This actually took place back in December 2011, but I thought that it would be interesting to show how I did it.
Bit of background for you: many moons ago, when the family had just one computer with Windows XP and an 80Gb hard drive, my parents bought me a new digital camera. Suddenly, the drive began filling up with photos along with all the other rubbish. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but something happened to the computer that caused us to have to do a system restore. Before we did this, my dad and I were able to recover the data (more importantly the photos) and put them on a 320Gb external hard drive that we bought.
The purpose of the drive changed. It was a back-up drive but it changed to become just extra storage. Fast forward to present day, I was still using it. But one day, I plugged it in as usual, and it didn’t switch on.
Some of the photos were backed up on DVDs. Others were scattered around social media, so I could get most of the important ones back. I had been planning to back them up for a while and had them all neatly organised in folders ready to do so, but I never got round to it. There was also a bunch of other stuff on there, mainly sentimental files.
I initially thought it was the power. I unplugged it from the usual place and plugged it in several different places around the house. Nothing. I promptly went onto Amazon and purchased a new power adapter and plug. Few days later it came, I plugged it all in and nothing.
Panic level increased by one. Then I thought, it could be a problem between the case ports and the drive itself. After much difficulty, I managed to get the case off.
I realised that it had the old IDE ports. My nice new desktop only has SATA which prompted me to buy an IDE to SATA converter thing, to plug it straight into the motherboard. It didn’t work. The computer didn’t even switch on whilst it was plugged in.
This didn’t prove anything other that perhaps the adapter was busted. So I bought another device that converts any connection into USB.
Another unsuccessful attempt. I was starting to lose hope. I didn’t want to believe that the disks were broke. The thing didn’t power up. To me this means the data itself is there and absolutely fine. I had read that paying to have the data recovered would be an absolute fortune. But just how expensive could it be?
Then the answer came. I found a website which simply was a guy who documented what happened to him in a similar scenario (http://www.deadharddrive.com/). He basically switched the circuit board on the drive with one of an identical drive.
Great idea. Now, how do I find the identical drive? It was a Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive. I had to make sure everything was identical, even the firmware.
The guy on the website spoke of how difficult he found this, but for me, it would be even harder. Especially since the drive is about 5 or 6 years old!
I decided to contact Seagate. I asked them a few things. I asked, whether they had my drive in stock, whether what I was planning to do was even possible ( thought I would get an expert’s opinion) and how much would it be if I got them to recover the data. They replied:
“Good Afternoon. Seagate do not stock parts for resale or replacement, if this device is still under warranty, they will replace it for you.
With modern hard disks, when an electronic failure occurs, it is not a simple case of swapping over the electronics with that of a good drive. Because hard disks can now contain so much data, absolute precision is required when placing read heads over the area on the platters to be read.
During manufacture, each hard disk is fine-tuned and in many cases this ‘tuning’ data is stored in ROM, Flash Memory or encoded directly into the processor (embedded) during the final quality testing.
In order to perform data recovery on these drives, we need to be able to identify the critical components from the old board and transplant them either directly to a good electronics board, or to read in the data and copy it to another ROM chip. In some cases, even this is not sufficient, so we then set about repairing the old board or manufacturing a temporary one.
Pricing for recovery in this scenario is normally circa 500 – 800 GBP.
£500-£ 800!!!!! I was thinking more in the region of £100 in which I would have considered it!
Hope at this point was low. They didn’t have the drive I wanted, they said that my plan wouldn’t work and data recovery is out of the question.
I decided to go ahead anyway. I had nothing to lose now. But I had to find the hard drive. I searched the store room at the place where I work. They have boxes of old hard drives. I found one: wrong firmware.
A colleague suggested EBay. I was sceptical about this but thought I could look.
At first: nothing. And then I found it. A seller, who was not selling the hard drive, but the exact circuit board on its own for the purposes of saving a hard drive! They did loads including the exact one I needed. There were no discrepancies! They can be found at http://myworld.ebay.co.uk/hddgeek
I promptly ordered. It was comingfrom America, so it took several days before it arrived. I did the transfer (they even provided the screwdriver). I plugged it in using the caddy that I had bought.
Suddenly the disks spun into the life! I copied all of the data off it! But it had worked! Despite the experts at Seagate saying that it wouldn’t, it did.
The total cost (with all the trial and error) turned out to cost £69.29. This is a lot cheaper than £500-£800. If I had gone for replacing the circuit board first, then it would have been £26.33 (plus probably £19.99 because I still would have bought the caddy to plug it in).
Moral of the story: never give up.