How just one phone call lead to data loss for one user…

data recovery irelandHere at Drive Rescue we come across some unusual cases. It is one of reasons why data recovery is such an interesting job. There is always a new and different challenge.

Last week was one such case. A lady who was finalising her PhD thesis was getting into her car. Her phone rang. She placed her Western Digital Passport external drive on the car’s roof. She continued with her phone conversation and then proceeded to sit behind the wheel. After a few minutes, the conversation ended and she started her ignition and drove off.

The fact that her external hard drive was still resting on her roof had unfortunately escaped her. She drove on for around one kilometre until she reached the motorway. Just arriving onto the slipway of the motorway, she braked and saw a black object with a wire attached to it flying across her windscreen, bouncing onto the road and into the ditch. To her horror, she realised where she had put her hard drive, a half an hour previously. She drove up a little bit further to the hard shoulder, put her hazard lights on and started looking in the ditch. After around ten minutes of searching amongst the overgrown grass and ragwort, she saw a metallic object glistening in the undergrowth. Luckily, it was not a discarded Coke can but it was her hard drive. It had broken loose from its plastic enclosure. After some more searching, she found the plastic enclosure and the USB connection cable. She got into her car, and headed home. She eagerly connected the drive to her computer, but to her dismay heard only a clicking noise. She phoned a friend who works in I.T. in the south of Ireland. He advised her to take it to a data recovery company and recommended Drive Rescue.

We first performed a media test on the drive. Two of the drive heads had failed. The whole head disk assembly would have to be replaced. We now needed to find an exact-match Head Disk Assembly in order to transplant a new HDA to the drive. After a lot of phone calls and emails, one of our suppliers in Germany had the exact part in stock. We got it sent to us via express courier. The damaged drive was brought into our clean-room where the old Head Disk Assembly was carefully removed. The replacement Head Disk Assembly was now carefully inserted in our clean room. It took another few hours before we were satisfied that the torque pressure applied to the HDA was perfect to ensure the precise “flying-height” needed by the drive heads. We then configured the drive’s servo-adaptive parameters as close as possible to the old configuration. If the servo-adaptive parameters are not “tuned” right; PRML (the type of read/write encoding used) will not function correctly and the data will not be read properly. Once we were satisfied that these were accurate, we then imaged the drive. The imaging process took around 6 hours. Once this had been completed; we would be able to check the data. It all looked perfect. We got the client to email us a list of important files as confirmation. Our recovery set had everything on the client’s “most wanted” list and more.

This accident could have happened to anyone. We are all human. We are living in the “connected age”; we can now get distracted from even the most perfunctory of tasks. The PhD thesis (which took two years to complete) and accompanying scans of research documents were all recovered successfully. The recovered data was delivered to the client on a brand new USB drive. The lesson, as always, is: backup your data; expect the unexpected and never put your hard drive on the roof of a car!

Important Factors for a Successful Head Disk Assembly Swap

data recovery seagate drive ireland 2

We recently performed a successful data recovery operation for a multinational bio-tech company based in south-west Ireland. In one of their laboratories, there was a desktop PC which experienced hard drive failure. Recently, their laboratory staff noticed the system getting slower and less responsive to use. Last week, it shut down on them and would not successfully boot-up again. They thought they had a full back-up of their files, but on further investigation, it transpired that their backup was a few months out-of-date. Their own I.T. administrators tried to extract data from it, but to their dismay, they heard “click-of-death” sound the moment they connected it to another PC.

The client had used our data recovery service successfully before. They sent us the drive – a 3.5” 2TB Seagate Barracuda S-ATA drive. Our diagnosis revealed that it had 6 failed heads and also showed a lot of evidence of overheating. The increased temperatures which Ireland experienced this July probably did not help.

A head disk assembly swap is perhaps one of the most intricate data recovery operations to perform. It requires excellent theoretical knowledge of the workings of a magnetic hard drive, specialised data recovery tools, a Class-100 clean room, years of experience, patience and a steady hand! The recovery went smoothly and was a complete success. One hundred percent of their data was recovered.

Like any process, there are a number of factors which make the difference between a half-baked recovery and a recovery which is a complete success. For a head disk assembly swap, there are a number of variables which a competent data recovery technician will observe.

Firstly, the technician must acquire an exact-match donor part. For example, in this case, we already had an exact-match head disk assembly part (from an identical 1TB Seagate drive) in stock. This saved the client (and us) time. The part matched the original drive’s model number, revision number and both were manufactured in the same month and year.

The old drive heads should be removed carefully from the donor drive using the proper tools. The head disk assembly should be removed from the platters of the old drive without it actually touching them. In this case, we used a special spacer tool (customised for Seagate data recovery) to carefully remove the head disk assembly from the donor drive without any platter contact. Likewise, the old faulty heads were removed from the drive needing recovery using a similar process.

Alignment of the new head-stack must be in an identical position as the old one. If the HDA is off-kilter, this excessive head-to-platter “eccentricity” cannot be tracked out by the drive’s servo.

The centre of the platters should line up with one another perfectly. This can be helped by using platter alignment tools, but technician experience will be an even greater asset for a perfect alignment.

Lastly, it is very important during this type of data recovery operation that the donor head disk assembly is properly torqued. If not enough pressure is applied, the heads will be at a “flying height” that is either too low or too high. Heads that are flying too close to the platters risk touching, or worse still, scouring them. If the heads are too high the read signal will be too attenuated for the drive’s pre-amplifier, and little or no data will be readable.

There are a lot more issues involved in a head stack replacement which go beyond the scope of one blog post. Technical processes and other minutiae of a recovery operation account for little if there are no results. The most important aspect of the data recovery process is the final outcome. In this case, the bio-tech firm got all their data retrieved and it was extracted and delivered to them on an external USB drive.

Data Recovery from a Fujitsu 2.5” S-ATA Drive

 

data recovery ireland fujitsu drive (Medium)

We recently got a call from a Dublin based tour guide company. They organise trips around the capital and Ireland.  They are now coming into their busiest season. They have tourists arriving from all over the world to enjoy the Irish culture and hospitality.

 

Unfortunately, last week, one of the reservations agents experienced hard drive failure on her Toshiba laptop. They had an online backup, but when they downloaded it, most of the data turned out to be corrupt. (This is not uncommon with some online backup providers) This put them in a very precarious position. Key information and itineraries were all stored on the drive. Not only was their data at stake so was their reputation.  

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Our diagnosis revealed that the drive had a failed ROM chip. The ROM chip on the PCB stores servo-adaptive information needed for the drive to initialise and run properly. The data recovery process involved de-soldering the chip from the PCB. We then used a replacement board, which we already had in stock, and re-soldered an exact match ROM chip back on.

 

The data recovery was a success. The drive initialised with a healthy spin. We then imaged the drive and extracted all of their data. This data was put on an external USB drive. Now, none of their client’s trips to Ireland will be inconvenienced due to lost itineraries.

 We recommended to this company that online backup alone is not sufficient for a safe backup. Ideally, they should have had a backup stored locally as well. We provided them with some tips on how to prevent this from ever happening again.  

 

 

Data Recovery from Dropbox

data recovery from dropbox irelandWe recently got a call from a panicked customer who had just accidently deleted the Dropbox folder on their PC. Ironically, it was their Dropbox folder which stored their most important Word, Excel and PDF files.

 Thankfully, the designers of Dropbox had envisaged such a problem when devising their software and offer their users two data recovery options.

 

In order to perform data recovery from Dropbox, the steps are rather easy:


1)      Open up your Dropbox console

2)      Go to Show Deleted Files at the top. It is just to the left of the “Search Dropbox” box.

3)      All deleted files will appear grey. Select all of the files.

4)      Now press on Restore link from the top menu. In a lot of cases, this should restore your files.

 

However, in this case, the deleted files were still not showing. But, Dropbox has another fallback. If you have accidentally deleted files from your Dropbox folder but cannot find them using the “Restore” function from the Dropbox server – you can look in your Dropbox cache folder stored locally on your PC.


1)      Open up Windows Explorer

2)      Navigate to your Dropbox folder. Usually C:\Users\Username\Documents\Dropbox.cache

3)      You should find the deleted files hiding here.

 

In this case, the customer’s files were indeed hiding in the Dropbox cache folder. We recovered them by simply removing them from the cache folder ad placing them in a folder we created called “Recovered Data”.

 

We recommended to the customer that ideally they should have another backup as well. Dropbox is a backup medium but does not constitute a complete backup solution. In this case, we recommended to the client that they purchase a 2.5” backup drive and backup software which includes automatic scheduling.   

 

As this data recovery solution was so quick and easy and could be performed remotely, we decided the cost would be gratis. This morning when our courier arrived, we were delighted to find the client, in gratitude, sent us a lovely bottle of  of Barolo wine. Cheers.

Repair of a Burnt Inductor Chip : Samsung S-ATA Drive

The PCB of a Samsung S-ATA Hard Drive

A client recently called us to say that he had mistakenly plugged in a 19V power laptop power adaptor into the 12V connector of his LaCie external hard drive.

 

He realised his mistake when he, rather ominously, got a faint burning smell emanating from the drive. He immediately disconnected the drive from its wrong power adaptor. Using the correct power supply adaptor, he switched it back on but the drive would not start.

 

He removed the Samsung drive from its LaCie enclosure and connected it to a computer directly using a S-ATA cable hoping that this would work – but still the drive would not spin up.  

 

When he asked his I.T. department in work to recommend a data recovery company in Dublin – they recommended Drive Rescue. We examined the drive. It was immediately apparent to us that the 4R7 chip, which is an inductor chip, was physically damaged. An inductor chip, used in conjunction with capacitors, helps filter out or emphasise specific frequencies travelling through a hard drive’s PCB.

 

Close-up of burnt inductor chip

We had a replacement inductor chip of the same type already in stock. We de-soldered the old burnt inductor chip off the PCB and replaced it with the new one. We connected the hard drive to our systems. The data was immediately accessible. We returned the drive to the customer strong advising him that, even though the drive was fully operational, to transfer the data over to another drive as soon as possible. Physical repairs to hard drives, no matter how well executed, are not meant to be permanent.

 

The lesson: always exercise care when connecting your power cable to your external hard drive. It sounds like a harmless mistake but can be catastrophic for your drive. This customer was lucky. Sometimes, a power surge will fry the MCU or memory chip of a PCB (destroying the drive’s adaptive information) and even has the potential to damage the pre-amplifier chip on the actuator arm. And of course, always have your data backed-up to a second storage medium.

Time for FAT32 to go to Storage Heaven

floppy disk irelandvhs data ireland    

The world of storage technology is littered with examples of out-dated technologies that have hung around longer than they should. Take the humble floppy 3.5” disk. Even when 128MB flash memory sticks were widely available, floppies were still being used. There was always one  curmudgeon user in every office who insisted on using floppies when everyone else was using USB flash drives or CDs. Tape backup is only now in its final death throes for most commercial uses. And even in the home, VHS tapes took much longer than expected to retire. Up untillast year, Argos the catalogue retailer was still selling VHS tapes.


There is one more piece of storage technology that is still hanging around, past its sell-by-date – the FAT driver. FAT was devised in 1977 along with MS-DOS and even then was a less than efficient file system. For example, a 45KB file which was on a drive that used 32KB clusters would use up 64KB of space. In 1996, an improved version of FAT called FAT32 was brought out to overcome some the file system’s deficiencies. For drives less than 8Gb, the cluster size is 4KB which means a lot less wasted space on a storage device.


But even with the improvement FAT32, it is still a poor and unreliable file system. Its performance starts to lag after 200MB. Its directory has no formal organisation. As files systems go, FAT32 is not really suited to storages devices above 20GB. Other reasons FAT32 does not make a great file system include:

 

1)      On the FAT32 file system, files will more likely “spread out” or fragment over the drive. For efficient storage, data should be contiguous as possible on a storage device.

2)      FAT32 has a very low fault tolerance. This can lead to data loss.

3)      FAT 32 was really designed to work with small partitions of under 20GB. Of course, it will still work with your 32GB Memory Stick or camera card but not optimally.

 

 

Only last week, we were dealing with a distressed PhD student who had all his thesis backed up onto a Kingston 8GB USB drive which was FAT32 formatted. It had a substantial number of Word Documents, AutoCAD, Jpeg and .PDF files stored on it. When he connected it to his computer, the device was registering as 0 bytes. We performed diagnostics on the device. The NAND chip seemed okay, the controller seemed to be functioning but the file allocation table had totally collapsed. Using  a binary editor we were able to manually rebuild the FAT32 file system. The data recovery process restored all of his data.


So with all these disadvantages that I have outlined, you would think that FAT32 would be rarely, if ever, be used with files over 20GB. I’m afraid that is not the case. If you buy a 32GB USB flash drive or standard SD camera card to-day, it will probably be formatted with FAT32.  The reason being is that FAT32 is freely licensed and has universal operating system support. This helps explain its popularity among flash drive manufacturers. (NTFS is a proprietary format and is heavily patent protected)

 

We will probably only see the demise of FAT32 coinciding with the demise of Windows XP. Once the prevalence of Windows XP in houses and offices across Ireland and the globe has finally ended, exFAT will most probably become the de facto standard for high-capacity USB flash drives and camera cards.

 


Why exFAT is better than FAT32

 

 camera card data recovery ireland

ExFAT is a file system specifically designed for flash memory devices of over 4GB in capacity. It’s file size limit is 16 exabytes. It allows for access control lists to set restrictions on certain files. More importantly, it uses free space bitmaps in order to reduce fragmentation. Using a more robust system such as exFAT should, in theory, reduce the probability of file system corruption and if this file system does go corrupt, thanks to bit mapping the chances of more streamlined data recovery are a lot higher.

The uptake of exFAT by flash memory manufacturers has already begun.   All SDXC (SD Extended Capacity) cards now use exFAT.

In the next couple of years, we will probably be saying goodbye to FAT32 and as the de facto file system for USB drives and camera cards.  It will be going to storage heaven to meet-up with some old tapes and old 3.5” floppy diskettes.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Top Five Human Accidents that lead to Data Loss and How to Prevent Them

 

 

Accident Risk # 1 : Connecting your Storage Device using the Wrong Power Adaptor

 

With the average office or home now awash with electronic devices, it is very easy to erroneously use the wrong power adaptor to power up your external hard drive. The average power adaptor for your 3.5” S-ATA external hard drive is 12V and 2Amps.

The problem is compounded by the rise in use of Ultrabooks (slimline laptops). These devices use very similar looking power connectors but their voltages differ (usually 17V to 19V). When a 19V adaptor is plugged into a hard drives’ 12V connector, fire and brimstone will not ensue but you do risk damaging your hard drive’s TVS diode or other components on the PCB such as the drive controller.  In certain data recovery cases we have seen, the over-voltage surged through the drive and fried the pre-amplifier chip mounted on the actuator arm. Our advice: Label your drive cables or use a sticker to differentiate them for other devices.

 

Accident Risk # 2 :Liquid Spillage

 

Of all the accidents that can befall a hard drive, liquid spillage is the most insidious. Most users who have spilled wine, coffee, cola or water on their laptop will frantically start a clean-up procedure with J-clothes, paper towels and even hair dryers. If their laptop powers up successfully and they see their files again – they are ecstatic. They ascribe their luck to their assiduous clean-up procedure, forget about their “near miss” experience and move on. But this is when the real damage happens. A proper clean usually involves a good knowledge of the insidious effect of liquid on a hard drive’s PCB, some cotton buds, a ballast magnifying lamp and some isopropyl solution. This might sound like overkill for a bit of spilt coffee but when liquid deposits meet the delicate electronics on your hard drive’s PCB – oxidation occurs. A oxidised PCB usually causes the board to short and the onboard chips to fail. Worse still, liquid ingress via your hard drive’s vent hole can mean some more serious damage if the liquid seeps onto the platters – the drive platters can become a veritable skating rink for your drive heads. Our advice: Place cups, glasses and bottles a reasonable distance from your laptop. If you did spill liquid on your laptop keyboard, remove the hard drive immediately. Even if it still appears to be undamaged – get your system checked out by a competent and experienced computer technician or electronics engineer.

 

 

 

 

Accident Risk # 3 : External Drives and NAS  – Accidental Trips over Power and USB cables.

 

Nearly twenty years ago, journalist Frances Cairncross writing for the Economist made the prescient prediction that the future of home and office technology would be completely wireless. A substantial number of homes and offices now have everything from wireless IP cameras, to wireless baby monitors to wireless internet. This includes wireless hard drives. But these are still in the minority. Most users still use wired storage devices. And herein lies the problem. Wires are a trip hazard. When a USB cable or A/C power lead gets in the way of a fast moving human foot, it can easily result in a laptop or storage device heading south. Some hard drives will come away unscathed from the impact. Other drives are not so lucky. A hard drive that is turned on  i.e. fully spinning that incurs impact damage, such as a fall from a table to a floor, usually results in a seized spindle at best and at worst misalignment of the head disk assembly.  In worst case scenarios, the HDA will misalign and the heads will then scour the surface of the platters. Data recovery is usually possible for the first two scenarios but not for the latter. Our advice: Position your external hard or NAS drive whereby it’s power and USB cables not trip hazards. Cable ties from any hardware store can be used to tidy up loose wires.

 

Accident Risk # 4 : Putting your Laptop or Tablet in your Luggage

 

When packing for a business trip or a holiday, it is tempting to just put your laptop into your suitcase. This can be a big mistake. Putting a laptop in a suitcase means it will go though a slalom course of potential shock hazards in the bowels of an airport. Human handlers, conveyor belts, automatic luggage handlers, airside luggage vehicles and aircraft holds are all potential areas for laptop shock damage. Our advice: Carry your laptop / tablet PC with you as hand luggage in a well padded sleeve or case. When travelling, treat your laptop in the same way you would treat a piece of antique Waterford Crystal – with extreme care. And of course, you will have it fully backed up anyway – won’t you…?

 

 

 

Accident Risk # 5: USB Key Drives: Flex or Shear Damage

 

There is an old Japanese proverb that says “it is the nail that sticks out that gets hammered”. Here at Drive Rescue, we believe “It is the USB stick that sticks out that gets damaged and will need data recovery”. The reason is simple, if you have a laptop that you move around, it is easy to forget that there is a plastic stick protruding out with a USB connector that holds a delicate NAND chip and controller inside. A protruding plastic part is a very likely candidate for any damage. For example, if your laptop falls, the first point of contact with the floor will very likely be your USB stick. This will incur significant shock damage and possibly the PCB of the device will be sheared off from it’s USB connector. Our advice: Transfer data to / from your USB memory stick and when complete, disconnect it from your PC. Do not leave it plugged into your computer for prolonged periods.

 

Following these tips and always having your data fully backed up can negate the need for the services of a data recovery company.

Professional Photographer: Data Recovery from a 1.8” MacBook Air Drive

Samsung 1.8" Drive from Macbook Air

 

We recently got a call from a professional photographer whose Macbook Air had experienced hard drive failure. Michael (not his real name) has been a professional photographer for the past sixteen years. He photographs everything from weddings to conferences to industrial ball bearings all around Ireland.

 

Last week, when he started up his Mac he got the dreaded question mark icon appear on his Macbook screen. His local Mac repair centre informed him that the drive had failed. They spent a couple of days attempting data recovery but this recovery proved to be beyond the scope of their expertise and they referred him to us.

 

Michael was devastated. He had three sets of trade conference photos and one set of food product photos for a new website that was launching soon. He had wiped his camera memory card and overwritten it several times over. He had not backed up because his external backup drive was full. He was kicking himself for his lack of backup. He was fretting over his reputation. It was a nightmare for him. We presented Michael with all his options and estimated price. We assured him that no stone would be left unturned getting all his photos recovered.

 

We took his 1.8” Samsung LIF drive into our cleanroom. Our diagnosis revealed that the drive had a stiction problem. (Stiction is where the drive heads stick to the drive platters). Using specialised Head Disk Assembly tools – the heads have to placed back to drive ramp with extreme care. But before this can even be contemplated, it must be ascertained if the drive heads are in anyway damaged before they are moved back. Otherwise, platter damage can easily incur.  This is where our rotatable electronic microscope came into play. We carefully examined the heads for damage. There appeared to be no evidence of any. Armed with this information, we now began the delicate process of lifting the heads back into position. Upon completion, we powered up the drive and it gently spun into life again. We then started the imaging process onto another drive as a precaution (a repaired hard drive can be an unpredictable and fragile beast).

 

The recovery proved to be successful. All his recovered data was extracted from the drive image to an external HFS+ formatted USB 3.0 drive. His photos (and reputation) saved.

 

 

 

 

 

Data Recovery from a Samsung 250 GB Laptop Hard Drive

 

We were recently helping the sales director of a multinational pharmaceutical company to recover data from his Samsung 2.5” laptop hard drive. His operating system has crashed and his I.T. support department passed the drive onto us.

 

A couple of days preceding his computer crash, the user had noticed his operating system (Windows 7 Pro) getting very sluggish and freezing intermittently. He was extremely busy in his office and on the road. He did not have time to get his I.T. department to have a look at it. Then one morning he turned his system on only to get the dreaded Windows “blue screen of death”. He restarted the system about a dozen times in the hope it might successfully start-up but to no avail.

 

His last back-up was almost five months old.  He had Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Visio files stored on it which he badly needed. Moreover, there was also a .PST holding the details of several important customers.

 

His I.T. department performed diagnostics on the drive to make sure it was not an errant driver or memory leak which was causing the blue screen. They slaved the drive onto another system but the host system froze immediately. They then knew they would need some extra help in recovering files off this drive.

 

We received the drive – a Samsung HM251HI. We had dealt with this type of drive before. We performed our own diagnostics. At least 2 of the drive heads appeared to have failed. We then brought the drive to our clean room to confirm what our software diagnostics were indicating to us. Two of the heads had “lifted” from the platters. We removed the whole head disk assembly. We had an exact-match replacement HDA already in stock.  After hours of some very intricate work, the new head disk assembly was now in situ. We now needed to calibrate the servo adaptive parameters of the drive so the new heads would synch smoothly with the platters. With calibration complete, we powered up the drive. This would be the moment of truth. The drive initiated and three seconds later the new heads smoothly touched down on the landing zone area of platters. Perfect! The drive was imaged onto another drive. The data was then all extracted onto a brand new USB external drive ready for delivery. Result: a one hundred per cent recovery and a very satisfied customer.

 

Seagate Barracuda Data Recovery for a Dental Practice

 

Recently, we got a call from a distressed office manager of a dental practice in South Dublin. Three days previous, their main office computer crashed. They called their I.T. support company who performed a diagnostic on the drive. Its status came up as “failed”. A new hard drive was then installed in the system along with a fresh installation of Windows 7. The backup device, a USB external hard drive was then connected. There was a file backup present but to their shock and dismay it was nearly 4 months out-of-date. The office manager got that sinking feeling that data loss induces in people. Their I.T. support company then resorted to the failed Seagate drive and tried to recover data off that but to no avail. The drive – a Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB just kept on clicking. No data at all was showing up.

 

We performed our own diagnostic on the drive. Sure enough, two of the drive heads had failed. A drive head is the tiny component at the tip of the drive’s actuator arm that actually reads and writes the data to the platters. We entered the drive part number into our database. Luckily, we had the exact match head disk assembly already in stock.

 

The drive was then taken into our class-100 clean room. The old head disk assembly was carefully removed. The donor part was then inserted. This is an intricate job taking years of experience and a very steady hand. The head disk assembly swap was a success but our job was not over yet. The drive was powered up and it spun into life with a nice healthy sounding spin. The data was still not showing up though. This is normal with some models of the Barracuda after a HDA swap. We then attached the drive to our recovery equipment where we edited the SAP (Servo Adaptive Parameters) and CAP (controller adaptive parameters) information. Editing these two parameters usually results in a better synching between the heads and the platters. The drive was powered up again and this time all their data appeared. To confirm a read/write integrity scan was performed which it passed. As an extra precaution, the drive was then imaged. The final stage of this recovery process was the extraction of  all their Sage accounts, dental records, JPEG files of X-rays, Word and Excel files onto an external drive.

 

The dental practice is now using local backup and online backup. The backups are checked by staff every week. It’s not just teeth that need check-ups.