard disk refers to the platter, which looks a like a vinyl record. Hovering over the platter is what looks like the needle of an old record player–the needle part is called the head. Both the platter and the head are magnetic, so the head can read from and write to the platter.
The platter spins around several thousand times a minute in modern hard drives–7,200 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) is a common speed for modern hard drives, with high-end drives running at about 15,000 RPM. That’s 120 to 250 revolutions each second–an incredibly fast speed which requires very precise engineering.
The platters, and the motor which powers them, run on top of tiny ball bearings built to revolve up to 100 times as fast as the disk itself–so up to 2,500 times a second. That means that in just 7 minutes of using your hard drive, the ball bearings will rotate over 1 million times. In the typical 2 year active life of a hard drive, each individual ball bearing will rotate over 150 billion times.
Over its incredible lifetime, each ball bearing slowly wears down, forcing the tiny hard drive motor to exert more and more energy to keep the platter moving. At some point, the motor has just barely enough power to move the platter–this is when you’ll hear groaning noises from your hard disk. A few days or weeks later, the motor won’t have enough power to move the disk, but the head will still work; this is when you’ll hear your disk drive make clicking noises even though it can’t read any data.
Using Your Freezer To Fix Failed Hard Disks
Ball bearings become less ball-shaped as they wear down, but you can temporarily restore them to something like their original shape by shrinking them. But how to do you shrink tiny pieces of metal in a sealed hard drive? You make it cold–really cold.
Follow all of the steps below exactly:
- Turn off your computer and remove the failed drive–just the drive; leave the cords.
- Place the drive inside a Zip Lock bag. Do your best to squeeze out excess air and seal the bag tight.
- Place the drive and the bag inside another Zip Lock bag. Important: you must do this step–if any moisture leaks into your hard drive, it could short out and destroy your computer. Do your best to squeeze out excess air and seal the bag tight.
- Put a rubber band around the two bags to discourage any air from leaking into the bag.
- Place the drive, which should now be inside two bags, in your freezer. If your freezer has different zones, put it in the coldest part.
- Wait at least 4 hours (more is better) and then follow the rest of the steps as quickly as possible–you want to do as much as possible with your drive before it gets too warm.
- Remove the drive from your freezer and unpack it.
- Plug it into the computer. If you can, lay it down on the bottom of the computer without screwing it in to save a little time. Make sure all of the connections are tight so that condensated water can’t leak into them
- Turn on your computer; skip any unnecessary boot steps.
- Begin copying data off of your drive. If possible, copy the most important data first.
Your drive may fail again after a few minutes but before you can copy everything you need. If that happens, start from the above step one. Repeat until you get everything you need or until the drive just won’t start anymore no matter how long you freeze it.
What To Do If You Can’t Fix Your Failed Hard Disk
Freezing doesn’t always work, but if you do it right, it shouldn’t cause any additional damage to your hard disk, which means you can still use the last resort option for recovering your data: a data recovery service.
These services typically charge between $50 and $500 to recover data from a failed hard disk, but they can do something you can’t do at home: take apart your hard disk. Now, removing the screws that hold together a hard disk may not seem difficult, but the hardware in a modern hard disk are so sensitive that if even a tiny bit of dust gets on your hard disk, data may be lost.
The data recovery services can also replace broken parts of your drive from a similar working drive. This service costs more money–but it may be less money than reproducing essential business files. They can usually fix failed hard disks, even ones that have been seriously damaged.
All good data recovery services offer a free analysis of failed hard disks (although you will need to pay to ship your disk to them). We suggest you look for reviews from previous customers before you send your hard disk to a stranger–less reputable companies may refuse to return your disk if you don’t agree to do business with them after you get their quote.
Hopefully, though, freezing will be enough to temporarily fix your failed hard disk until you can backup your most important files.
Do you have any tips to add about how to fix failed hard disks?