OT: Dead drive recovery service recommendations

johnmeyer wrote on 11/15/2009, 1:01 PM
Computer wouldn't boot today. Long story short: 1TB Seagate SATA drive died, and stopped the remaining disks from being recognized. Fortunately, removing the disk drive let me resume using my computer.

This is the first TOTAL disk failure I've had in twenty years. I've had two or three partial failures, but never total failure that is so bad it stops the computer from booting. I've tried the usual freezer trick, but Windows won't even recognize the drive at the BIOS level. And, if I leave it in the computer for a few minutes (it's in a removable caddy), it gets HOT.

So, it is broken at a pretty fundamental level.

This was more than a scratch drive, but less than a mission critical item. I'm going to lose a chunk of my old music performance video collection that hadn't yet been transferred to DVD. Probably a few other things that I haven't yet realized. However, nothing precious enough to warrant spending $1,200 (the first recovery quote I got).

So, for a drive that is dead and will probably have to be opened to do a recovery, is anyone aware of any service under $1,000, or am I just smoking the bad stuff to think such a thing would exist?


xberk wrote on 11/15/2009, 1:28 PM
Love to hear an answer John as I too have a Seagate 1TB that is toast. I have not found a "cheap" solution to data recovery that I can trust. My drive "clicks" and will not be recognized in the bios. The drive was only 6 months old when it quit. I too tried the freezer bit (which has worked in other cases) but no luck. I'm not up for spending the $1200 on the data (mostly archived video ) but might go for a solution that costs far less -- not sure if I'd even go $500. In my case, I'll probably send the thing into Seagate and get a replacement. I've waited about 3 months so far and have not found a pressing need for anything this dead drive contained. Starting to feel like I can just lose the data.

Meanwhile I'm getting religion on backing up even archived data.M y fault for not imaging this drive long ago. Like an idiot I trusted Seagate. Lesson learned.
- Paul

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amendegw wrote on 11/15/2009, 1:52 PM

I do some part-time tech support at the local University. Occasionally we see hard drives go south, and have had mixed success with SpinRite. see: http://www.grc.com/spinrite.htm

SpinRite is very persistant at attempting to fix disk errors. Often times we will let it run all weekend before it finds and repairs(?) the drive. A 1TB drive could take a very long time. Sometimes SpinRite doesn't help at all.

Now that I've said that... if the BIOS does not recoginze the drive, booting to SpinRite probably wouldn't recognize it either. Furthermore, the problem sounds like it's in the electronics of the drive rather than the media itself (and I don't think SpinRite would could do anything for that).

By any chance do you have an external drive enclosure? There's a slim (maybe very, very slim) chance that your computer might recognize the drive via a USB connection rather than the SATA controller.

Good Luck!

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jrazz wrote on 11/15/2009, 2:03 PM
Here is a comparison site.

I have used Aerodr and ESS data recovery (you can find them in the link above). I had two hard drives go out (one was the acronis backup drive and the other was the main drive). I sent them both to Aerodr. They told me in less than 3 days they could not recovery them, but ESS probably could. They said they could send them to ESS for me for free and ESS would give me a 10% discount as it was a referral from Aerodr, or they could send them back free of charge. As best I can tell, both are located in Illinois. I chose to send them to Aerodr due to the low price and the fact they were in IL. I told them to go ahead and send them off. Within 3 days I got a call and an email stating they could recover the data and if I wanted them to, it would be a set amount. I don't remember if it was 800 or 900USD, but I told them to go ahead and recover the main drive. They did and shipped it back on a USB external drive that I think they charged me $45.00 for.

I was pleased with what they did- of course no one likes to pay the price but it was worth it to my client. The only thing that kind of caught me as odd was that they were quick to give it to ESS. It makes me think Aerodr is a front for ESS. They lure you in with the cheap price and then refer you to ESS. Of course, I have no evidence to base this on.

j razz
RalphM wrote on 11/15/2009, 2:42 PM
The other possibility is to try and find the same exact model drive either new or used and transplant the electronics onto the failed drive. If it works, that's way cheaper than a recovery service.

musicvid10 wrote on 11/15/2009, 3:34 PM
$1200 might be a bit high, but $800-$900 is not uncommon in my area.
If it were "my" music videos, I would probably go ahead and pay it if I didn't already have them on a dvd somewhere. I don't think I'd let an amateur touch it.
apit34356 wrote on 11/15/2009, 3:39 PM
John, the external USB drive case can be a helpful test and cheapest, but RalphM replacement of the electronics is a strong candidate, while the drive is expose, check if drive spinning freely, plus check head arm for movement......... but be careful with the arm. after replacing the electronics, use an external USB disk case for testing ..... mainly to protect MB.

John, Lynn's cable sounds good, but you use hot swap boxs right? and you have put in different drives in same location? Seagate has had production issues the last couple of years, so I fear that the cable solution will be too lucky.
lynn1102 wrote on 11/15/2009, 3:54 PM
John, this may sound too easy, but I've had several SATA cables die in the past few months. Drive would not show up anywhere. Checked voltages on the cable the they checked good. I tried revesing the cable with my other drive with no help. I got two new cables and one of the new ones was bad. Replaced cable and all is well.

johnmeyer wrote on 11/15/2009, 5:01 PM
Thanks to everyone. You've got me on the path to what I hope will be full recovery.

The suggestion to replace the circuit board got me going in the right direction. One site showed how a protection zener could be taken out during power up. Encouraged, I took off the circuit board, something that on this drive can be done without breaking any seals or leaving a trace that would make it difficult to return (as a last resort, Seagate has already agreed to replace it under warranty).

The circuit board tested out OK, however, so the simple fix of cutting out a shorted zener won't help.

However, I then did some more research and found this amazing post:

The Solution for Seagate 7200.11 HDDs (final and revised version)

posted ten months ago, which is followed by 110 pages (!!) of replies. In other words, the mother of all threads. The net of what is stated there is that the drive contains a firmware bug that, one fine day, will absolutely positively cause the drive to wake up dead, just as mine did. However, the data on the platter is sitting there just fine and dandy and happy as you please.

So, I can either find an identical drive and temporarily use its board on this drive (it takes less than one minute to remove the board); or, I can purchase a few parts and write over the garbage that this faulty firmware wrote that renders the drive dead; or I can send it to a service that will do this (I found one that charges a flat $100); or I can wrangle with Seagate and see if they will do the repair, while preserving my data (apparently they have done this for some customers).

One way or another, I think I will eventually recover my data.

Thanks to everyone who posted for getting me in the right direction. I'll post back here when I have a resolution, hopefully a positive one.

johnmeyer wrote on 11/15/2009, 6:22 PM
Further research:

I can't use another board because my particular problem is caused by data stored within the drive enclosure. So, I have to do the Full Monty hack. There are several YouTube tutorials on how it is done.

So, tomorrow I fix or fry my drive.
musicvid10 wrote on 11/15/2009, 6:40 PM
Not to make light of your situation, but it reminds me of the $20 power supply fix vs. the $250 digital instrument cluster replacement on my old Blazer . . .
fldave wrote on 11/15/2009, 8:15 PM
John, is that drive one of the affected Seagate massive alert ones? Someone was having trouble on this forum with a Seagate drive a few months ago and I pointed the link to the Seagate fix for a new patch, and it helped them. I hope it's not the same issue you had. There was a commonly known issue with 1tb drives, I am one letter off from the affected drives.

I hope you get it fixed.
johnmeyer wrote on 11/15/2009, 10:00 PM
John, is that drive one of the affected Seagate massive alert ones?Yes. There are several different forums with 100+ page threads (that would be the equivalent of about 1,000 posts on a thread in this forum) about this subject.

The fix is not hard except for building the interface cable. I have all the parts, but since this is a one-off deal and no second chances, I'm a little hesitant to jump in until I have it all 100% figured out. I need to go RS-232 to TTL. I have drawers full of jellybean logic chips and an old breadboard from 1974 that I haven't used for a long time. It is at times like this that I really do begin to feel quite old ... this used to be simple stuff.
apit34356 wrote on 11/15/2009, 11:39 PM
"RS-232 to TTL." well that's good news, I think there are cheap line driver chips out there still. I would think low-current ones would function ok, I would be concern if their were used in high data transfer exceeding 500k bit per short distance, but old 232 chips could be push 50k-100k by the mid 80's.
gpsmikey wrote on 11/16/2009, 2:52 PM
One little tidbit here - someone's comment reminded me of a often made mistake with backups ... when you back up a drive or image it, MAKE SURE YOU SAVE IT TO A DIFFERENT DRIVE, NOT JUST A DIFFERENT PARTITION ON THE SAME DRIVE !!
I have seen a number of people bitten with that one. A backup to a different partition on the same drive covers you if you corrupt the data or accidentally delete something, but it does nothing if the whole drive dies. I have known a number of people to make that mistake.

TeetimeNC wrote on 11/16/2009, 4:27 PM
John, sorry to hear about your problem, but good you have a potential fix. I am very surprised that Seagate wouldn't be providing everything they could to help people out of this jam. It sounds like a great opportunity for them to give people a reason to consider a Seagate drive in the future. Have you checked with Seagate customer or technical support?

Coursedesign wrote on 11/16/2009, 4:28 PM
Seagate lost control of their QA when they set up a factory in China last fall.

A major disaster with fallout all over the world.
johnmeyer wrote on 11/16/2009, 5:07 PM
Seagate lost control of their QA when they set up a factory in China last fall.That may be true, although I have no way to know or guess one way or the other. However, THIS problem has nothing to do with where it was built, but where and how it was designed.

It is a major-league design flaw, not a manufacturing defect.

I am very surprised that Seagate wouldn't be providing everything they could to help people out of this jam. It sounds like a great opportunity for them to give people a reason to consider a Seagate drive in the future. Have you checked with Seagate customer or technical support?There was a LOT of discussion about Seagate's response in that massive thread I linked to earlier. In the first month after drives began to fail, they did provide a recovery service. The problem Seagate ran into, however, was the scope of the problem. ALL 7200.11 drives of all sizes were affected (I am guessing the failures may be running into the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands). Also, while the vast majority of failures were from this bug, there were also the more severe, non-recoverable failures sprinkled in. So, after initially trying to do the right thing, Seagate backed off and withdrew its offer to restore the drives.

There is now a whole cottage industry of individuals who, for fees ranging from $40-200, will fix your drive. I've had some really nifty email exchanges with two of them in the past 24 hours. As you would expect, they are EE students making a few extra bucks on the side. They only charge if they can fix the problem. Since the whole thing takes less than five minutes once you have the setup, it is a very nice hourly wage.

I am waiting for the one piece of hardware I need to be able to do the fix myself (I decided against trying to breadboard my own hardware), but if the fix works as planned, it will take less than two minutes to recover the entire disk.

CClub wrote on 11/16/2009, 5:27 PM
There are not many things that can make a grown man turn ashen than when you lose your data. A couple months ago, I invested in 5 1 TB external drives, made copies of all recent projects that I estimated customers may still want copies of, made copies of everything, and put into a locked firebox. It took quite a bit of time, but I sleep better. I figure the odds are against both the original hard drive and the backup dying at the same time.
johnmeyer wrote on 11/20/2009, 11:51 PM
I fixed my totally dead Seagate drive, and am in the process of offloading the entire 1TB contents onto another drive. Not one byte of data lost. I followed, to the letter, the instructions given on this site:

The Solution for Seagate 7200.11 HDDs

This is a huge problem affecting a very large number of people, but unlike many hard drive failures, since this is the result of faulty firmware, and the data is still intact, the drive can be recovered.

The ability to get information like this on the Internet still astounds me.
craftech wrote on 11/21/2009, 5:16 AM
Thats great news John. I am happy for you, and thanks for sharing the solution.

johnmeyer wrote on 11/21/2009, 10:45 AM
Now I have to decide whether to upgrade the firmware, which will avoid having to do this again (the firmware will eventually over-write the same area of internal drive memory, causing the same problem). The drive is perfectly operational at the moment, but there have been some reports that the firmware upgrade can fail, resulting in a drive that truly has become a "brick."

For the time being, I'm not going to fix it any further because at the moment it ain't broke.
Tattoo wrote on 11/21/2009, 11:45 AM

Congrats on fixing your drive. That's outstanding!

For anyone else reading this thread, I had the EXACT same experience as JRazz with Aero Dr & ESS two years ago. My drive was an older Seagate (7200.8, I think) drive. Pretty sure mine was a full head crash, as it was making bad noises. ESS was able to recover almost all of my data, thankfully. Still in the hunt for a good NAS solution to make sure this doesn't happen again!

srode wrote on 11/21/2009, 4:23 PM
WD Caviar Black drive might be a better choice for reliability. Great ot hear you didn't lose anything!
cbrillow wrote on 11/21/2009, 8:20 PM
There are also some YouTube videos that show fixes for these drives. Here's a link to an interesting variant:

Disclaimer: I make no claims about the effectiveness of the described procedure, only that it was kinda fun to watch...