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Everyday objects that kill hard drives

seagate drives data retrieval ireland

Ask anybody who works in an A&E department where the most accidents occur and they will invariably tell you that most happen in the home. Well, the same applies to hard drive-related accidents. Many users might assume that it takes fire, floods (and brimstone…) to destroy hard drives, but mundane objects found in the home or office can be just as destructive in causing the premature demise of your storage device.

Liquid Damage (cup of tea or coffee / class of wine or beer)
Accidentally spilled liquids are a perennial problem. When liquid spills onto the keyboard of a laptop, it will often seep down into the system’s hard drive bay. This can cause the electronics on the PCB to short out, corrode or in worst case scenarios, it will cause failure of the disk’s pre-amplifier (a tiny device used to amplify read/write signals from the disk heads). The effects of liquid damage can often be very insidious. After a spillage, the drive may work fine for a couple of weeks lulling the user into a false sense of security. But, the problem will only manifest itself after enough corrosion damage has taken place of the drive’s resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, etc. to the point where the drive will no longer power-up or initialise properly.

The Smart TV / DVR box
More and more home users are coming to us with external hard drives which have been plugged into one of the USB ports on their Smart TV or DVR box. Then when re-connected to their computer, the drive won’t turn on. This problem is often the result of over-voltage from the TV’s USB port. It manifests itself in the form of a shorted TVS diode. In other instances, over-voltage can take the form of damaged capacitors, inductors or the motor controller (smooth) chip.

 

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The AC Voltage Adaptor
External 3.5” drives normally rely on clean DC power to a specific voltage and amperage. Plugging in a 15V AC adaptor into your 12V external hard drive will more often than not, cause an over-voltage situation where the PCB or other components get damaged. Likewise, if your external hard drive requires 2 Amps but you’re erroneously using an 1.5 Amp adaptor, your drive is getting less power than it requires to run. Over time, this “amperage starvation” causes a strain on the drive’s components and can lead to failure.

 

USB and power cables
Don’t position your external hard disk’s USB or power cable anywhere near where it might get snagged by errant feet, hands or wandering pets. Tripping over the power or USB cable of a hard disk can often result in your drive taking a downwards trajectory – towards the floor. A “fallen” disk, usually means a head disk assembly replacement procedure has to be undertaken in order to recover the data. In worst case scenarios, especially for drives which were powered-up at the time of the fall will incur scratched platters. Some hard drive and laptop manufacturers have put accelerometers into their devices – which theoretically detect sudden motion and issue a “park” command to the disk heads – but this drive safety feature does not always work effectively in practice. Thankfully, failed drives due to accidental falls should be less of an issue in years to come as wireless external drives become more popular.

 

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Burst Water Tank
Most of us don’t think about the water-tank in our home or office. It’s a classic case of out-of-sight and out-of-mind. But, over the years we have recovered several drives which were destroyed in burst water tank incidences. Old steel water tanks (over 30 years of age) are susceptible to bursting. But, even if your water tank is relatively new, it can still burst due to cold weather or due to ball-cock failure. In all these instances, a failed water tank can result in localised flooding in your home or office and render your USB external drives,disks inside your PC or other storage devices such as NAS boxes inoperable.

Drive Rescue based in Dublin, Ireland offers a complete data recovery service for any drives which have been affected by the above scenarios. Typical drives we recover from include, Seagate Backup Plus, Seagate Expansion, Seagate, Barracuda, Seagate Momentus, Western Digital My Book, Western Digital My Passport Ultra, Intenso external drives and Iomega Professional.

Drive Rescue donation to Capuchin Day Centre, Dublin.

robert scanlon dublin capuchin day centreIn the hullabaloo of daily life, it can be easy to forget those less well off than ourselves. This year Drive Rescue made a donation to the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin 7. Its founder, Brother Kevin Crowely runs an extremely lean and efficient operation, providing breakfast, food parcels, showers, clothes and medical services to almost 500 people a day. His centre gets €450,000 from the government of Ireland, but has running costs of almost €2.3 million. The funding shortfall is made up from the generosity of the Irish people. His centre does not spend money on advertising or PR campaigns. Administrative costs are kept to a bare minimum. Most of the funding they receive goes directly to helping those in need. It was a pleasure to help this very worthy cause.

(Pictured Above: Brother Kevin Crowley of Capuchin Day Centre and Robert Scanlon of Drive Rescue)

A case of missing tombstones – data recovery from a Seagate Backup Plus Drive

external seagate hard disk recovery dublin irelandIn the world of data recovery, you come across many interesting cases. One such case was last week when a professional genealogist visited us with a failed external Seagate Backup Plus drive. Her job involves researching family lineage and history as far back as possible. It’s a laborious and time consuming occupation. Interviews have to undertaken, church records, birth and death certificates and newspaper archives all have to be methodically researched.

For this genealogist, part of her job involves travelling the length and breath of Ireland photographing tombstones in the church grounds and graveyards. She would number the photos (.JPEG files) and then input data, such as family name, graveyard name, townland and other relevant information into a Microsoft Access database. This was all stored on her Seagate Backup Plus USB external hard drive.
When she connected the drive to her laptop and heard a strange noise emanating from inside the disk she knew something was wrong. Her son-in-law, an IT manager kindly offered to see what he could do. As a seasoned pro, he instantly recognised that the clicking noise indicated a serious mechanical problem with the disk. Having used our hard disk data recovery service before, for his own organisation, he recommended that she should contact Drive Rescue.

We removed the disk, a Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB, from its plastic shell and commenced our diagnostics. Heads 03 and 04 failed our disk-head read test. When these heads were attempting to read the Service Area on the platters they could not access any of the drive’s initialisation microcode thus causing the clicking noise. With multiple disk head failure, the best course of action to maximise the chances of a complete recovery is usually to perform a Head Disk Assembly replacement.

 
We had an identical Head Disk Assembly taken from another Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB in our storeroom which had the same (HDA) part number. This would be our donor drive. The failed drive was opened in our Class-100 clean room. We used a tool called a “head comb” (no, not the type that Boots sell…) which is a device specifically designed to safely remove a HDA from a hard disk. There are various types of disk head-comb customised for each hard drive brand. In this particular case, the head comb was designed for working inside Seagate Momentus 2.5” disks. It connects through the small hole on the head arm and can be secured into place using a locking pin. The underside screw which holds the heads in place was then removed. After the brake of the drive was disengaged, the HDA can be safely removed from the disk chassis by using an anti-static tweezers.

The donor HDA was inserted and all components reconnected. It was finally time to close the drive lid and initiate power to the drive. The drive spun into life, but this time no heads were being detected at all. Sometimes, this is normal disk behaviour if the HDA-securing screw on the underside of the drive needs torque adjustment. By tightening or loosening the screw with the turn of a Torx key, the torque pressure can be easily adjusted. In this case, we loosened the HDA screw by turning it around 180 degrees. We applied power to the drive again, and this time all the heads were detected. We then connected the drive to another recovery system to search for a volume on the drive. An NTFS volume showed up with a substantial number of. JPEGs and.MDB (Microsoft Access) files. These were all extracted onto a new drive. The user could now login remotely to our secure systems to view their recovered data.

To say that the user was happy would have been an under-statement. For them to retrace their steps in re-photographing tombstones and re-entering details into a database again would have been a costly, time-consuming and soul-destroying task.

Advanced data recovery of inaccessible or corrupt Outlook .PST and .OLM files

 

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Outlook is a popular email application for Windows and Apple platforms. For most users, it is more than just an email client as it performs as a calendar, contact manager and task organiser. It uses a message store file called .PST (personal store folder) as it’s native file format. We have been helping a number of our clients recently recover data from corrupt .PST files and recover .PST files from mechanically damaged hard disks. For some of these clients, their priority was the recovery of their emails. For others, it was their email, contacts and calendar.

Common Microsoft Outlook error messages

 
When Outlook opens with an error message about an inaccesible .PST it can be quite scary for the user and sometimes for the IT admin (who has no backup…). Common Outlook error messages in Windows include:

 

Cannot open your default e-mail folders. The information store could not be opened.
Cannot start Micorsoft Outlook. Cannot open the Outlook window. The set of folders cannot be opened. The operation failed.
The file C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\Outlook.pst cannot be found.
Cannot start Microsoft Outlook. Cannot open the Outlook window. The set of folders cannot be opened. File access is denied. You do not have permission to access the file C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\Outlook Files\Username.pst

Some of these error messages are indicative that your .PST file has gone corrupt.

To understand how to recover .PST files, it can be helpful to know about the file’s architecture and format. In all versions of Outlook pre-2003, all .PST files were in ANSI (American National Standards Institute) format. From 2003 onwards, all .PST files are now in Unicode format which allows for 64-bit block IDs and absolute file off-sets. Typically, a .PST file is constituted of three layers. These include the Messaging Layer, the LTP layer (lists, tables and properties) and the NDB (Node Database) layer.

The structure of .PST files

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The messaging layer contains the message store, folder structure, messages and attachments. The NDB layer contains the lowest-level information about the .PST file such as header file and metadata pages. The LTP ( Lists, Tables and Properties) layer collects file properties. Because of the .PST’s proprietory status, Microsoft have not disclosed the algorithmic functions which are used to maintain integrity between the layers (the lousers…).

Data recovery or repair of .PST files

There are many “PST recovery tools” available to buy on the internet. Most of these promise the beleaguered user in search of a quick fix a “one click solution”. Sometimes they do work. But most of these utilities cannot handle extensive LTP, NDB or messaging layer corruption. The SCANPST utility can sometimes be successful if there just low-level corruption. However, if the damage if more extensive Drive Rescue can help with a complete data recovery of your Outlook .PST file.

The .OLM connection (Outlook for Mac)

The relationship between Outlook for Windows and Outlook for Mac is rather tenous. In fact, in Microsoftland the developement teams for both aplications are not in the same building or even part of the same business unit. As a result, while on the surface they do share similarities, their underlying architecture of both applications is quite different. The common Outlook for Mac 2011 application has a measly upper size limit of only 2GB. When your .OLM file goes corrupt you can try rebuilding the file by using the Microsoft Database Utility or by rebuilding your identity. If all this fails, professional data recovery for your .OLM file might be needed.

How to mitigate against data loss with Outlook

Use IMAP instead of POP3 – If you’re using Outlook 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016 try to use IMAP instead of the POP3 protocol for your email configuration.(POP3 was not really designed for era of mobile email use). Because IMAP syncs your .PST with your mail server, should something go wrong with it, – you should be able to access a copy of your emails on your mail server.

Don’t let your .PST file get too large. Outlook 2003 and 2007 has a theoretical file size limit of 20GB. From our experience, however, for these versions of Outlook, once you let a .PST go above 16 to 17 GB in size, Outlook can start to go awry and you run the risk of your.PST file imploding. For Outlook 2010 and 2013 the .PST file size limit is a very generous 50GB.

Use Microsoft’s PST Back-up Tool – This handy utility from Microsoft allows you to backup your .PST by using an Outlook plug-in. In turn, you can use its output .PST file for on-line or local backups. This can be extremely useful because when you have Outlook open, a substantial number of backup applications still refuse to back-up a .PST because it is a “file already in use”. Having a second up-to-date .PST file for back-up purposes is a great workaround to this common problem.

Use Outlook Office 365 – With this option your .PST is stored in the Cloud. This can mitigate the risk of data loss due to disk failure but does not protect against events like file corruption. For this, it is recommended that you use an Office 365 solution such as Cloudally or Backupify.

In the event that you or one of your users has lost access to their email store file, Drive Rescue offers an advanced .PST and .OLM data recovery service for corrupt files or files that are inaccessible due to disk electronic or mechanical faults. Call us on 1890 571 571.

Data recovery from 128gb Lite-On IT mSata SSD from Dell Laptop

data recovery liteon ssd drive dublin irelandDrive Rescue is peforming data recovery from an increasingly large number of SSD drives. One driver for the popularity of SSD drives is the reducing cost of NAND memory. Another being the proliferation of light mobile devices – users now have an expectation that endpoint computing devices should be light and small. The success of NAND memory is self-evident. It has already killed off the floppy disk, 35mm photographic film and the one-inch hard drive. If you buy an ultra-portable laptop today, more likely than not it will have an SSD drive as its primary storage device. All MacBook Air laptops now have an SSD drive as standard.
SSD drives are not without their problems however. Take for example this Lite-On IT (pictured above) drive from a Dell laptop. The user of the said system discovered that it would no longer boot to the operating system. Using an mSATA adaptor, he tried reading the drive on another system but the drive was not showing up.
They delivered the drive to us – a Lite-On IT LMT-128L9M. The drive did register on our systems, but it’s ID appeared as scrambled hieroglyphics. Our diagnosis revealed that the drive had a corrupted microcode. So after some extensive searching we found an exact match microcode for this SSD which we then uploaded to our data recovery system. The drive now ID’ed but there was sill no data showing. Before we started any logical recovery, we imaged the drive to another one of the same capacity. Then using a hex editor we looked at every record in the file system for valid NTFS entries. We eventually found one promising looking NTFS partition which we rebuilt and then rebooted the drive . This time data appeared. We invited the client to login remotely to our secure systems to view his files. Word, Excel, Outook (.PST), Onenote (.ONE), .PDF and .RAF (Fuji Raw Image) were all successfully recovered for a very relieved and satisfied client.

Repair of burnt smooth motor-controller chip on Western Digital drive

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Problem
We were recently sent a 1TB Western Digital (S-ATA) drive from Waterford. The user could no longer access their data and when they connected the drive to their Apple Mac they got a faint smell of burning.

Diagnosis

The user’s findings were correct. A burning smell could be detected withing 30 seconds of power-up. We proceeded to remove the PCB and it was immediately apparent that the problem was a burnt smooth motor controller chip. We used then used a multi-meter to test other components of the PCB. Luckily, these appeared to by okay.

What function does a motor controller chip on a hard drive perform?

A smooth chip or motor controller chip controls rotational speed of the platters, but also acts as a DC to DC converter.

Why do motor controller (smooth) chips fail?
Motor controller chips tend to be subjected to the more unregulated voltages from the PSU than other chips on a hard drive’s PCB. A short-circuit of any kind can cause the transistors to heat-up and subsequently burn out.

What is the fix?
Burnt motor-controller chips are a very common occurrence which we see on Western Digital and Seagate drives. The fix usually involves replacing the motor controller chip itself or replacing the whole PCB. If you go for the latter option, you will also have to tranfer over the drive’s unique adaptives information stored on the drive’s BIOS chip or NVRAM chip (Hitachi).

What is the success rate like?
Success rates for this type of data recovery is excellent. However in a rare number of cases, if the drive’s pre-amplifier has been damaged by the short-circuit, this might need replacing also. The 1TB Western Digital drive whose PCB is in the photo above was recovered completely and the customer had all his data back in 3 days!

Recovery of Solidworks files from Dell RAID 5 Server

 

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We recently helped a Dublin engineering company recover data from their Dell PowerEdge T310 RAID 5 server. Last week they reported to their IT support admin that their server would no longer boot-up. He performed diagnostics on the drive and discovered that one of the disks (a 1TB Seagate Barracuda) had failed. Thinking it was not that serious, he removed the failed disk and replaced it with a 1TB hot-spare. Under normal circumstances, the RAID controller (in this case a Dell Perc) should make a block-for-block copy to the hot spare which would then become an active drive after the RAID rebuild process. However, after he initiated the RAID rebuild process and after a 6 hour wait he was getting nowhere. The RAID array would not rebuild. Knowing the limits of his expertise and having used Drive Rescue successfully before – he called us for assistance.

We labeled all the drives and noted the disk order. We then removed the drives from the server and then imaged each drive. Working with the drive images we used our specialised tools and experience we determined the block size, parity strip size and RAID offset.

After several hours work, we now had a volume which we could extract data from. In this particular case, their most important data to the client were Solidworks files, namely assembly files  (.sldasm), drawing files (. slddrw) and image files (. sldprt). These were all extracted and checked for integrity. The client was then able to remotely login to our secure systems to view these files for themselves. Having got confirmation that all of their files were there, we proceeded to extract them to a 2TB USB portable drive which we delivered to a more-than-happy customer.

Data recovery from Dell PowerEdge R805 rack server with integrated RAID controller

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It was the afternoon before a major match when a well known Dublin stadium discovered that their Dell PowerEdge R805 server running Windows Server 2003 was no longer booting. Upon boot-up they were greeted with a “disk error occurred” error message. They tried to perform a RAID rebuild but the rebuild process would not even initialise for them. Their server was running MySQL which was tied to their retail POS software. Without this server, most of their tills for their restaurants, shops and bars would be non-operational. Without some of their receipts to customers would have to be hand-written. They needed a solution and needed one fast.

With such a limited time frame, Drive Rescue pulled out all the stops to help them. We went onsite to perform the initial diagnosis. The drives were configured in RAID 0 (known colloquially as “scary RAID” for it’s total lack of redundancy when it does fail).

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We removed the 2 x Dell Constellation 500GB entreprise-class S-ATA drives and brought them back to our lab. Drive 0 was in rude health. Drive 1 had over 29,000 bad blocks which had to be reallocated. Using a hex-editor, we manually rebuilt the MBR. Then we went performed the RAID rebuild process including finding parameters such as block order, block size, stripe size and RAID offset.
With the volume now rebuilt and extracted onto two new 500GB drives. We then configured it so that it would be bootable again. Understandably, with a major match looming in the stadium later that day the client would not have enough time to re-install and the operating system and all ancillary software.

Using a hex-editor, we manually rebuilt the MBR. Then we went to perform the RAID rebuild process, including finding parameters such as block order, block size, stripe size and RAID offset.

With the volume now rebuilt and extracted onto two new 500GB drives. We then configured it so that it would be bootable again. Understandably, with a major match looming in the stadium later that day the client would not have enough time to re-install and the operating system and all ancillary software.

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After burning some midnight oil, the following morning we delivered the two disks containing the recovered volume and connected them to their server. The power button was pressed and some reassuring beeps were heard and finally the Window Server 2003 logo appeared followed shortly by the desktop screen. Sigh of relief all round! Now their retail operations would not be interrupted and they could safely scupper their plan B of writing out receipts with paper and pen!

Data recovery from LaCie Big Disk 1TB RAID 0

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We recently helped a management consultant from Co. Cork recover data from his failed Lacie Big Disk configured in RAID 0. He bought the drive 4 years ago for personal and business use, and it worked great for him. However, last week when he went to turn it on, it was not recognised by his iMac or MacBook Pro computer. He look it to his local computer repair shop. They removed the disks from their enclosure, and they discovered that Drive “0” was not operational. They referred him to Drive Rescue data recovery

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We opened the case and found 2 x Samsung HD501LJ 500GB disks inside. Disk 0 was clicking when initialised whilst Disk 1 seemed to be healthy. The problem with a RAID 0 configuration is that the data is spread across two disks. Thus, having one disk operational does not mean that you still have half your data because it is spread across the two disks evenly. For example, if you have a .JPEG file, 50 percent of its constituent bits will be stored on Disk 0 and the other half on Disk 1. We examined Disk 0 further. Heads “2” and “3” had failed. This would require a head-disk assembly swap. Because Disk 1 was identical, it means we could transplant the HDA from Disk 1 to Disk 0. But first, we would have to image Disk 1.

 

 
Once the imaging for Disk 1 completed and we had verified it’s integrity, we brought the two disks into our cleanroom from their “operation”. Firstly, this involved removing the “good” HDA from Disk 1. This is an intricate procedure which requires skill, experience and a steady hand. Once this HDA was removed from Disk 1, it was now time to remove the defective HDA from Disk 0. Now both HDA’s had been successfully removed.

 
Now it was time to start the “transplant”. There are a number of criteria here which must be met for a successful head disk assembly swap. The transplanted HDA must be aligned perfectly with the disk platters. If wrongly aligned the “flying height” of the heads will be too low or too high. In both cases, this can result in the non-reading of some or all of the disk tracks. Another important factor to mention is to torque the restraining screws correctly. If there is not enough pressure, the platters can warp. Too little pressure and the syncing between heads and platters will be off-kilter.
With the replacement HDA from Drive 1 now successfully transplanted to Drive 0, it was not time to image it. This took approximately 3.5 hours.

 
The second stage of this data recovery would involve rebuilding the RAID array of the two disks so that original volume could be recreated. This involved finding the block size, the RAID offset and the block order. These parameters were found using a hex editor.

 
After some hours of calculations the RAID parameters were found and the original volume name now reappeared. Word, Excel, PDFs, .JPEGs, and Sage Accounts files were all extracted onto a USB external drive and dispatched to our more-than-happy client in Co. Cork.

Giving Back @ Drive Rescue

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Homelessness in Ireland is a problem which has been in the media spotlight recently. But homelessness has always been a problem. We realise that the causes are deep-rooted and multi-faceted but some help is better than no help.

The charity we decided to donate to this year was the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin 7. It serves breakfast to around 250 people each day and dinner to around 450 and 520 people. The operating costs of the centre are around €2.3 million but the State only provides €450,000. The rest comes from fundraising. It was enlightening to see the quality service offered by the centre and to sit down with Brother Kevin (head of the centre) to discuss the homelessness problem. His centre does an admiral job in providing food, warmth, showers, clothing, companionship and heathcare to those less fortunate. So it was a real honour for Drive Rescue to be able to make a contribution to this very worthwhile cause.

The Drive Rescue team would like to wish everyone an enjoyable Christmas and a happy 2015.