One Method of Data Recovery from a Dead Hard Drive

 


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Here is the situation. A laptop comes to us with a dead hard drive. Unfortunately, the user needs some files off the dead drive. After much research on the internet and a couple of data recovery quotes we decide to try and recover the information ourselves.

Luckily for us the drive won't spin up at all. I say luckily because the usual problem is that the circuit board on the bottom of the drive went bad. That doesn't mean that something else isn't the problem, but replacing the circuit board is the simplest thing to try.

The first thing needed is another hard drive. That may sound easy but it isn't. You need an identical hard drive, and by identical I mean the same model number, part number, firmware, everything. In our case we had a Hitachi Travelstar hard drive that had three numbers to match. The important numbers were the model number, part number, and MLC number. I believe the MLC number has something to do with the firmware revision but don't quote me on that. After speaking with Hitachi I was referred to a company called CueTech. They specialize in finding “hard to find" or obsolete computer parts. The wanted to charge between $200 and $400 for the drive, which I thought was reasonable for the work required to find one. Instead of using them I decided to search on my own and after two days, still had not found another drive for sale that met my needs. We then started looking in house for similar laptops and found one that had an identical drive. Now we were in business.

Now that we had our drive, we needed to protect ourselves because the user wanted their machine back in working order. So before we started any kind of surgery we made a ghost image of their hard drive. After waiting the 20 minutes or so for the backup to finish we began the surgery. First we removed the hard drive from the working system and laid it on a static pad with the circuit board up. We then used a T-5 Torx drive to remove the screws securing the circuit board to the hard drive. Your drive may need a different size or style of screwdriver. We then repeated the process on the bad drive. We put the circuit board from the good drive onto the dead hard drive and placed it back in the laptop. It booted! As soon as we new it worked we then setup the system to make a quick drive image. After waiting another 20 minutes we had a drive image of the bad hard drive and our data was recovered.

To finish the process we had to put the circuit board back on the original good hard drive and verify that it was working correctly. Once that was completed and the laptop returned to its owner, we installed a brand new hard drive in the system that had the original issue. The last step was to restore the drive image to the new hard drive, verify that it worked, and give the laptop back to the owner.

Gary Higbee
http://www.greatnorthcomputing.com - A community for SysAdmins and Programmers.

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