0 thoughts on “Does freezing a non-responsive disk drive ever work?

  1. I’ve heard of positive results too. Obviously, whether the trick has any chance of helping depends on why the drive isn’t working; I think it’s supposed to help if the issue is with the bearings.

    I take it there was nothing on the drive worth the cost of a data recovery service.

  2. Treppenwitz: Are you suggesting that my messing with the drive obviates a later payment to a data recovery service???????

    But to answer your question, what is on the drive is worth something, but not three or four hundred dollars. I think.

  3. While freezing it is a definite thing to try, I did once rescue a laptop drive by heating it in the oven first. The logic was that the laptop had been running hot, and had been turned on and running for many months without interruption. When the computer was turned off and allowed to cool, the drive refused to spin up again. Once I got the computer booted, I copied the data over to another machine, then discarded the hard drive.

  4. I’ve been told that tapping them hard, or simply dropping them onto a hard surface sometimes does the trick, too. Not recommended if it has great value, though. It either works, or it’s the last thing you do to it before it’s guaranteed dead.

  5. “Treppenwitz: Are you suggesting that my messing with the drive obviates a later payment to a data recovery service???????”

    I don’t believe that was the suggestion. But, as is often the way with such arcane devices as hard drives, freezing the drive may render the data unrecoverable when it was recoverable before freezing. As Treppenwitz says, it really depends on what the cause is.

    Generally the best approach with a non-responsive drive that contains valuable data is to ship it straight to a recovery facility. Don’t pass Go! Don’t Collect $200.

  6. Nobody who blogs about releases of BSD, even getting the exact flavor wrong, should be standing in line at ‘The Geek Squad’ counter.

  7. Rich: I just wanted to know what they charged for disk recover. Then, when they started to ask questions about the disk, the compression used, the file system, etc. I was going to tell them what kind of disk it was and that if they needed to know that other stuff they were morons and clearly would not be able to help. Loudly. Then I was going to storm out.

  8. I’m going to follow up on my “heating in the oven” comment. Some day, some bozo with a search engine is going to find this page and read the comments, looking for a way to fix a customer’s drive. When he does, and reads my remark, I hope he also reads this one: I was talking about a conventional oven set quite low (about 80C). The microwave in the computer technician break room is not a suitable substitute. Even if you wash the exploded twinkie off the inside to keep the drive from getting sticky.

    Thank you for your attention.

  9. Back in the early 2000’s we had a bunch of Dell machines with the same HD in them. HD’s all started going bad at the same time, one right after another. LAN Support’s solution was indeed to freeze them and then put them in as a slave drive and pull all the data off them. Worked like a charm on about a dozen computers in a row, so I would say under certain circumstances it can be an effective solution.

  10. My personal anecdotal evidence is that freezing a failed hard drive has worked 3 out of 7 times in attempts to recover data.

  11. Freezing hard drive did not work for me, but your mileage may vary.
    On the other hand, Doing nothing is guaranteed to produce no results.

  12. The freezing trick is primarily for drives that won’t spin up. If the drive spins up already (you can feel and hear the spinning) then the best thing to try is SpinRite by Gibson Research GRC.com. I’m a very happy owner of SpinRite, it rescues data far more often than I thought possible.

  13. Well it depends. What is the dead, or dying, drive doing? There used to be a page at Hitachi which had noises for different failure types, but looks like the wayback machine needs to be used.


    Then you can tell if the freeze trick will work. I’ve gotten it to work myself twice and failed 3 times. Depeneds on what is dead. If its the electronics and not the plates themeselves, you could try and get the exact same model drive and swap out the controller card. That may work as well.

  14. In preparation for the freeze-run, I do have a general question. I may post this on facebook as well.

    What does a Mac System X file system look like? If I can see the fs, I will want to find Lizzie’s home directory as soon as possible so I can start dumping files onto a different drive. I imagine this will look a lot like a *nix fs. So there should something like /home/ or /usr/ followed by a recognizable user name. I will recognize folders and such once I see them, but I’ll want to know which way to drill in to get there as quickly as possible.

  15. My mac’s root looks like this (probably an untabbed mess):

    iktmacbook:~ ian$ ls -l /
    total 36517
    drwxrwxr-x+ 103 root admin 3502 20 Oct 19:37 Applications
    drwxrwxr-x@ 16 root admin 544 16 Jun 08:52 Developer
    drwxrwxr-t+ 66 root admin 2244 17 Oct 14:33 Library
    drwxr-xr-x@ 2 root wheel 68 23 Jun 07:19 Network
    drwxr-xr-x 4 root wheel 136 17 Oct 14:12 System
    lrwxr-xr-x 1 root admin 60 28 Mar 2008 User Guides And Information -> /Library/Documentation/User Guides and Information.localized
    drwxr-xr-x 8 root admin 272 17 Oct 14:23 Users
    drwxrwxrwt@ 6 root admin 204 20 Oct 19:38 Volumes
    drwxr-xr-x@ 39 root wheel 1326 17 Oct 14:10 bin
    drwxrwxr-t@ 2 root admin 68 23 Jun 07:19 cores
    dr-xr-xr-x 3 root wheel 4344 20 Oct 12:37 dev
    lrwxr-xr-x@ 1 root wheel 11 17 Oct 14:10 etc -> private/etc
    dr-xr-xr-x 2 root wheel 1 20 Oct 12:37 home
    -rw-r–r–@ 1 root wheel 18672224 1 Aug 06:49 mach_kernel
    dr-xr-xr-x 2 root wheel 1 20 Oct 12:37 net
    drwxr-xr-x@ 6 root wheel 204 17 Oct 14:23 private
    drwxr-xr-x@ 64 root wheel 2176 17 Oct 14:10 sbin
    lrwxr-xr-x@ 1 root wheel 11 17 Oct 14:10 tmp -> private/tmp
    drwxr-xr-x@ 12 root wheel 408 17 Oct 14:33 usr
    lrwxr-xr-x@ 1 root wheel 11 17 Oct 14:10 var -> private/var

    Users is the equivalent of the linux ‘home’ dir. The filesystem isn’t like a linux one though – it’s HFS+.

  16. Geek Squad stuff

    They don’t do HDD recovery in-store, so it wouldn’t be surprising if in-store employees couldn’t answer questions about the recovery process itself, especially since so few people ask followup questions after finding out the cost. I worked there for about a year, and I can count on one hand the number of people who didn’t (justifiably) balk at the cost.

    SpinRite by Gibson Research

    I don’t have any personal experience with SpinRite, but the consensus on the tech forums I read seems to be that Steve Gibson is a crank. That said, although Gibson overhypes the program, it apparently does work. Mostly.

  17. A couple of points I should have made in my previous comment.

    First, SpinRite is a last resort when you are not willing to spend hundreds of dollars on professional clean room recovery. As you noticed Greg, it writes back to the disk so under worst case scenarios it can take a drive that may have been recoverable for $1000.00 and make it unrecoverable at any price.

    Second SpinRite comes with a 30-day absolute satisfaction guarantee so if you don’t like it you get a refund. http://www.grc.com/cs/licenseinfo.htm

    So, if your at the point of giving up because nothing else works (e.g. ddrescue can’t read the drive), SpinRite gives you one last out before tossing it in the trash and facing lost data.

  18. I don’t understand how a piece of software like SpinRite can make a hard drive do something (work, read data) that a run of the mill system can’t make it do.

  19. Tim @ 28,

    SpinRite does it by not giving up trying as quickly as an OS or file system utility will.

    Sometimes trying more times will get that one good enough read that lets the data be moved to a good area of the disk. SpinRite takes this to the extreme, in some situations it will try for weeks and finally succeed in making the drive readable. You then will have one last shot to get the data off and hopefully the weeks of anxiety will drive home the lessen to backup your data.

    Myself and the IT guy at work have never had it take more than 4 days and it has worked in better than half of the times we have used it. We’ve never used it for our own or company data because it is easier to just restore from the backups. Our usage has always been for co-workers, family and friends home PC’s. The usual scenario is the drive crashes and it has data that is not backed up anywhere. The data isn’t worth the $500.00 to $1500.00 it costs for a clean room repair so at that point there is nothing to lose.

  20. mac os user data is kept in /Users/[username]/…

    the /usr and /home directories are there, but largely unused by the upper level mac os.

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