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.