Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Sometimes, hard drives just go bad and the data is lost; and sometimes, it is recoverable. I talk about the signs of a physically damaged drive.

In AnswerCast 11, you stated that putting a non-accessible laptop hard drive into an external USB enclosure and plugging into a different computer would allow one to access the data. I don't understand. If the drive is non-accessible, what difference would it make? Last month, my sister's laptop did something different.

When I turned it on. a message something like "No operating system" came up. I took the drive out of the laptop and put it in my custom-built desktop where I have lots of extra power and data connectors. When I hooked up the SADTA drive with Windows 7 running, I went into Explorer. I got the root directory after about 3 minutes and went into a sub-directory.

Now, after a couple of more minutes, I got a partial list of the files and the sub-directory and a few minutes later, Explorer crashed. The disk activity light was on solid the whole time. Do you really think that putting this drive into a USB enclosure would allow me to access the data so that I can move it into her new laptop?

In this excerpt from Answercast #26, I look at the various ways that hard drives can go bad and how to recover data... when you can.

Do you think it will work in an enclosure?

No, I do not. This is a case where there is clearly some kind of physical defect on the media.

What I'm going to suggest you do instead, if it's worth your time and about $100, is to get a copy of SpinRite and run SpinRite on that drive while it's inserted in your desktop.

It's possible that SpinRite will be able to recover some of the physical problems that media is having and could potentially allow you to then put it into an external USB enclosure or perhaps even back into the laptop.

Disk drive problems

The issue here (the reason I so often recommend external USB enclosures) is because the problems that hard disks have fall into about three different categories. Yours, the example you've given me, is only one of those categories:

  • Truly a physical defect on the disk media.

There's actually very little that can be done about that, other than running a tool like SpinRite. Or failing that, see if there's a data recovery service that will (for even more money) try and recover the data on that drive: possibly even by taking it apart.

The real issue with hard drive failure more commonly falls into two other buckets where the USB enclosure really does make a lot of sense.

  • One is that the circuitry on the motherboard has failed somehow.

The motherboard itself has failed so the computer dies, but the hard disk itself is just fine. That way, rather than repairing the computer, you can simply take the internal drive out and plug into a external USB drive and then access all the data on that drive. Because in fact, the drive isn't at fault. The drive doesn't have any problems.

Another scenario that's a little bit less obvious is the scenario where:

  • There's a software problem of some sort on the machine that the drive is originally installed on.

In a case like that, often removing the drive to another machine will allow you to get access to it.

In both cases, the scenario is not that the drive itself has failed, but that something about the system is preventing the drive from being accessed, therefore removing the drive to a different system.

Use another computer

You certainly can do exactly what you did and install it natively into another PC. I just happen to find USB enclosures to be significantly more flexible in that:

  • You don't have to crack open a machine and hope you've got extra power plugs;

  • You can then take it to whatever PC you want to use it on:
    • Be it the original machine, assuming you've got that working again,

    • A replacement PC and leave it there long-term

    • Or a third PC simply for the purpose of data recovery.

End of Answercast #26 Back to – Audio Segment

Article C5468 - June 14, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
jimmy g
June 15, 2012 11:36 AM

Leo, I completely agree with you here, I just wanted to point out that Spinrite doesn't usually work on Usb external drives, you might have to hook the hard drive directly to your motherboard. If you have gotten Spinrite to read an external USB drive, I would love to learn how this can be accomplished, as I have personally tried to use Spinrite on a hard drive in an external USB enclosure and it shows up as an unreadable format. Not to mention Steve Gibson has said that the USB connection is not a low enough level for Spinrite to work. He has always suggested to hook it "directly to the motherboard" via Sata or Pata.

John
June 15, 2012 12:54 PM

Jimmy,
Leo never said Spinrite worked with USB, he said try Spinrite while the hard drive is INSERTED in the desktop THEN it might work in an enclosure.

BAW30s
June 20, 2012 3:19 AM

After my hard drive was damaged during a power cut two years ago and then "not recognised" I connected the drive to a working computer (not sure if it was as a slave or through the USB) and tried several programs in an attempt to recover data. The only one I had any success with was Kroll EasyRecovery Professional, which managed to "see" the drive and retrieve some of the smaller files. The Kroll website has advice on data recovery, but the programs ain't cheap.
As Leo always says, be prepared: perform regular backups!
There are old dodges such as freezing a drive in a sealed plastic bag for an hour which have been known to restore access for long enough to recover essential data.

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