How your freezer fixes Hard Drives, and more!

Beware, this can cause damage to your drive just as much as you may find it helps: As outlined on page 2 of this article here. .. For those who want to lecture me about the condensation problem, see the very last tidbit.

I have told many people over the years the successes I’ve had with getting data off of failing drives by putting them in the freezer. There are times where it definitely hasn’t worked, but has worked in a pinch. here is my general process;

  1. Put drive into anti-static bag and place into the coldest part of your freezer for 24 hours. This is important because the heat needs to be removed from all the metal so any heat soak takes place as slow as possible.
  2. Prepare external drive cabinet / caddy, or computer to receive the drive. Now you need to consider two options. 1) A quick file copy or 2) and entire drive image. If you have a few photos, a few gigs of data on a 100gig disk, and the partition mounts in Windows / linux successfully 1 is your definite choice. Option 2 takes considerably longer, and you may want to consider options to keep the drive frozen for an extended period of time. (dry ice, cables running to the freezer, or an idea I discuss later.)
  3. Grab the drive from the freezer, if external USB/Firewire chassis, make sure the computer is powered on and logged in, ready to receive the drive. (*do not operate drive with circuit board on anti-static bag, as those bags are conductive and could short it out*) If option 1 from above it’s straight forward. If Option 2 you’re going to need to find some drive imaging / recovery software such as Encase, unless you have Linux which is the preferred OS for option 2 because at the root prompt you can use dd such as:  “dd if=/dev/rdsk/troubled-disk of=/home/username/diskimage.img bs=1024” the bs flag copy 1024K chunks at a time, this assures the fastest data transfer rate possible. You will want to get the entire disk if possible, and if available use the “raw” device tree. (ensuring your drive is not mounted, but chances are it won’t at this point.)  Then you can power down your drive and keep it in a safe place until all data is recovered. (in the freezer perhaps?)
  4. After you have your image you’ll need to get the appropriate utility to comb the image and piece together recoverable files. For NTFS Diskinternals and EnCase. There is a Windows utility called raise for EXT data recovery, and claims some kind of ZFS support. For me it takes a little googling around and no two products seem to produce the same results when it comes to data recovery, so it helps to try a few.
  5. If you are not satisfied with your results see below, but once you reach a point where you are done working with the drive you’ll need to erase it. If it worked in the freezer you can use a “hard disk low level format tool” (I know it’s not really shhh) in windows to write all zeros to the disk(s). In Linux it’s once again dd to the rescue with “dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/device bs=1024”

Lets face it this stuff doesn’t always work, for me I get lucky 7/10 times or there abouts, almost a 50/50 shot but the issue has to be “in the sweet spot”. Here is a troubleshooting chart of sorts I go through in my head, this is gained from years of experience;

– Frozen drive doesn’t spin up but did before: Power on enclosure while holding drive in your hand, and twist the drive (not shake!) it. Imagine standing holding the drive at your waist, fingers on the sides with the PCB facing the table, twist it 90 degrees back and forth, as much as the cabling will allow.

– Frozen drive spins up but no head activity: Give the drive few mild “thumps” with your knuckle and see if that helps.

– Drives spins up but will not read / is recognized properly by the OS, no change after freezing: This is the one I get most often after someone brings me a drive that they have dropped. If the drive is not recognized correctly in bios, it may be possible that the logic board on the drive is at fault. Drives not reading correctly are also the sign catastrophic head failure has occurred and you’re going to need to pay someone a great deal more money to fix it.

So if it weren’t for the success I’ve had in the past, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to give this a try first and find out that it actually worked!

I plan to add a video of an actual hard drive recovery very soon.

For those who don’t have access to a freezer, or are worried about drive condensation, the trick would then be keeping the drive cold. I have built such a device already that serves double purpose. Although the last one I built was actually for cellphones, you could set a 2.5″ drive on it and it would work good. I am going to create a project soon with a drive cooler that can be built by anyone, similar to the cell phone chiller, but one that will actually bolt to the hard-disk.
Anyways, hope y’all enjoyed.



Mechanique' Extraordinaire