Scratched Hard Drive

Two enquiries in this post, both concerning restoring the information from broken hard drives: the first about recovering data from a hard drive with a scratched platter, and the second regarding retrieving the files from a laptop that stopped working after tea was spilt on it.

Scratched Hard Drive Platter

Scratches on a hard drive platter | Data Clinic LtdThis is an interesting enquiry about the possibilities of data retrieval from a hard drive with a scratched top platter:

“Please can you provide me with you thoughts on receiving data from a 2TB WD external drive, which has a tiny scratch on the top platter. I have tried another company who assured me they could retrieve 99% of the data. Then i was told about a week later that after switching the drive on the donor parts used were immediately damaged. I have a picture of the open drive showing the scratch. If this is something you think you could do, please email me with your prices and also what kind of guarantees you can or can not give. I have been in touch with one other lab, so i would like to get an idea of all my possible options before i proceed.”

It would be nice if companies like the one above were honest instead of providing false hope to people. A scratched platter on a hard drive is a significant issue and often data from hard drives with scratched platters can not be fully retrieved. By saying they were 99% sure they could recover your data they were, unfortunately lying to you.

Depending on the capabilities of the data recovery company, if there is damage to only one of the platter surfaces, it may be possible to eliminate that surface from the imaging process, thereby recovering the data from all the other surfaces. Attempts can then be made to put together the imaged data from all the other platters. Sometimes, this is sufficient and a decent recovery can still be made. In other cases the data on the platter with the scratched surface is essential to the recovery of many of the files. It varies on a case by case basis and really, we’d need to see the hard drive to assess the situation.

Also worth noting is the skills of data recovery companies vary considerably, with many (as I suspect the one above) unable to recover any of the data from a hard drive if there is damage to any of the platters – ie. they lack the ability to isolate a damaged platter and still retrieve the data from the other platters. We at Data Clinic can isolate damaged platters and recover the information from non-damaged platters but as I said above, it really is on a case by case basis.

Spilt Tea on Hard Drive

Spilt drink on computer keyboard | Data Clinic LtdSpilling a drink on a laptop and then losing access to the hard drive happens more often than you’d think. I found myself retrieving the files from a friend’s drive with this problem a few months ago. Here’s a typical example:

“I have a Toshiba 2.5″ drive (Toshiba MK1637GSX) from a customer’s laptop. He spilt tea onto the laptop and the laptop died. After removing the hard drive found that he was unable to access the drive. The client came to me and I tried using Recover my Files from which sometimes can do the job, but not in this case. There is no sign that any moisture has got onto/ into the drive. Please could you provide me with a quote as well as an address to post the drive to. If my client is happy with the quote he will want me to send it off to you.”

Although you don’t give any symptoms of the failure of the hard drive it’s highly likely that the hard drive is now ‘dead’ ie. it is showing no signs of life, not spinning, not ticking, no lights coming on etc, nothing. These are actually the classic symptoms of an electrical failure, and as such this is good news as the data from this type of problem is usually fully recoverable.

Don’t be tempted to try and repair the drive yourself: there is no point. As the hard drive was on when the liquid was spilt this will have caused the controller board on the hard drive to short and damaged some components on it. Waiting for it to dry out will therefore not bring the hard drive to life as you still have the damaged components. Also don’t look to be swapping the controller board with a similar one as this won’t work either. Controller boards contain information that is unique to the hard drive they are attached to. Attaching the board from a different hard drive will therefore not work.

Retrieving the information from a hard drive with an electrical fault will involve drying the hard drive out before swapping the controller board and the unique data on it with a compatible board sourced from an identical hard drive. A close match is not good enough.