Q: I have a Western Digital external hard drive that started clicking a while back. The WD website suggested that the drive needed more power and to try using a dual USB cable to increase the power. Needless to say, it didn’t work and now the drive seems to have stopped spinning all together. Is my data gone forever? — Jim
Despite the vast knowledge that most technology people have, the world of data recovery is relatively unknown and mysterious to even the most experienced technician.
I am shocked that Western Digital didn’t warn you better about the risks you take in powering up any drive that is clicking, even if it is from lack of power.
The overwhelming majority of clicking hard drive cases are caused by a malfunction in the drive itself.
You need only to review how this lack of power could suddenly occur on a system that the drive has been working on for a long time to understand how this solution has a slim chance. Western Digital should have prefaced this solution with “if you are attaching the drive to a new system and it does not contain any critical data, try using the USB power booster cable.”
The fact that your drive has stopped spinning doesn’t mean that the data is gone forever, but it’s very likely that the cost involved to have a professional recover the data just increased significantly.
If you really want the data back, your best option is a send it to a true data recovery lab that can assess your situation and advise you on your options.
Whenever you’re faced with this scenario, you must first evaluate how important the data is on this inaccessible hard drive.
If the answer is invaluable, then you should never power up any hard drive that is making clicking, grinding or strange noises. Each time you turn it on, you could be further damaging the drive’s media or using up the few cycles that are left that would allow a knowledgeable recovery technician to secure the drive before it totally fails.
In my 20 years of being around crashed hard drives, many myths have been in circulation that not only have little chance of getting your data back, but in just about every case, make it more difficult (and more expensive) for an experienced recovery lab get your data back.
The Internet has helped perpetuate these myths and in recent years, we have seen a large increase in the number of unrecoverable projects from people that have tried what they found as “data recovery secrets” on the Internet before reaching out for professional help.
Here are the most common myths:
Myth # 1: Freeze it! This myth is by far the most commonly repeated on the Internet and in some very rare cases, you may get your drive to work for a few minutes, but the downside risk is substantial. Condensation, contraction and expansion of metals, solidifying of lubricants and a whole host of other side effects can render your data unrecoverable.
Myth # 2: Tap it, slap it or drop it! This myth comes from the thought that the spindle motor or read/write heads are stuck and jarring them will loosen them up. This is great way to induce a physical head crash.
Myth # 3: Simply swap the PC board on the bottom! This myth is based on a reasonable thesis: if the failure is in the external electronics, replacing them will fix it. This worked on older hard drive technology that had all of the intelligence on a single board, but today’s hard drives are far more sophisticated and swapping the wrong board can have disastrous results.
Myth # 4: Data recovery software can repair a hard drive! The companies that create simple data recovery software understand how desperate you are and how you want to get your data back at the lowest possible cost. There is no way that any software program can “repair” a mechanical or electrical failure and attempting to use software in these cases is a waste of money a great way to destroy any chance of getting the data back.
There are many more common myths that you can read up on by searching for “data recovery myths” online.
The bottom line: Whenever the data is important, don’t attempt to become an overnight “brain surgeon” because of something you read on the Internet. Turn it off and let a professional access your situation so you can make an educated decision. If you don’t care about the data, knock yourself out!
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Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show