Monday, September 7, 2009

Reovering Data from Hard Drive Failure

Well, this last Friday I was working on a circuit design on my laptop, when I had to step out for a moment. I closed my laptop. In about an hour when I opened the laptop, there was a message on the dark laptop screen: No hard drive detected! I turned off my laptop, rebooted and heard a squeaking and screeching sound from the hard drive. Finally after a couple of minutes my laptop displayed the same message. Well, this "was" a Seagate Momentus 2.5" 5400.4 250 GB SATA internal hard drive (for laptops) that I had purchased just about two months back!

I had recently started working on a circuit design for an attenuator and I was a bit shocked that I was going to lose all the design work that I had accomplished in the last six weeks.

I have a SATA internal hard drive docking station. I pulled out this Seagate drive from my laptop and inserted it in the docking station. All I heard was more of the same sound. When I paid close attention to the sound, I could discern that spindle was trying to spin but something was stopping it from spinning. What could it be? After carefully listening to the sound for some time, I was sure that the head had crashed on the platter and the platter was unable to spin. There were all the tell tale signs. Laptop was unable to recognize the drive, which basically meant that either lack of spinning or dead electronics. However, dead electronics does not create a sound like someone trying to spin but can't.

So I accepted the loss of my hard work with a feeling of resignation and decided to get the drive replaced from Seagate. Meanwhile, I bought another 320 GB Hitachi Travelstar 2.5" laptop internal hard drive. Hitachi Travelstar box had a picture of an exposed internal hard drive showing the actuator arm, head and the platter. When I opened the box, there was a red colored brochure that had another actual sized picture of an internal hard drive without cover showing all the internal mechanical details of a laptop hard drive.

After all, inspiration for all things stupid comes from somewhere. In my case, the inspiration came from the picture on Hitachi Travelstar box. Looking at the picture, I had this stupid inspiration of trying to repair the hard drive by opening it. It really seems kind of retarded but due to some reason I have liked the feeling of having a screwdriver in my hand to take apart things that are working or not working. I knew that I was going to kill the warranty if I opened it. On the other hand if I fixed it I would save about six weeks of work.

Well, I've been around Intel and I've seen assembly of electronic components. Those are ultra clean environments called Class 100 clean environments. Employees wear gloves and caps like surgeons. My den is hardly a Class 100 clean environment. But it was worth a risk.

It is easy to open Seagate Momentus 5400.4 internal hard drive for laptops. All you need is a Torx T-7 screwdriver. There are six screws on the periphery and the last screw is actually below the plastic sticker and it is covered by a shiny metallic film to maintain warranty. I opened some of the screws and took a peak inside. My hypothesis was right. I saw that the head was stuck on the platter. Normally, in a powered down state, the head should be off the platter in its parking spot. Though I know that there are some hard drives that don't follow this rule, Seagate Momentus 5400.4 is not one of them.

Since I did not have a Class 100 clean environment, whatever I had to do after opening the drive had to be done quickly. I donned my vinyl gloves and cut a tiny paper loop using a premium glossy paper. After opening the drive, I gingerly threaded the paper loop around the actuator arm and pulled it back to its parking spot. It was really stuck on the platter (stiction), since it made a clicking sound when I unstuck it and pulled it to its parking spot. When I was about to close it I noticed a tiny particle on the platter. I removed it carefully with my vinyl covered fingers and put the cover back on. Since I did it quickly, you will notice that I did not take any pictures of the open Seagate drive. I have used paper cut-outs from Hitachi Travelstar box and the brochure to show you how I did it.

After that I put the Seagate drive in the SATA docking station, connected the USB from docking station to another laptop, prayed to the Almighty and powered on the docking station. Possibly my prayers were successful. I could hear the sound of platter spinning and the drive was recognized by the laptop. I knew that I had just a couple of hours before the drive was going to die again. I copied all my files. I found that some of the files had got corrupted and could not be copied but I was able to get about 90% of what I wanted. After I had copied most of the stuff that I needed, the drive died again.

Well, this was just a couple of hours of nerdy fun on an otherwise languid Friday. I don't know if this method of hard drive data recovery would work for others or not. Whether it works or not, it surely will kill warranty. Do it at your own risk!

Note: I had requested a quote for recovering data from my failed hard drive. The quote arrived today in my e-mail. The fixed cost of recovering data from my hard drive is quoted at $650. This is a reputable company and I think its a reasonable price. I understand that cost of data recovery by I365 is in the range of $1200 but it is hard to pin down a price due to so many variations in data recovery issues.


  1. What strikes me immediately is the extent of the trouble you've taken to share your know-how. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Roger! Yes, that helped me save about six weeks of effort and I decided that if I could save six weeks of effort by spending couple of hours then why not spend another couple of hours to save hard work of several others around the world who may have had the same problem. Since then I've received several e-mails from around the globe from people who have recovered their data. I think this is a generic problem with these Seagate drives.

  3. Thank you so much for the thought you had in sharing this knowledge. This is the first time I have an issue with a hard drive and I was able to revive it using your method. If only more manufacturer website would provide clear cut and reliable information like you did!

    My girlfriend will be so happy now that I saved a bunch of her schoolwork!

  4. Thank you for the great tips! Same problem with my drive Momentus 2.5" 5400.4 250 GB! Seems like a common problem. I fixed it in a cleanroom at work. Great post!

  5. For those few of us, who had to deal with this HDD fail, this article is a savior. I experienced exactly same issue. Great thanks for sharing that :)

  6. Top tips, the drive was exactly as described. Performed your remedy and hey presto, working hard drive.

  7. Thanks fot the info,
    Does it also count for a 7200.4?
    Got the same probleml u got peeping and schratching sounds.

    tough , Seatools do not reconize the Disk, must it be parked before it will be reconize.

    Wenn i park it manually will it be able to recinize? or do you say dont open its not worth? bring it to data recovery??

    Thnx very much

  8. Thanks Ravi ... I had given up on saving my son's laptop drive and his homework assignments. Stumbled across your article, made a quick trip to Home Depot for the screwdriver set ( ) and to my amazement, was able to resurrect my drive in a few minutes. Thanks a bunch for sharing this!

  9. Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger.

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  10. Thank you so much for this! Between this and Youtube, I've managed to recover my data from a drive (Seagate Momentus 7200.4) that one recovery shop said would cost $1500+ to ~possibly recover data and another that said it was impossible. I especially appreciated the glossy paper trick to pull the arm!

    All it cost me was a $15 torx set and a few hours. Many thanks to you!

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    I recommended this product to a friend who wants to backup his laptop to an extra HDD he has, showed him how it works and he loves it! I would recommend it to you if you backup a lot of data.