To begin the story, I just want to say it is critically important to back up your data. There are only two kinds of computer users:
- Those who have lost data
- Those who will lose data.
When my hard drive failed, it had been about a month since my previous back up. That meant that while it wasn't critical that I recover everything, it still did represent a potential loss of 75-100 hours of work.
I took the hard drive out of the computer and put it in the freezer, as suggested on Lifehacker. This suggestion is popular because most computer hard drives are mechanical devices, subject to expansion and contraction with temperature.
When a hard drive crashes, it typically means the the drive head, which hovers less than the thickness of a human hair above the data platter, touches that data platter for some reason. When they touch, data can be destroyed. Or it could happen because parts go out of alignment or seize up.
Freezing a hard drive lowers the temperature enough that many times, that drive will briefly come back to life.
I put the hard drive into a USB enclosure and tried to access it from another computer. No luck.
I wrapped the enclosure in saran wrap, and stuck it in two ziplock back, to minimize damage due to moisture. Then I stuck it in the freezer for a few hours. No luck.
I left it in the freezer for a couple days. No luck.
Then I pulled it out of the enclosure, and put the frozen hard drive directly in a laptop. No luck.
I was about to give up. I took the drive without the saran wrap this time, put it in a ziplock pack with a silica gel pack to, again, minimize moisture damage, stuck that in another plastic bag, and put it on top of the frozen pizza in my freezer.
Then I did some more trouble shooting. I took a known good hard drive, stuck it in the USB enclosure, and tried to read that data. No luck.
It turns out that not only had the hard drive crashed, I also had a bad enclosure.
I bought a different USB adapter. A week after covering the pizza with data, I tried again. I pulled out the hard drive, plugged in the cable, and I put it on one end of a cookie sheet. On the other end, I put two ice pack. I used the aluminum cookie sheet to keep the hard drive cold while I went to work on it.
I hooked it all up, and the computer could actually see the drive. It did give me some errors. It though the drive was unformatted, and it wouldn't open the properties right.
But the hard drive was making more appropriate noises.
I opened a DOS window in Windows 7, and ran, "chkdsk /f /r /x d:" In this utility, Windows scans the disk and attempts to correct errors it find in the data structure. It ran for several hours. Eventually, my ice packs were starting to melt so it was time to add froze vegetables to rig. This is how it all looked:
As the utility trudged along, it found more and more data. At the end, I finally had access to all my documents. All that work was now safe.
I got lucky.
The lesson is the always have a back up of your data. The hours that go into creating it, or the prescious memories associated with your it are too important to not back up.
But if you do have worst case scenario and can't get your data any other way, stick it in with the El Monterey Chimichangas, and it might just work.