Don't trust the hard drive

I am a long time Qt3 Lurker, but recent events have compelled me to post. You see, last night one of my hard drives taught me a lesson; one I should have learned from years of playing CRPGs: Save early, Save often.

See, last night as I sat down to burn a DVD of our family photos one my hard drive decided that it would rather just die than working enslaved to me for one more day. This drive happed to contain the same photos I was about to back up, as well as my email, quicken info, and gobs of who knows what else.

I know that when I first acquired my DVD burner that I made a disk of our pictures, but alas that was a year ago and it also seems to have decided that living in my house is a nightmare. sigh I always knew I should make more backups. Heck, I was sitting down to make one when this tragedy occurred. But I trusted the hard drive. I thought it was faithful, I hoped it would foreshadow its demise, some how warn me that its time was short.

whiz spurt die

No one should have to suffer the loss that I am suffering (and more when the wife finds out). Just remember, “Don’t trust the hard drive.”

Preach on. I have suffered probably a half-dozen catastrophic drive failures in my life, which seems WAY higher than it should be. Granted, I work with computers all the time, but this just seems unacceptably high. IIRC it breaks down as a WD, 3 x Maxtor N256, and now a Fujitsu 2.5" notebook drive.

All my important stuff is on a mirrored 640GB file server.

I’m afraid to post any specifics on this topic for want of jinxing myself.

— Alan

If you really want the stuff back, I read an article in the nyt several weeks ago link (but it’s archived and you’d have to pay) about drive recovery places, and they weren’t THAT expensive. I think they start at around $500, but if the memories are priceless, it might be worth a shot.

Hard drive recovery companies make a killing on recovery, and have been since the dawn of time. It used to be high because it was a bit difficult, and not a lot of people had hard drives or bothered with recovery (back in the early 90s). Since then they kinda kept the prices but HD use of course has proliferated.

— Alan

Yeah same thing happened to me a while back. HDs are the bane of the computer. It used to be the floppy drive but now its the damn HD.

Yup. I had a hard drive go bad on me about 5 years ago, right after I installed a CD-R burner to back things up. I lost tons of email, contacts, etc.

Ever since then, I’ve placed all my data on mirrored RAID arrays. It’s just the cost of an extra hard drive.

I do this with all my servers, but now that I’m a laptop kind of guy, that’s not really an option. I try to rsync stuff to my network backup drive occasionally and use subversion for my home directory, but I know that doesn’t get everything.

I contacted a few recovery places, and they were all in the same price range; $200 - $2500. The high end price was for things like, if they physically had to remove the platters and place them in new casing. Chances are it would run me ~ $500 and it does not look like my wife and I are willing to spend that much. So I tried a cheaper alternative and purchased SpinRite ($90) and ran that overnight. Conclusion: Drive Failure :(

And if that was not bad enough in all the moving of stuff around it seems I damaged my video card. Iit sat directly in the line of the where I was moving the HD in and out of. I thought I was being careful, but I was running on empyt last night, and could probably have hit something. sigh

At first I thought my MB had revolted and decided to start assassinating all the other components in the machine. I was about to tie a cement block onto the case and dump the whole thing into the lake. Luckily, so far, it seems swapping the Video card out with a spare has given this machine a reprive.

Good news: I get to go shopping for a new data drive (probably external) and a new video card (that old geforce 4 needed to be upgraded anyway), and we found a CD with at least some of the photos on it. Now if only I could find that archive DVD I made last winter I would be back in business.

I’ve had burnt DVDs pass write verification after burning, only to fail horribly a very short time later. So in addition to distrusting the hard drive, you should distrust all storage media and adjust your backup policies accordingly.

Yes, CDs and DVDs have surprisingly short lifetimes, and hard drives are unnecessarily expensive (do you really need fast access times to your backup data?), so the best solution is still tape. It’s cheap and lasts a good amount of time. Currently I keep all the data I want to keep on my ISPs servers and just trust them to have a sensible backup policy, essentially outsourcing my responsibility for data preservation… but if I had anything really important that I wasn’t willing to trust to others, I’d spring for a tape drive and set up a backup schedule.

When one of my HDs failed last year I thought about buying SpinRite but never did. I thought it claimed that it could help you recover data from a drive? Or am I remembering wrong?

I would be interested in any other commments you have about it, is it a total waste of $90?

Spinrite is old school, I could never figure out whether it’s a scam or not. I think it just keeps trying to read data that’s giving errors X times and averages the result or something.

Anyway, if the drive is still spinning up I would try running something like EasyRecovery with the bad drive mounted as a secondary. Make sure you restore the files to the new, working drive and not the original. I’ve had good luck getting something like 60-80% of the files off bad drives with this (probably any recovery program would be as effective). These drives were fubared enough that windows wouldn’t do anything with them other than acknowledge their existence (ie, won’t partition, etc.).

… that or even a downloaded Knoppix LiveCD.

I’m often surprised at just how many drives will be functional enough to allow Linux to access them, but not MS Windows.

Spinrite works, but it can’t help you if your drive has a physical failure, like the drive motor is shot, or the hammer is stuck to the platter. You’re just screwed then.

It’s mainly used to see if your drive is about to die. If it already is dead, it’s not so useful.


i had a drive that ‘died’ on me fairly recently… no strange noises from the drive- just all of the sudden started taking long times to access things, eventually timing out while trying to read, things like that. it was the machine’s boot drive, no less… got to the point where it wouldn’t even recognise the drive (or the boot sector) during post/boot.

i know this is going to sound a bit strange, but it “worked for me” in this situation… it’s not likely to work at all and if i ever need to do it again, it’s more likely it probably won’t work then, but…

i took the drive, put it into a ziplock bag, threw it into the freezer for a couple hours, removed it, tossed it (still in the ziplock) into a cooler full of ice (surrounding the drive/ziplock bag), attached some cables, and was able to recover all the data off of it- i used acronis trueimage to make an image of the drive’s partitions onto another drive.

i had been skeptical that any of the effort would actually work, but it did. still not certain what exactly died on the drive and/or why freezing/cooling the drive helped it- the drive ran no hotter than normal prior to it’s death, and nothing seemed to be more than warm to the touch on the circuitry side of things, so who knows…

How the hell did you even come up with that?

Everytime I see the title of this thread I hear the Blue Oyster Cult and I need more cowbell.


Personally I’ve got four drives in our main system: two Hitachi 160GB drives in RAID 1 mirrored, and two more in RAID 0 striped. I keep all the important personal data on the RAID 1 partition, and I back it up to the RAID 0 partition (using rsync, the only tool that can handle directories with 100,000+ (!) files). So far, so good, all healthy.

I have a DVD burner but have gotten lazy about using it. But this thread is heightening my paranoia quite a bit… looks like it might be time to whip out Nero and do some burning :-) Then get the safe-deposit box… or the fireproof safe in the office…

chuckle This drive seems very angry at me.

My SpinRite experience:
I plugged the drive into the primary IDE connector, and unplugged the other hard drives. Then I booted up using the SpinRite CD image. SpinRite tells me it is going to activate SMART, it does then it tells me that the dirve failure is imminent and that running spinnrite could cause the drive to fail. Well I had nothing to lose so I tried to run it.

It brings up a screen where I should be able to select a partition, and the second partition is listed as inaccessable; not a good sign. I select partition 1 and after 6 hours it was not making any progress. After bit of reading on the SpinRite board I am led to believe that this can happen on very damaged sections. So I start it again, this time at 50% into the drive. Still not luck.

The next day, while looking into RMA’ing the drive back to WD, I downloaded their lifeguard tools and ran it on the drive. I choose to run the quick test, which says should take five minutes. After and hours it had made excatly zero progress. This demon possessed drive is out to destroy everything good in my computer world, and I will be glad to have this evil object out of my house.

Overall I guess as a maintenance tool it works, and if it can notify of when drives are going bad, giving you time to backup data, then its worth the $90. If not sheug I guess I am out that cash.

As a side note, I have had others tell me that the freezer fix helped them, but at this point I fear all my food will rot if I put this drive anywhere near the fridge.