Technology
Recovering a dead external hard drive

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What do you do when good hard drives go bad? Tell me if this sounds familiar. You spend a year or two filling up an enormous external hard drive, and just as you start thinking it might be a good idea to buy another enormous drive to back up your data, you boot your computer and hear a heart-stopping sound from your disk: thuck… thuck… thuck… thuck… @#$%!!!!

I had a huge amount of data go dark on me two weeks ago. I suppose I reached the end of the grieving process this weekend, because my mind started to clear up and it occurred to me that maybe all was not lost. After all, there are a lot of electronics in those external hard drives, separate from the drive itself. Inside your typical external hard drive is just a normal 3.5 inch internal hard drive plus the electronics necessary to power everything, control the drive, and provide USB or Firewire connectivity to the host computer.

So, voiding the warrantee, I pulled the enclosure apart and replaced the suspect drive with a working EIDE drive I had lying about. Sure enough, when I turned things on, the drive I knew to be good started clacking away. At this point, I was pretty sure my data was still safe and sound, but being that I didn’t have a machine handy that could mount an XFS formatted disk, I couldn’t verify things for sure until I could get the disk connected back to my iMac.

Most computer stores sell really cheap (approx. $30) hard disk enclosures which you can just slap an EIDE disk into to create an external Firewire or USB drive. I ran to my local store, picked one up, and I’m happy to say that I just recovered 320GB of data that I had just about given up on.

If you own an external drive that’s failed on you, make sure to test the drive and enclosure before you throw it out. It’s quite possible that your data is still intact and you can save yourself a couple hundred bucks and a lot of trauma by just replacing the enclosure.

At the very least, you might have a bad disk but a working enclosure that you can use to make a new external disk.

On a side note, until today I only owned a single external drive. Being that there’s only one data point, I can’t say a whole lot for sure, but I keep thinking that I’m just a random person with a 100% enclosure failure rate. Until I hear otherwise, I remain suspicious that this might be a fairly common failure point.

22 thoughts on “Recovering a dead external hard drive

  1. For me the Eee pc is great. Also, you can install pretty much any kind of OS you like! It’s small and light and you can bring it anywhere. You don’t have to lug your heavy laptop just to surf, check your email, chat and for multimedia right?

    The Eee will be just right for the average user. By the way, I’ll be getting mine tomorrow. I ordered it 2 weeks ago direct from Taiwan. Everywhere, it’s out of stock before you can say Eeeee!

    There’s so much I want to try out on this little thing. Can’t wait!

  2. I’ve been testing out the Eee in a high school environment, and most students love it. The exception seems to be the boys with really big hands. For me personally, I’m still going to need a more powerful laptop for Windows code crunching and a few other specialized Windows apps.

  3. brought mine to day, im planning to install xubuntu on it, when the iso downloads, the keyboard is kinda hard to use, but i will get used to it soon

    i brought mine from toys r us in watford if anyone in the uk is interested

  4. Damned great!

    Perfect for me on Debian and Blackbox as WM as being a
    terminal-freak.

    Awaiting Package – one week to go !

    Will create site with setup instructions and workarounds for minimalists.

    Will post link on linuxonlaptops later!

  5. I’m an owner of the Asus Eee and I’m very pleased with it. People seem to think that this laptop is a replacement for their much more powerful $1000+ laptops and desktops, however it isn’t. This machine’s sole purpose is for lite internet use, web surfing, checking email, chatting and to write papers on. For $400USD it’s a great deal!

  6. Hi i have had mine over a month now……and love it.
    I am a pc user so still getting used to things and have a bit of trouble hookin up ipod? but i am in advanced mode and Tinkerbell …as i call screen set up pink and pretty.As for the size ,i actually prefer it,i picked up my benq joybook yesterday and it felt like a tv on my knee. I am pretty tiny so keyboard is fine to me,i can touch type on it easily nd fits in my handbag!………..love it love it love it… Asus eeepc 701 4gb pearl….perfecttttttttttttt!

  7. As far as I know, not yet. Probably when Ubuntu Mobile comes out. Also, eee outclasses OLPC in almost every respect

  8. Just saw a comment that the eee is impractical because the screen is too small!

    The eee 701 is the best thing I have ever bought. I’ve wrote two novels on it. It’s amazing.

  9. you say that you have ‘wrote two novels on it’?

    Did they get published?

    If so you must have a pretty patient editor with literary

    skills like that.

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