Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hard Drive Revival! Get Your Data Back!

Is there anything worse than a dead hard drive, when you boot up the computer as you usually do every day, only to see that dreaded hard drive failure message?
It's either hardwrae failure, software, or the computer itself. What dto do about it?

The most common hard drive data loss problems originate from corruption of the master boot record, FAT, or directory. Those are software problems which can usually be taken care of
with a combination of tools like Fdisk /mbr to refresh the master boot record followed by a reboot and Norton disk doctor or similar drive repair programs.

The most common hardware problems are a bad micro controller (onboard microchip), a bad
drive motor, or a bad head mechanism.

To narrow down the source of the problem;
1. Can the BIOS see and identify the hard drive correctly? If not, then the hard drives onboard controller is bad. (or a bad\loose drive cable)

2. Does the drive motor spin and maintain a constant velocity? This indicates that the drive motor is functioning.

3. If the drive surges and dies, the most likely cause is a bad controller (assuming the drive is cool). An electronic signal gate that allows the drive to control the motor may not be staying open. The drive needs a new PC controller board.

4. Do you hear any clicking and clattering when the machine is turned on and initialized (but before the system attempts to access the hard drive). Head clatter would indicate that the
spindle bearings are worn or even damaged.

5. There is always the possibility that the controller you are using in the machine has gone to controller heaven.

Scenario 1
If the drive spins
Try booting to the A:> prompt from a floppy, run Fdisk and check to see if Fdisk can see a partition on the hard drive. If Fdisk can see the partition, that means that it can access the drive and that the controller electronics are functioning correctly. If there is no head clatter, it may be just a matter of disk corruption which commonly occurs when a surge hits your machine and overwhelms the power supply. An electro magnetic pulse can wipe out the master boot record, and file allocation tables. Fdisk can fix the master boot record, and Norton Disk Doctor can restore or rebuild the file structure and Directories.

Scenario 2
The drive spins but Fdisk can't see it.
Try the drive in another system and repeat the test to confirm that Fdisk can't read through the drives onboard controller. If it sees it in another system, then your machines hard drive interface is bad. You can try an upgraded or replacement controller card like a Promise or CMD Technologies (there are others) in you machine after disabling the integrated controller in the BIOS, but if the integrated controller went bad, it may just be symptomatic of further failures and you'd be wise to replace the motherboard. Trying the drive in another machine also eliminates the variable that your machines 12 volt power output being bad.

Scenario 3
The drive spins, but makes clattering and clicking sounds
If you get head clatter but a constant velocity on the drive motor (no surging), you might try sticking the hard drive in the freezer for about 12 hours (in a airtight, dry, sealed freezer bag). This is an old trick from back in the days of the MFM/ESDI driver era. This can cause the drive components to shrink enough to make the track marker align with the tracks. We don't see that kind of platter spindle wear much anymore, but back in the old days, the balancing and bearings weren't as good. Still, under the right circumstances, it might help. It would depend on how old the drive is and how many hours of wear have occurred. You have to be quick to get your info off the drive when it works. Back then, the drives were much smaller, so there wasn't so much to copy. So, go after the important data first. and do it fast! You may only get a few minutes of access.

Scenario 4
The drive doesn't spin
Either the onboard controller is bad or the motor is bad (assuming you did try the drive in
another machine). It's time to hit the net and local independent shops to see if you can locate another drive of the same make and model that's good. Since the drive is probably an older drive and no longer in distribution, your best bet is to find an identical used drive. If you know
someone with the same make and model, you might be wise to try and persuade them to sell you their drive with an offer of providing them with a free upgraded drive. If you can locate
an identical drive, start with the controller replacement ... this is the simplest and least invasive. If swapping the controller doesn't produce the desire result, you can tear into the drive and swap the motors. While you have both drive opened up to accomplish this, scrutinize the platters, heads and armatures. You might even hook the drive up and power it from a system with both drives attached. This way, you could see anything that deviates between the actions of both drives when they are initialized. Swapping patters is unlikely to produce any positive result. They are a balanced system like the tires on your car and I suspect that the balance will be different for each drive as will other variables.

Last but not least
Data Recovery Services
There's always Ontrack Corp. who will attempt to recover your info starting at $500 and up . They do not repair or return the drive either.