Hard drive blues.

Gosh. The past week had been gru­elling, stren­u­ous, labo­ri­ous, painstak­ing, plus all those adjec­tives you can think of that belong in that same page.

Why? Cos last week, my 2-year-old 160GB exter­nal hard disk drive decided to freak­ing die. Drag­ging along with it 6 years worth of about 15,000 fam­ily pho­tos and my freak­ing 50GB mp3 col­lec­tion I had since 2002.

Now who wouldn’t freak out?

160Gig HDD dead

Noth­ing worked. I tried every­thing a human could think of to revive the tick­ing hard drive, send­ing it for pro­fes­sional data recov­ery was obvi­ously ruled out due to high-cost, I scoured online forums for solu­tions but noth­ing worked. Until I remem­bered awhile back read­ing of a pro­posed method to revive a dead HDD by, drum­roll please… FREEZING IT.

Fin­ished laugh­ing? C’mon. I was des­per­ate, okay? And yeah, it was pro­posed that by lit­er­ally freez­ing your dead HDD in a freak­ing real house­hold freezer, a dead drive would come back to life. Now how cool (pun not intended. XD) is that?

Fujitsu laptop HDD

So I decided in des­per­a­tion to try out that wacky idea, but first, on our late Sony Vaio’s dead HDD (well it died awhile after I res­cued all data off it in that post). Since its dead and worth­less, might as well be my lab rat. =D

It was pointed out in the drive-freezing dis­cus­sions that they have to be secured in a ziplock bag before con­demn­ing them into the icy-cold hell our daily seafood and meat­stuff expe­ri­ence each day.

So I dug around and found these Tesco reseal­able food bags my dad got in KL awhile ago.

Tesco ziplock bags

Per­fect. Just what I wanted. So I stuff the old drive into it, zipped it up air­tight and secure to pre­vent con­den­sa­tion, and dump it into the freezer.

Freezing laptop HDD

After wait­ing impa­tiently for 2 hours, I took it out. In the dis­cus­sions, sug­ges­tions for the freez­ing dura­tion var­ied from an hour to a whole week. I thought an hour might be too short, so maybe two will do.

I took the drive out from the ziplock bag, wrap rolls of tis­sue around it, plugged it into my lap­top, lo and behold.. noth­ing hap­pened. It was still an icy-cold dead drive.

So much for that urban myth eh. I ended up get­ting more des­per­ate and decided in a rash to pro­ceed with another freez­ing attempt, this time — on the real thing.

160Gig HDD in bag

This is it. 6 years worth of price­less mem­o­ries caught on cam­era in that metal case. This either works, or risk the drive get­ting wet out of con­den­sa­tion and caus­ing fatal short cir­cuits, con­demn­ing the drive and every­thing in it forever.

I had no choice.

160Gig HDD in freezer

Try it, or its just a dead drive with noth­ing you can do.

This time, I took no chances, I left the drive in the freezer overnight and into the morn­ing for a whole 15 hours.

160Gig HDD wrapped

Next morn­ing, I repeat every­thing I did with the old drive only this time I was extra cau­tious, and used a kitchen towel to get rid of all that nasty condensation.

I pow­ered up every­thing, sat there and prayed.

For what felt like for­ever, it began click­ety click­ing. Then after about 5 min­utes, it mirac­u­lously hummed to life. OMG.

160Gig HDD condensation

Vista detected it imme­di­ately. But unfor­tu­nately none of the recov­ery soft­ware I had worked, PC Inspec­tor etc. refused to load at all, even Explorer itself crashes. I had to resort to using the old and faith­ful com­mand prompt to do all the copying.

With that, I repeated the freeze and res­cue cycle for every­day in the past week. Each time, the icy cold drive gave me about 3–4 hours of copy­ing before it warms up and start its click­ety click­ing again.

To date, I had recov­ered some 11GB of pho­tos and 21GB of mp3s and count­ing. The mp3s were OK, but a minor­ity of the pho­tos were cor­rupted. I would put the fig­ure at about 95% on recov­ery rates.

Still laugh­ing? =P

Next time you have a dead drive, you know what to do. =D But of course, you need not be like me and go through all that trou­ble, for a bet­ter advice from me would be to BACKUP YOUR IMPORTANT DATA WEEKLY. No wait, I should grab a mir­ror and shout that at myself. =\


Edit: I realised that in a hurry to fin­ish the post I kinda for­got to cover two things. First was how the first freez­ing attempt didn’t work. My deduc­tions would be that that old drive was screwed up beyond repair (psst, I found it among a stack of sta­tionery) but if the mechan­ics inside were still intact with all that knock­ing, then the short dura­tion of freez­ing could be blamed. Maybe a mere 2 hours isn’t enough to do the magic. =P

Sec­ond is how the whole freez­ing thing works. It def­i­nitely sounds far-fetched as a fix for dead hard dri­ves. I’m no hard disk dude and have no idea of the physics behind this trick but I’ve read a detailed expla­na­tion by an engi­neer about the freez­ing trick some­where. Can’t seem to find it any­more though. =\

by shenghan in Happenings, Life, Rants on 23rd February, 2008 at 9pm, Saturday, February 23rd, 2008 09:59 pm GMT +8


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  1. wying said

    i do backup my impor­tant files. Espe­cially pho­tos, mem­o­rable ones, cannot-afford-to-lose ones. i burn it into CDs.

  2. ember said

    Hehe. I *used* to do that too. But that was in what, 2005?

    I have about 3,500 pho­tos in my ‘2007’ folder and that aver­ages to about 10 pho­tos taken a day for the past year.

    Im way too lazy to burn stuff that often. XD

    But that lazi­ness has taken its toll though, its weekly back­ups for me from now on! =\

  3. Hans L. said

    How did the 160GB died?

    And for pho­tos… wait until you start tak­ing them in RAW. Then it’ll be a whole new nightmare.

  4. ember said

    Well it started tick­ing out of the blue and XP would crash every­time I try access it. Maybe its also worth men­tion­ing that the cas­ing was much warmer than usual that day. Over­heat­ing perhaps?

    RAW? Haha. I ain’t no pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher (yet) hehe. Guess you are then? Wanna share some pics? xD

    I love admir­ing pho­tos you guys with mighty dSLRs take. =P

  5. Pink Cotton said

    this is so cool! no pun intended :P

  6. ember said

    *shiv­ers* =P

  7. ahBONG said

    walao eh!!!! miracle!!!! :D

  8. ember said

    yeah man. a freakin cool mir­a­cle! =D

  9. Hans L. said

    Think I’ll try with my 3.5″ 160GB. It goes click-click-click.

    Eh, it’s the per­son behind the viewfinder that maketh the pic­ture, not the equipment.

  10. ember said

    Wow yeah. Thats exactly the same case as mine. You should try it and do share if it works. =P

    Well yeah. You’re right on that but the IS a dif­fer­ence when a per­son uses seri­ous gears.

  11. Wayne said

    I read that same thread as well on the net to freeze your hard­ware, it does work but dare not to try myself. bravo on you though. Per­son­ally I got 3 Portable HDD so I think am able to sort those data out hehe! :)

  12. ember said

    Well as I said, its a dead drive any­way so I thought it wouldn’t hurt try­ing. =P

    And yeap, its always good to have spare porta­bles lying around. Luck­ily I had another spare 160GB HDD which I filled up with all the res­cued data from the dead drive.

  13. cdason said

    I should have known about this trick before I decided to just for­mat my whole 40GB of MP3!! huhuhu

  14. ember said

    LOL. why did you have to for­mat it? wasn’t read­able anymore?

    I would always make sure i’ve tried every bloody way pos­si­ble to res­cue data before thrash­ing or for­mat­ting everything. =\

  15. Brian said

    cool­ness! it actu­ally works! no pun intended…

  16. ember said

    yeah it does. XD

    mir­a­cles do hap­pen, my friend. =D

  17. Jesse said

    It’s hap­pened to my exter­nal HD too. It kept click­ing before it couldn’t be detected by my com­puter. Sav­ing backup data in that lit­tle hard drive is just risky!

  18. ember said

    It is. I now keep two iden­ti­cal copies of any pho­tos / impor­tant doc­u­ments I can’t lose.

  19. […] 302/365: You’re look­ing two new exter­nal HDDs my Dad bought back from Lowyat – a 2.5″ and a Buf­falo 1TB 3.5″. The 1TB drive will be used to mir­ror 7 years worth of about ~50GB of fam­ily pho­tos along with other data cur­rently stored in an older 320GB 3.5″ enclo­sure seen in the back­ground. Back­ing up data is no joke – we learnt that the hard way. […]

  20. FUJIWARA said

    Hello bro!
    may i know,is it once u take it out from freezer,u plug it and power it up immediately?

    • shenghan said

      Yes. That’s the point — you’ll need to sal­vage as much data as can you can while your HD inter­nals are freez­ing cold and con­tracted. Once it heats up, it’ll stop work­ing again as the com­po­nents swell ever so slightly and assum­ing, an unwanted con­tact of inter­nal com­po­nents in your HDD caused its failure.

  21. FUJIWARA said

    thx for the reply!!
    but the mat­ter is when u take it out from freezer,the hard disk cover has so many water drops,don’t u worry it will spoiled when u power it up?

    • shenghan said

      Yeah water con­denses on it almost imme­di­ately but I reckon that only hap­pens to the cas­ing. I was con­stantly wip­ing it down with a towel any­way, just to make sure.

  22. FUJIWARA said

    ok i got it bro.
    so is it safe even water con­dense on it?