As principal partner of DataCurl LLC, Dan Wilson runs both the consulting practice and, a way to help employees start and stick with healthier lifestyles. Before launching DataCurl, Dan held numerous senior program and development positions in such industries as Technical Consulting, Health Care, Online Publishing and Government Contracting. Dan is an avid participant in technology communities; an Adobe Community Professional, manager of the Triangle ColdFusion User Group in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Managing Director of the popular Model-Glue framework and contributor to numerous open source projects based on ColdFusion, Flex and AIR platforms. Dan presents on ColdFusion, Flex and Rapid Development Techniques at popular conferences around the world. You can find his thoughts on ColdFusion, Flex, AIR and other technology matters at and some occasional ramblings on food at Dan has posted 33 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

What To Do When A Hard Drive Fails

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When a hard drive crashes, you can lose all your data. Corrupt hard drives happen out of the blue and for seemingly no good reason. If your hard drive fails, what can you do?

One option is to call a hard drive recovery company. If your data is worth a lot of money to you, you can pay a forensic computer company to get the data off your hard drive. Before you write a check though, try a little Do-It-Yourself first.

What is going on inside the hard drive is a bunch of little platters spinning at high speed. When data is accessed or written to the disk, a little head (sort of like on a record player) moves to the right spot and does it's magic. The space between the head and the platter is very very tiny. Freezing the hard drive will shrink the head and the platter ever so slightly, often allowing you to read data.

Here is how I got the data off of a failed hard drive.

  1. Remove the hard drive from the computer.
  2. Place the hard drive inside of a zip top freezer bag. (don't buy a cheap bag.)
  3. Place the wrapped hard drive inside of ANOTHER zip top freezer bag. (yes, you need to do this) (see figure 1 below)
  4. Place the double wrapped hard drive in the coldest part of your freezer.
  5. Leave the hard drive in the freezer for 12 hours at least. You want it good and cold! (see figure 2 below)
  6. Once very chilled, install the hard drive in your computer and start pulling off data. Begin with the most valuable data.
  7. At some point, the hard drive will fail again. When it does, mark the last successfully copied data, pull out the hard drive, double wrap it again and stick it in the Chill Chest for another 12 hours.
  8. You may need to do this a number of times to get all the data you want, or until the hard drive stops working completely.

Double Wrapped Hard Drive

Hard Drive in the Freezer

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Dan Wilson. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Boyan Kostadinov replied on Mon, 2010/04/05 - 9:11am

Maybe little known trick but it only works sometimes. Depending on how damaged the drive is. Your best protection against loosing data is some kind of raid in mirror configuration.

Brian Reich replied on Tue, 2010/04/06 - 6:51am

Great trick! I actually have such a hard drive at home right now that I'll try this on. The best remedy for a failing hard drive is a good backup. Unfortunately there is a huge gap in good backup software and strategies for the home user and small businesses.

Jean Said replied on Tue, 2010/04/06 - 6:54am

Mirroring RAID is no use to protect your data. It's only useful to keep a system running when a drive completely crashes. It's no backup.
I own a LaCie mirroring raid system and a drive in my setup had corrupted sectors. The corrupted data was replicated to the other disc. Enjoy.

Manuel Jordan replied on Tue, 2010/04/06 - 8:23am

Hello  Dan

Pretty cool information, thanks for share it! 

I have heard years ago about this, but me and some friends thought that was a type of joke. Now I can see is true 

I have two computers, the unique part that I normally must change in 1 to 2 years for each computer is the hard disk, is really horrible start listening the sound that indicate that your hard disk going to die soon, the storm of ideas coming

  • Think if your hard disk is yet in the limit time of warranty
  • Stop soon to work and worst yet when you have a project in hands!!!!
  • Start thinking how save more of 400GB very faster when you have no other hard disk and need to buy 50 empty DVD and take a good time to organize and burn it
  • Start thinking, would exists a new technology that replace the platter approach of the hard disk?




Eggy Wat replied on Tue, 2010/04/06 - 12:05pm

Good advice for a  last resort solution.  If you use your computer for any serious business related work,  the best approach is to minimise such disasters by setting set up a server  running opensolaris and a zfs raidz2/raidz3 disk array with hot spares.  (zfs has live data scrubbing which helps remove risk of data rot from bad sectors etc.)



Fab Mars replied on Wed, 2010/04/07 - 7:13am

I tried this trick twice and it worked once.

With nowadays HDD capacity price, the best is to set mirroring/backup up.

At work we have Raid5 on a SAN and tape robots.

At home I wanted to keep it simple, but I took into account the risk of burglary. So I have 2 backups. One is a single relatively small disk for day-to-day stuff and runs with a scheduled job. The other is a full synchronized copy of the whole data. The backup drives are hidden in a safe place. I dig them once a week, hotplpug, mount, run some rsync script, unmount, put them back in their safe place, and voilà.

Komatsu Matsu replied on Mon, 2012/04/16 - 8:05am in response to: Manuel Jordan

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Jaffa Wify replied on Thu, 2012/05/03 - 10:11pm

The task of developing large software systems presents a significant intellectual challenge. Producing software with an acceptably high reliability within a predictable schedule and budget has historically been difficult; the academic and professional discipline of software engineering concentrates specifically on this challenge. Thanks. Regards, Remove bad reviews

Jaffa Wify replied on Thu, 2012/05/10 - 6:46am

In modern drives there is one head for each magnetic platter surface on the spindle, mounted on a common arm. An actuator arm moves the heads on an arc across the platters as they spin, allowing each head to access almost the entire surface of the platter as it spins. The arm is moved using a voice coil actuator or in some older designs a stepper motor. Thanks. Regards, proposal writing service

Jaffa Wify replied on Sat, 2012/05/19 - 3:56am

A disk failure may occur in the course of normal operation, or due to an external factor such as exposure to fire or water or high magnetic waves, or suffering a sharp impact or environmental contamination, which can lead to a head crash. Thanks. Regards, lawyers in halifax

Carla Brian replied on Wed, 2012/06/27 - 10:41am

These are the steps that I actually do when I have the same experience as well. Good thing I have a friend that is very techy. - Mercy Ministries

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 An actuator arm moves the heads on an arc across the platters as they spin, allowing each head to access almost the entire surface of the platter as it spins. RV Trailers For Sale

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Varun Raj replied on Sun, 2013/05/19 - 6:04am

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Victor Arnold replied on Sat, 2014/02/08 - 3:10pm

 An actuator arm moves the heads on an arc across the platters as they spin, Life Experience Degrees   allowing each head to access almost the entire surface of the platter as it spins. 

Jason Sparks replied on Tue, 2014/02/11 - 12:51pm

That enlightened me. I usually go to expert to do a retrieval of files. But there is one time it got so busted that it's possible to backup my files and decided to get a bigger size drive from spectra , which i got it with a good deal.

Maggie Brown replied on Thu, 2014/02/27 - 1:22pm

 Is there a time limit after the hard drive failure for this procedure? My hard drive has failed about two months ago, and even though I've already purchased another one on , I would still like to recover some of the data that I have lost.

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أبو صهيب طائطة replied on Sat, 2014/04/12 - 4:11pm

Maybe little known trick but it only works sometimes. Depending on how damaged the drive is. Your best protection against loosing data is some kind of raid in mirror configuration.

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