Hard drive recovery FAIL

So a while ago, I realized I had too many digital pictures on my main laptop and bought a 500 GB external hard drive. I thought I got a good deal. However, for a number of reasons, that has turned out not to be the case. Reason #1 on the list is that the hard drive was working fine one day, and then the next, I noticed that my Picasa screen saver was drawing only from pictures on the laptop’s local hard drive. The external drive no longer appeared in My Computer.

I checked the device manager and it found the external USB disk drive, and said it was working properly, but when I clicked the “populate” button under the “volumes” tab, I got information that the drive was unreadable. Okay, I thought, let’s try some other stuff in case the partition table got messed up.

With a little help, I got a bootable copy of Linux onto a USB thumb drive and brought my computer up with some Linux drive-recovery tools. (A quick note: when I entered “sudo fdisk -l” into a terminal, my external drive showed up as /dev/sdc but I got an error about there not being a valid partition table and I couldn’t force-mount the drive. [Also, if there was a "science" command in Linux, it would be an example of a command that "sudo" actually makes less useful.])

I installed and ran Testdisk. When I came to the bit where I had to select which volume to scan, I saw that /dev/sdc was listed but the reported size of the drive was about half of its actual 500 GB capacity. I scanned it anyway, and Testdisk came up with a totally blank partition structure table. No entries at all: after the table column headings, there was only a few linebreaks and then the message, “Partition sector doesn’t have the endmark 0xAA55.” I Googled around a bit for Testdisk hints, and I haven’t been able to find anyone else who gets a completely blank partition table after a Testdisk analysis. That error message turns up plenty of times, but in the posts I found, there was always some partition or other to select and the message seemed to be irrelevant. A “quick scan” looked like it was going to take my computer on the order of 100-1000 hours to complete, so I declined that option. FAIL.

I also tried PhotoRec, an image-recovery program that came with Testdisk, because hey, I wanted to recover pictures. That found nothing on the drive. On the longest run I let it perform (overnight, and incomplete – again, it estimated on the order of 1000 hours to “achievement”) it told me that my 250 GB working hard drive was full and it had to stop. When I opened up the location where PhotoRec was supposed to store recovered files, there was nothing there. And my 250 GB internal drive had totally unchanged space usage. Go figure. FAIL again.

Finally, I ripped the drive out of its packaging and discovered that the standalone external unit just consisted of a Western Digital 500 GB Caviar drive and a little control board that fed its SATA data and power ports to a USB 2 and power adapter port. Thinking that maybe the fault was with that control board – since the USB port seemed pretty flimsy to me – I yanked the drive out and connected a SATA-to-USB adapter straight to the disk drive. Same results as before. FAIL.

I can only surmise that this drive was shipped with little tiny explosive charges on each of the cylinders, or perhaps on the drive head, and one of the pictures I saved onto the drive the day before it stopped working inadvertently contained the code sequence that self-destructed the entire disk.¬†Unless anyone else has any ideas for me…

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3 Responses to Hard drive recovery FAIL

  1. Larry Shoer says:

    Disk drives typically have a long warranty period…perhaps five years. Call WD and ask for technical support. See if they can recommend a procedure and utility to do a “raw read” of the data on the disk drive. Perhaps you can recover something.

    See if you can get them to send you a replacement disk drive for your failed unit. You should be able to find a source for an enclosure and USB interface to connect the external drive to your computer via USB. If you have a future problem with the drive, it will be easier to replace it.

    Finally, your information is never really safe until it is stored in at least two places, where, preferably, at least one copy is separated from the other by a reasonable physical distance. Ask yourself whether you would be bothered if any particular file, picture, etc., was lost. If you’ll be bothered, make copies.

  2. Steve says:

    This is why I avoid WD disks. In more than 15 years of PC usage, I’ve had about 3 disk failures, one IBM DeathStar (Deskstar) due to microcode bugs, and two WD disks that simply died. I exclusively use Seagate and have had nary a problem with them, with the exception of one that required a firmware fix, and Seagate stood behind the drive and would have recovered my data from the platters and replaced the disk if they had not been able to update the firmware to reawaken the drive.

  3. Victor says:

    I’ve had horrible experiences with Maxtor drives (Seagate is a parent company). The first external HD I bought had a USB controller that gave slower and slower read times the longer I used it. In slightly over a year the transfer rate became unbearable, I ended up ripping the drive out of the enclosure and throwing the enclosure away.

    Then I had an internal drive die on me. One day it just refused to respond, machine couldn’t boot etc. Luckily, after much running up and down, a data recovery service told me the firmware had crashed, rendering the drive inaccessible. They didn’t charge me fore the free diagnostic, but want $2K to re-install the firmware. I told them thanks but no thanks and then googled about how to do it myself.

    It turns out I had purchased a drive from a batch that had faulty firmware and it was a well know issue and Seagate was actually willing to flash a new firmware FOC. All I had to do was call them up to do an RMA and I got my drive back in fully working condition afterwards.

    Of course I immediately went out and bought a WD Caviar Green and switched to that as my main drive.

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