Losing a hard drive full of data is certainly a stressful affair. Not only will you likely go through the five clinical stages of grief, but then you’ll have to figure out exactly how you will continue on after this traumatic event. Can you actually recover any data from the drive? How bad is it? What steps do you take?
Say you don’t have a backup plan in place, as is the case with most people. What do you do when your world suddenly comes crashing down upon you (and I do mean this in the most literal sense)?
Like Jack Bauer on my favorite show, “24,” there are plenty of DIY (but extreme) methods to extract data from a dying hard drive. But like the people being interrogated by agent Bauer, the drive may not survive long enough for you to get all the data you need.
Recently, one of my users experienced the following scenario: his external archive drive died a painful and noisy death. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that this particular drive was the only location for his old data that wasn’t being accessed on a day-to-day basis.
His external enclosure powered up, spun the drive, exhibited a ”click, click, click, CLUNK” noise, spun down the drive, and repeated.
Alas, the drive died horribly, screaming all the way.
Stage 1: Denial – “No way did my drive just die! Let me reboot again – that usually fixes those little quirky glitches, right?”
As soon as you get past that moment of disbelief and come to your senses, listen to the hard drive. If you hear strange rhythmic clicking/clunking, you had better power off your computer stat. The longer you have it powered on, the more damage your drive will likely suffer.
Any time you hear a repetitive, rhythmic clicking noise coming from the drive, you know there are troubles ahead.
Stage 2: Anger – This is not a tube television from the 70’s. Do not slap the computer. Seriously.
Like I said before, there are plenty of techniques that can allow you to recover some data, but depending on the issue causing the hard-drive problem in the first place, these techniques can result in varying degrees of success, and more than likely worsen the situation. Best leave the important stuff to the big guys.
Stage 3: Bargaining – As much as we all want to believe this, your drive will not magically get better if you shut the PC off for awhile and turn it on later.
Stage 4: Depression – “Why did this happen? Should I have done something else…?” OK, sure, you could have probably done something. But, unless you have a DeLorean, a fully functional Flux Capacitor, and a firm belief that “Back to the Future” was a documentary, you can’t do anything to prevent what has already happened.
My user was too busy to go through this stage – he went right on to ‘Acceptance’.
Stage 5: Acceptance – “OK, my drive is toast. Now what?” Or, “OK, my drive is toast. Fix it.”
In my situation, due to the nature of my user’s position (he is a doctor), I decided that rather than risking the “at home fixes,” I would go the route of professional hard disk recovery.
A quick primer on hard disk recovery
For the uninitiated, think of professional hard disk recovery like invasive surgery: the drive platters will be removed from the faulty drive and placed into a different—but functional—housing with the exact same hardware/firmware configuration. I’m not talking about an enclosure, like the kind you can pick up at Best Buy, but the actual housing the platters reside in.
As easy as this might sound, transplanting the hard drive’s innards from one drive to another isn’t quite as quick as you might think. There are literally dozens of different variations a single model of a hard drive might have, including things like cylinder size, firmware release, sectors, and so on.
Aforementioned configuration problems aside, the recovery company needs a completely dust-free, clean room to perform the transplant.
Making the decision
For the recovery, I went with DTI Data Recovery, mostly because the price was right (about half the cost of the nearest competitor), but also because they restore the data, AND they verify the file integrity. Lastly, DTI was personally referred to me by Kiltak via [GAS].
The quotation process was a quick and painless affair, and the price was contingent upon some variables:
- Size of the faulty drive
- Amount of data to be restored
- Type of data to be restored
- Whether or not I wanted to purchase a recovery drive from DTI or supply my own
When you send the drive to DTI, they immediately enter it into their logging system. Once entered, you will receive a link to a Web site for tracking the service process. This is very nice, since you can at any time leave comments and other details to assist the recovery technicians assigned to the ticket.
Once the ticket was set up, I boxed the drive and sent it to DTI. I received an e-mail notification of arrival, and then ran into a problem…
Little known fact: you might have an extremely rare drive
Obviously, each hard drive model is given a number when manufactured and sold. What I didn’t realize (but should have) is that some models are very popular, while others are sold to small OEM’s for short-run productions and small manufacturing needs.
As luck would have it, my user’s drive was part of a small production run that destined for an off-brand external enclosure/drive company. Sure, it was a Western Digital drive, but it wasn’t manufactured in large quantities. And as such, there weren’t a lot of parts available.
The big-name recovery companies get their parts from a small group of suppliers
The speed of your recovery could very well depend upon the availability of replacement parts. In my example, the drive with catastrophic failure was an extremely hard to find 120Gb Western Digital with a very particular (and rare) firmware revision.
As such, replacement parts for this drive were unavailable for nearly a month. No fault of DTI, as they do not have a ready stock of EVERY drive possible, as this would be unfeasible. That said, it would’ve been nice to know a delay of this magnitude was a possibility prior to contracting with them.
DTI informed me there was substantial physical damage to the drive—to the point where data had physically been scraped from the platter by the faulty head. Bad news to be sure, but at least we know what happened.
Once the part came in for the drive, recovery began. Turnaround from recovery to delivery back to my workplace was about four days (we did not opt for the overnight recovery).
When I received the drive, I anxiously opened the box wondering what I would find. I popped the recovery drive into my computer, and discovered a folder labeled ‘[FAT32]’. Inside contained all of my user’s data!
Regarding the timeliness of the recovery, I expressed my concerns to the people at DTI, and was personally handled by the president, David Mohyla (yes, because of my connection to [GAS]). I was handled professionally by every employee. David did provide me a substantial discount for our troubles, and my user was very pleased by DTI’s customer service, even if there was a delay in recovery.
Overall, this was a good experience with DTI, as we did get the data back that we thought was lost. We were handled very professionally during the entire process and DTI made every effort to retain us as potential customers for the future.
Sure, the timeliness of the recovery was the certainly a red mark against them, but to be fair, this was unavoidable. The only thing that could have been improved upon was the on-line customer notifications—and in using that function to notify me of the potential delay as soon as they discovered the part would not be available for some time.