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Recovering data from a broken, clicking hard drive

I’ve been burned in the past with data loss, so now I keep backups of all my important stuff. However, I did keep one old IDE external hard drive for archiving old stuff that wasn’t backed up. I figured these are old files that I don’t need anymore so I could handle a situation where they were lost.

Well, of course that hard drive stopped working. Actually, I carry both that drive and my backup drive in the same wallet and BOTH of them stopped working at the same time with the same symptoms (clicking, not recognised by the OS). I can’t understand how this happened as I never dropped them or anything like that. Having the two break at the same time was bizarre and scary (and costly).

So even though I was prepared to lose the archived files, I thought I’m going to try and recover them. I saw a few articles about freezing the drive for several hours in order to get it working again. What I decided to do was slightly different, and IT WORKED.

DISCLAIMER: This advice is provided for information only and is not recommended unless you are willing to potentially lose all of your data permanently. There is nothing elegant about this solution – it’s a brut force hack and you would only consider it as a last resort. Subjecting hard drives to extreme temperatures and condensation will damage the platters forever and this method will most likely ultimately render the hard drive unusable.

Step 1: Remove the hard drive from the casing

You are best to work with the drive directly. This will allow the cooling process to work.

Step 2: Put the drive in a zip lock bag

Make sure its a good quality one. Any condensation from the ice will enter the drive and destory it before you even get to do anything.

Step 3: Put two ice packs into plastic bags

This will help keep moisture contained.

Step 4: Sandwich the hard drive between the two ice packs

Be careful not to apply pressure to the top or bottom of the drive casing – this can destroy a hard drive instantly.

Step 5: Connect and disconnect the drive until it decides to work

Plug the drive in. If it clicks, unplug it and try again after a minute or so. Mine was on ice for about 4 minutes before it decided to spin up.

Step 6: Quickly transfer the files to another hard drive in the order: Most important to Least important

I quickly transferred the files across to another drive. Make sure you work quickly as the drive could die permanently at any time. Throw this drive in the bin afterwards – its gone.

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