Guest Post by Jesse Jones – Seagate Recovery Services

Seriously, I’ve heard it a million times (cringe), “my hard drive stopped working so I threw it in the freezer for a couple hours”… I can understand how this terrible idea has spun out of control in a bad version of telephone. Someone 10 years ago that worked in data recovery told his friend he put a hard drive in the freezer to recover the data. That someone told someone else and alas, we have the idea that freezing your hard drive like it’s a TV dinner will resolve problems, unfortunately not so much. First and foremost, hard drives are not TV dinners.

Secondly, very serious details were miscommunicated. To be honest, if you only have your data centrally stored on 1 hard drive (shame on you), but do you honestly want to jeopardize the chances of recovering priceless invaluable or non-reproducible data? My first suggestion would be to exhaust your options with technical support or try a software recovery. It’s possible the nonfunctioning drive you’re holding may be recovered with less drastic and less expensive means than a clean room solution. If either of these fail to yield access to the drive, or if the drive starts making any abnormal noises, send it to an in lab data recovery specialist and let them do what they’re known for. For the sake of argument though, there are legitimate reasons why freezing your hard drive is never a good idea.

I’d like to consider myself the female version of MacGyver (who doesn’t?). So when I initially started working with Seagate’s Data Recovery and heard the very first caller describe their troubleshooting methods of freezing the drive, I was curious. I figured who better to speak to and bust the myths than our Research and Developer Director for in lab data recovery, Dmitry K.

There are two misconceptions of why you would put a drive in the freezer. First if a hard drive has thermal failure, it would help cool the drive. The flaw with this theory is that it would be completely unnecessary to cool the entire hard drive (and all its minutely detailed internal components) for one symptom. If this is the pinpointed issue, it would be better to try cooling it in front of a fan. Blowing air onto the hard drives exterior will create far less future obstacles, and may provide results without causing further damage.

If a hard drive is experiencing some sort of internal arm failure where it has become weak and falls onto the platter (click click noise), freezing it can provide a false sense that the metal components will tighten or retract long enough to get the drive initialized. If a drive is experiencing this level of internal issue, power cycling thru it any further can and will cause media damage on the platter where the data is stored. Media damage is irreversible and will make any future in lab data recovery attempts very difficult if not completely impossible pending the amount and location of the damage. If that’s not reason enough to stop, the fact that the drive is being “frozen” or cooled in anything other than a “controlled environment” can cause condensation on the platters, which can erode or rust the platters. So if the theory doesn’t work, getting the data off the drive is now a much more complex case.

Professional in lab data recovery companies do use a technique “similar” to this, however it is in a controlled environment with zero humidity with highly trained professionals (highly trained = borderline rocket scientist). Anyone who tries to recover data on their own is gambling and risking the potential of losing all of the data completely.

More from Jesse:

What to do when the unthinkable happens…to your hard drive

What should you do when your external hard drive stops working?

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