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HELP!!!! Emergency Data Retrieval

I need some serious tech help, and it’s been recommended to me that this may be the best way to find it.  I have other lines in the water, too, but this can’t hurt. Here’s the deal:

I’ve been using a second hard drive in my computer for several years. It’s old—11 years old, to be precise. It’s also excruciatingly important, containing years of (practically) irreplaceable files. Well, it’s toast, and I need that data off of it…in a big way. Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

  1. I tried rebooting several times. Nope.
  2. I tried (with Joe T’s help) to retrieve the data with special little “jumper cables” that turn a hard drive into a virtual external drive. Nope. In fact, it started smoking.
  3. I tried taking it to the pros at a computer/data center. Nope. It smoked for them, too.
  4. They say what I need to do is a “physical data retrieval,” which, as I understand it, means open heart surgery for the drive. They would need to extract the circular thing (that should spin but doesn’t), do so in a “clean room,” etc., etc., etc. And they want significant coin for it.

Now, since that is possible, I thought I’d check if there are any serious techies out there that do this sort of thing and might be willing to do so for a desperate pastor at a significant discount…like free. :)


15 Responses

  1. Let me beat you to the punch:

    Chris, you’re an idiot. Every moron knows you need to back up your files monthly, if not weekly. Duh.

    Now that that’s out of the way, any further chiding is just piling on. Show some mercy.

  2. I’ll let our computer tech know about this, Chris; he may PM you. He’s a real whiz, but no promises. You may just have to have TCBC take up a special offering! :-)

  3. About three years ago, my hard drive shorted out, which amounted to losing years of irreplaceable files, including several graphic design projects that I still accessed on a regular basis. Hmmm…this story of woe sounds familiar. We called a data retrieval company for help and were quoted $1500 just to see if there was anything that could be retrieved, with no concrete assurances that they would be able to salvage any files. Obviously not an option, as you understand.

    Long story longer–my husband (a computer tech in a former life but has been in ministry for ten years, currently pastoring in Steamboat Springs, CO) ordered the exact same model hard drive on ebay, removed the circuit board (which makes the spinny thing spin), and used that board to replace the one that had shorted out on my hard drive. Then, with the hard drive spinning once again, he transferred all the files to a new hard drive. Total cost: under $30. Brownie points my husband earned: priceless! I’m still impressed with him…

  4. I should have given the standard disclaimer: Whether or not this or a comparable solution works to solve your crisis all depends on what exactly is wrong with your hard drive.

  5. Chris,
    The “smoking” worries me. This suggestion may not work if smoking has already occurred. I’ve rescued two hard drives long enough to extract the data from them by putting the hard drive in the freezer for about 30 minutes and then slaving it as a second drive (not a boot drive). It survived long enough to grab the data.

  6. Wow. Hope. :)

    I think the heat/smoke issue is because it’s not spinning—like it’s stuck and therefore overheating. Would that make sense?

    Some good ideas!

    Melinda, I attended a Baptist church in Steamboat Springs for a summer in 1995, when I was a counselor at the Wilds of the Rockies. Same place?

    BTW, Steamboat is gorgeous. I’m a native of Colorado, and miss the mountains in a big way.

  7. You might try asking some tech friends about the advice on the help site below. It concerns taking out your hard drive, freezing it overnight, and reinstalling it in your computer to move the data to another drive before it warms up again. I’ve never done this, so I don’t know if it will work, but an IT guy where I work once suggested this method for an old computer that was threatening failure.


  8. I don’t have any tech advice for you, but we will pray for you. We had something similar happen but w/out the smoking. Eventually it was recovered. Perhaps the Lord will intervene in your case too. If not, perhaps you can take a year’s sabbatical to reproduce all that was lost? :-)

  9. I second (third?) the freezer approach. I have personally resurrected two drives and aided the resurrection of a third with this method. Mind you it only works if the hard drive is spinning but scraping (or clicking) as it does so. Freezing contracts the components just enough so they don’t scrape and can spin normally for about 20 minutes. After that you’ve got condensation inside and the drive is better left for dead. But the smoking part is bad. That sounds more like an electrical short or a burned-up motor. In any case, though, the platters may still be fine, and if that’s the case someone with a very small screwdriver set, a clean room, and a lot of patience could transplant the platters to another drive and read them that way.

  10. Chris,

    Do you have any friends in law enforcement? This happened to a pastor / friend of mine several years ago and someone in his church took it in to the police lab. You know, they can find out what is on erased hard drives; so they should be able to get what is on a non-erased drive. Just a thought.


  11. I’m the Orwell techie that Dan mentioned.

    #1 — DO NOT open the drive for any reason whatsoever.

    #2 — Do not do anything that will cause the drive to be written — do not run WIndows chkdsk, virus cleaner, or anything like that.

    Just like every car wreck is different, every hard drive crash is different too. I have had the freezer trick work for me once or twice. I used to go though an IBM Travelstar laptop drive about once a year until I started buying Seagate, so for a while I had lots of practice doing emergency recovery.

    General rules:

    If the magic smoke is coming out, you’re in big trouble. You see, there is magic smoke inside the drive, and in the chips. The magic smokes makes them work. If the magic smoke comes out, they will not work any more. (Same thing happens to car engines). In this case, buying an IDENTICAL drive and swapping the board may help.

    If the drive is making a scraping or squealing noise, there is probably massive physical damage to the surface, and there is little chance of recovery.

    If the drive is making a constant ka-tick, ka-tick, ka-tick noise, freezing may help, otherwise I have not had good luck recovering this type of failure.

    If the drive makes a beeping or buzzing noise once in a while, or goes ka-tick, ka-tick, then stops, then repeats the cycle, there might be a chance of recovery.

    If there is any chance of recovery, find someone (like me) who has a licensed copy of a program called “Get My Data Back”. This will do a pretty good job of getting stuff off a messed-up hard drive, assuming it is readable at all.

    I’d be willing to take a look at it, however I am a computer engineer, and data recovery is something I only do incidentally and occasionally. If you can find a real IT person that does this every day that might be a better option. I would not recommend taking it to a neighbourhood computer shop or Microcenter.

    My current laptop data protection system is to buy a new Seagate hard drive once a year, copy everything from the old drive, and cycle the old drive to archival service. I use Acronis True Image to copy drives and do regular backups. For about $90 you can get a Seagate Free Agent 500 gig USB backup drive that works well with Acronis. Use Acronis to set up an automatic backup system.

    On my main work computer I have a RAID (dual redundant) main hard drive, an automatic incremental backup to a large third drive every few hours, a full backup once a week, and a nightly partial backup of important data files to a networked server. Call me paranoid, but I have not lost a file for many years.

  12. Update: the patient is being transported to Dr. Engdahl via EMT Greenfield. I’m hoping an expensive “life flight” to a professional data retrieval hospital won’t be necessary. We’ll see.

    If you think to pray for this, I’d appreciate it. There really are very crucial files on there.

  13. Yes, same church. And, yes, Steamboat is still beautiful.

  14. “Do you have any friends in law enforcement? This happened to a pastor / friend of mine several years ago and someone in his church took it in to the police lab. You know, they can find out what is on erased hard drives; so they should be able to get what is on a non-erased drive. Just a thought.”

    Interesting point. I’m not a computer guy, so I really don’t have a clue, but I’ve heard the NOTHING is EVER erased from your computer, in essence. I’ve heard that every single keystroke that’s ever been typed into the computer and every single file and every single thing that’s ever been on the computer is always on file and retrievable. The only way something really gets erased is if the comptuer is old (like 5 years or longer) and eventually it runs out of memory and starts to rewrite over old data simply because of lack of space. After all, even though the computer never erases anything completely, it’s not like it has unlimited storage infinitely. Eventually it has to run out of space. That’s why the police can always find what’s on computers when criminals try to hide stuff; it’s never truly erased (or hardly ever).

    Unless Chris has committed a crime, I doubt if the police are going to want to help him in this case.

    By the way, this is just what I’ve heard. I’m not an IT guy. Is this really true?

  15. […] crashed hard drive is still in ICU, but by God’s grace, the crucial files I needed have been recovered. Jon […]

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