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Has your hard drive died? Do you need the data that is on it?

Put it in your Freezer.

No, I have not gone mad. This is a tried and true method of data recovery.


Does this work?
Yes but not for all situations

Do I recommend it ?
Yes but with some caveats

  • Firstly be aware about your warranty. If you do this, you have none.
  • Try software recovery solutions like Getdataback first. If this fails, try the drive on a second PC with the same software. Often you get different results.
  • If you can afford it and the data is valuable enough, use a professional
  • Be careful with water. Some people have external solutions (External to the Freezer) using ice baths, Dry ice, Nitrogen and other crazy items. They put laptops into snow or run insanely long USB and power cabled to machines hooked into fridges. Be careful with water and electrical devices.

What are we talking about ?
People have been
putting their Hard Disks into freezers for years now, to help fix the issue with the drive  long enough to be able to recover their data. I have personally done this so I know it works. Yes, you can see a hard disk in my freezer along side frozen pizzas and peas. My clients data is important and a few of their drives have been in my freezer along side my disks.

Note: this is mainly for mechanical related issues. It does not help with major electrical issues (if IC's are burnt out etc). It might help with some small electrical issues with IC's but it is less likely.

Method
Firstly, the right way. Use sealable bags. "Double bag" The disk and squeeze out any air. Freeze for minimum of 4 - 6 hours. The trick is to get the drive below 3 degrees centigrade and keep it there for as long as possible. For every additional 72 hours of cooling I get about 30 minutes more before the drive dies. I find freezing is pointless after 1 week. I normally bag just the drive itself, not the assembly. I have tried it with Parallel and power Molex cables attached but it did not really save any time. Time is the enemy here. The Frozen drive will defrost very quickly.

 

 

Then you could always do it the wrong way. An ICE brick attached to your PC. The best way I have seen this done is by using an old blank CD/DVD spindle container lid, put in the double bagged drive (Zip locks to the top). Pour water in around the drive but not to the top. Once frozen, undo the zip locks and plug your ice cube into the PC.

 

 

 

The aim is to keep the drive in the freezer and frozen for as long as possible and that is what leads people to try other ideas to keep drives cool. These ideas are not for the faint of heart.

There is the alternative suggestion of surrounding Hard disks with a fluid, it better regulates the temperature [laws of thermodynamics]. There are some suggestions that the easiest way to make the 30 min window before the disk starts to thaw out last longer, is to bring the freezer to the hard drive. Make a small fridge/igloo and use water with salt (the salt lowers the melting point so it makes it colder).  Get a zip lock bag and set it in vertically with the cables coming out of the top of the bag and tape it to the side of the igloo to where no water can get in and the hard drive will work all day long or at least until you run out of ice.

If after whatever form of freezing you use, the drive does not work or the PC will not boot, try it via a USB interface as well. Sometimes the USB caddies have enough metal in them to keep the drives cool. My recommendation is to not try to boot off a frozen drive. The drive is not going to work for very long, so the idea is to copy as much data off it as you can as fast as you can. Put it into a system as a slave.

What you could do is to put it in an external enclosure (since being in your computer will heat it up faster) and attach it to an already running machine. Then simply copy the critical data only as fast as possible. Sometimes you even want to make batch files ahead of time to copy the most important files first. You've literally only got minutes, but those minutes can be a lifesaver when a drive dies unexpectedly.

There are many thoughts as to why this works.

  • Some metal parts in the hard disk could contract, putting back in place defective parts, and making everything work again for a few minutes. This could allow the disk to spin more freely and it could likely boot correctly. Expansion/contraction of platters also leads to changes of bit density and locations. (shrink the plates)
  • Hard drives store information via magnetic materials that polarize North or South in tiny areas representing a logical 1 or 0. All magnetic materials are temperature dependent, their magnetic field grows stronger or weaker with temperature (depending on the type of material). The recording media in hard drives becomes magnetically stronger as it cools. The signal picked up by the read head is "louder" in a frozen hard drive, helping the read head pick up a partially corrupted, or possibly weak signal. I'm not sure if this is why freezing a hard drive allows it to live again until it warms, but the fact the magnetic media increases flux density when cold may be one contributing reason.
  • There is a vacuum in the hard disk and sometimes dust particles get in the drive. By putting it in the freezer, the dust sticks to the surface. (See the note below under false information)
  • This leaves Bi-metal expansion, "The physics", Thermodynamics, and cushions of air. Don't also forget the Curie point in ferromagnetic materials

What issues can this get around ?

Track Zero Failure
There is oft
en a clacking noise when you get a track 0 failure. Generally one platter in an IDE Hard Drive contains offset information. By reading this platter the armature can tell where exactly it is in relation to the platters. When you loose the ability to read this offset platter for whatever reason, the armature will try to seek a specific offset and end up banging against the inside of the drive case as it seeks right past the outside of the platter, or track 0.

The reason that freezing works, is that when a head crashes it gets off center and will hit the pin the hard drive. Freezing it compresses it, allowing it to gain a little room to move where it wouldn't before.

Hard disk not spinning
As the plates shrink, they can move freely after freezing.

Bad sectors
Hard drives can overheat during the continuous read cycle that data recovery involves. Logically, this means that the drive will respond better with added cooling. If the fault is caused by floating dust, the dust sticks to the platters and the data can be read.

IC failure
Integrated circuits sometimes partially fail, and if you can keep a chip cold enough it will still work. Putting a drive in the freezer only helps if you have a *partially* fried chip on the board

"stiction" (sp)
where some of the platters actually get fused together. They are made of different materials so they expand/contract at different rates when subjected to temperature extremes, so the hard drive works again, for a while.


 

False Information

The drive contains a vacuum:

The heads float on a cushion of air created by the spinning of the platters, hence the reason for the little holes on the hard drive enclosure.

If the drive was in a vacuum it would crash  since the heads actually ride on a layer of air without the air they would grind into the platters

 

Freezing causes condensation:

Condensation is what happens when you put the drive in a warm, moisture-rich environment after it's been in the freezer. It doesn't happen in the freezer!


Other information

RAID failure

I have read about an interesting situation where someone had a failed RAID and tried the freezer and it still caused the POST sequence to fail  when detecting IDE as before the Freezer trick. It was dynamic disk that had been striped in windows.

He then booted windows and plugged the drive in through a USB adapter and it worked perfectly for long enough to get his data off it. Windows detected it instantly and re-activated the striped disks.

 

Other comments on cooling

Often hard drive failures are a result of overheating. Placing a heat sink / fan combination from an old cpu can often help the drive run long enough to recover information off of it.

 

Other - Stuck heads

Another trick (for those not faint of heart) if your hard disk head is stuck, hit the corner with a hammer.

 

Freezing CDR

This trick has been reported, oddly enough, to not only works with semi-broken hard disks but also with cd-rs and cd-rws which have scratches all over them. I believe this is due to the matter of the drive contracting and thus closing spaces which cause loss of data.

 

Software repair faulty Track Zero

Use the Trial ver. of HDDREGENERATOR This application repairs crucial bad sectors (usually the 1st on the HDD or track Zero).

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

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                                                             This page was written and designed by Michael Jenkin 2011 ©