Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cheap Hard Drive Recovery - Success

A friend recently asked if I knew how to recover his pictures from his crashed (Macintosh) hard drive. The "genius" store geeks had tried to read it by booting from another drive and just looking at this one. That didn't work. My friend wasn't ready to pony up for a level-2 recovery attempt - $750 whether or not the procedure was successful!!

Now, I have been pretty tuned into hard drives for years because of my profession. I have seen hard drives crash. I have used both manufacturer's and open source tools to read and interpret SMART data on drives. I have opened and examined hard drives that have suffered from shock, vibration, thermal torture and customer abuse. I have watched hard drives spin topless. I have painted them with Omegalaq and used thermocouples as thin as a hair to check internal temperatures. In addition I have read articles about the various degrees of data recovery possible (from freeware on up to thousand$). I thought I could offer some assistance.

Knowing that the drive didn't even work inside his laptop with an external boot I figured I would try to find a similar drive on ebay and swap in the disks. Yes there's a risk of contamination but I just wanted 1 pass to grab those files - just a few minutes of operation was all I asked. There was one in Australia with a datecode a few days away. But before I spend the $70 (plus who-knows-how-much shipping) I did just a little extra homework.

I found a guy talking about getting those few extra minutes by putting the drive in the freezer overnight and then using it. My young, geek cube-neighbor at work said he had heard about this but always worried about the condensation killing it too fast. He also said that Apple formats its drives in such a way that I would probably need a Linux OS to properly see it.

Since this was a SATA drive I was in luck. I have access to a little USB connected pod that can accommodate a SATA drive. So I put the whole thing in the freezer for a couple days and just ran the cables out to the host laptop (i.e. my work laptop with an Ubuntu install on it). After getting some advice about how to navigate around the command line (not my specialty - yet necessary due to the permissions issues on the Mac drive) we were able to run the drive for hours and recover all the pictures!

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