Flying Trilobites with Failing Hard Drives

Glendon Mellow, the Flying Trilobite himself, is having difficulties with his old laptop’s hard drive. Apparently the laptop died an ignominious death, and a good deal of information that was rather important to him is still locked away on it. To make matters worse, the hard drive was removed and attached to another computer, where Chkdsk failed and froze at about 40% done, which tends to happen if there’s serious hard drive corruption or physical media errors. So, while I’m about to post about some ideas I have to get data off it, it would be fantastic if you kind folks could also provide some tips and tricks. Bear in mind that the drive is obviously functioning or it wouldn’t get to 40% to begin with, and also that Chkdsk is most certainly not the be-all and end-all of computer salvage tools.

The first option we have, obviously, is to boot a computer from a live Linux CD, such as Ubuntu, then either run ntfsck to check the drive and hope for the best, or simply start copying the entirety of the hard drive off onto another blank hard drive of equal or greater size using the dd utility. Then whatever is copied, is recoverable and easily readable from Windows. Whatever gets skipped, assme it’s unrecoverable. If it copies the whole hard drive without error, but you can’t get the stuff off it, and chkdsk freezes at 40% on this new hard drive, then the problem is in the NTFS filesystem and not the physical drive. That’s a good and a bad thing — it means your old drive is still usable, but it also means that a surprisingly large amount of your files may end up scrambled (up to and including everything after that 40% mark).

I’ll post a bunch of links in the comments to commercial and non-commercial sites that may have useful Windows-based utilities once I’m done my posting-dump.

Flying Trilobites with Failing Hard Drives

25 thoughts on “Flying Trilobites with Failing Hard Drives

  1. 1

    File recovery: — free, haven’t tried it (GetDataBack NTFS) — commercial, $70 — I’ve personally used this one, and know it can do the job. If the free options don’t work, it’s worth the money.

    Unstoppable copier: — free, AND works under Windows and Linux! Haven’t tried it though. Same idea as using “dd” under Linux.

    NTFS recovery — these are for if the filesystem is corrupted, rather than the media itself: $70, I know nothing about this $45CDN, haven’t tried this either $40, you’ll want Uneraser — tried it, worked reasonably well

  2. 2

    Holy monkey! Thanks Jason! And any suggestions from others are very much appreciated.

    A bit more background, dunno if it’s relevant.

    At start-up, the error is “system 32ntoskrnl.exe” is missing or damaged.

    When a friend tried chkdsk, it got to 17% after a few minutes, made it to 25% overnight and went back to the c: prompt.

    It’s an older Compaq Presario R3000 laptop running Windows XP.

    I bought the laptop from a friend who partitioned it 4 ways for some reason. And my head just grew 3 sizes from all the things I never knew about computers before a week ago.

    $70 for those programs isn’t bad at all.

  3. 3

    Okay, I know it sounds stupid, but I’ve seen this work three times (and not do anything twice) – wrap the hard drive in an anti-static bag good and airtight, and place the drive in a freezer overnight. In the morning, plug it in and see if it’ll at least boot. I swear I’ve seen coworkers do it at my last job and it worked long enough to grab data off the drive!

    Other than that, it certainly does sound like a hard disk failure. I had a great surface repair utility that ran from a command prompt that I got from my last job on a USB flash drive, but the drive stopped working last month and I lost it!

    If I can remember the name of it or get another copy of it, I can email it to you. If I remember correctly it was only a few Mb in size. I do have a buddy that has a bunch of programs he uses for data recovery, I’ll see if I can get any ideas from him.

  4. 4

    The freezer trick is good for one situation, really: where the head is having problems moving across the platters. Freezing it temporarily lowers the resistance the head has to push against, which will sometimes allow you to (if you’re fast) grab the data before the head seizes up again. Since we don’t know the internals of your hard drive, I’d use it as a last resort, before doing anything drastic like paying for software. (Yes, I consider paying for software to be drastic.)

    Here’s a surface repair utility that I understand is pretty useful but it’s really pricy: — $125.

    Running out the door — will talk more about your extra info once I’m back.

  5. 7

    Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to find it tonight. I took an hour to try and figure out how to map my NTFS partitions to folders in Kubuntu so I don’t have to connect to them manually before accessing my massive collection of media, and in the process I seem to have killed my mirror and the partition with Windows XP on it. While this might please Greg Laden to no end, I’m certainly not in the happiest of moods right now.

    Be back soon.

  6. 8

    Ummm… I’m just sayin, I could prolly help you find it.

    I was attempting to find my legitimate copy, so that I could make it illegitimate by sending it to Glendon!

  7. 10

    Glad you didn’t lose all the data. Did you manage to get the drives mapped to the folder names you wanted?

    I’m thinking that you’ll want to take a look at the /etc/fstab file. It should list the drives that are attached to the system, and in what way they are mounted when the system boots.

  8. 11

    Glad you didn’t lose all the data. Did you manage to get the drives mapped to the folder names you wanted?

    No. I looked up a bunch of websites (about 20 of them) and thought I knew what I was doing editing the /etc/fstab file. I mounted a single drive and it worked, but it turned out to not be the partition I thought it was. So I changed it to the correct partition and figured I had it all figured out, so I mapped the remaining drives. I was able to access all my partitions except for my 1 Tb mirror and my Windows XP partition. I made adjustments, but still couldn’t adjust them. I thought something else might be going on, so I restarted my PC but Kubuntu crashed and froze on the shut down. I waited 15 minutes, then manually powered off the computer. When I booted it back up, the BIOS was unable to find any drives attached to my mirror. I loaded into Kubuntu, and it froze on startup after throwing me some Error 13 messages. I gave it 15 minutes to load, and restarted it. I tried logging into Windows XP and it failed to load past the Windows splash screen.

    I disconnected the SATA cables for my mirror and double-checked my BIOS, and only my hard disk with XP and Kubuntu was there, so I loaded into Kubuntu. It took 10 minutes, but I got in. I replaced the /etc/fstab file with the original copy and restarted. Everything loaded fine, so I reconnected my mirror drives and restarted again, and everything was fine.

    Then I decided I’d had enough excitement for the evening and went to bed. I’ll give it another try tonight.

  9. 13

    So far the laptop is resting comfortably at my most technical-minded friend’s place. No luck with the first try – it didn’t recognize there was a C drive.

    There will be more attempts. Thanks so much for the help again.

  10. 14

    That’s a shame… though if it helps, if it still shows up in BIOS as a visible drive, then regardless of what Windows says, the data is probably still on there. Just because it doesn’t show up as a lettered drive (like C:), doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

    Too bad I don’t live closer. I hate long-distance troubleshooting.

  11. 15

    I’m hopeful that a buddy of mine has a copy of SpinRite and Recover Pro, but he’s in Vancouver right now. As soon as I get my hands on them, I can email them to you, Glendon (they’re only a few Mbs each, IIRC).

  12. 16

    That sounds awesome guys.

    It does show up in BIOS, so I’m hopeful. As far as you know, are any of the other programs you suggested early on still possible for this problem? I’m not sure what we should try next.

  13. 17

    Absolutely. First thing I’d try, in fact, is GetDataBack NTFS, which I just found out is on a recovery CD I that I have and use presently, called Dave’s Ultimate Boot CD. It has a number of proprietary files that are probably not properly licensed, and I downloaded it for free, but that disc has hauled my ass out of so many fires it’s not even funny. I’m afraid it’ll be an exercise to you to find it on the interwebs.

  14. 18

    Okay, I got ahold of my buddy and he said he’d email the programs to me. The second I get them I’ll forward them on to you Glendon.

    I used something similar to that CD you mentioned Jason, but we called it the Disc Of Wonder. I’ve still got the ISO, but it’s a little big for email!

  15. 19

    So an update: my more technically minded friend gave a bunch of the programs that have been recommended by Jason, or sent by sinned34. Each time he ran them on his computer while it was hooked up to the laptop hard drive, his computer would freeze. So, so far no luck.

    I may take it into a shop. There’s a good reason we want to get some of the photos back. Everyone, thank you so much for your concern and your help – it was not expected, and it’s been fantastic. Jason thanks for putting up this post in my aid.

    I finally got a new computer, my first computer that’s not a hand-me-down. Triple-core, 4GB ram, 750GB hard drive and it is soooo pretty. It’s what i could afford, and I am really happy with it. I downloaded Artrage 2.5 and I’m having fun learning how to paint all over again.

  16. 20

    My boss’s netbook (Dell Mini 10) lost a hard drive last weekend. WIndows gave the blue screen with “could not mount boot media” or some such thing. Using TestDisk I could restore the Primary MBR from the backup MBR, or so I thought. When I went to write the changes, it told me that it couldn’t do it. I’m guessing that there was irreparable damage to the primary MBR location. TestDisk would let me see the file structure on the disk, so I could have recovered some data, but she had nothing on there that was important enough for her to want to save. Dell shipped out a new hard drive (refurbished, actually) and installation was a breeze.

  17. 21

    Sorry to hear the software didn’t help, Glendon. I agree that the best thing to do now would be to locate a company that can perform reliable data recovery. Sometimes, the manufacturer of the hard disk can also perform a recovery (at a cost, of course).

    Good to hear you’ve got a new PC, but have you figured out what you are going to do for data backups?

  18. 23

    Perhaps I’m just an eternal optimist, but short of the hard drive controller card (the circuitboard on the bottom) frying, the drive is probably salvageable. And even in the case of the card dying, if you can find an identical model, a savvy tech can do some surgery to graft the good one onto the dead one. It’s pretty fine work though, so I wouldn’t trust just anyone to do it (I’d probably get butterflies doing it myself in fact — my hand’s not nearly steady enough with a soldering iron).

    If there are no other data recovery options, e.g. the best case scenario involves sending it to one of those clean room data recovery places where they take the hard drive platters right out of the drive and read them in a universal drive reader or something, which generally cost in the realm of four or five grand, then I’d be willing to take a stab at it. If the drive is already written off, you could post it to me — it’s a laptop HD, so it’s bound to be light enough to fit in a Canada Post bubble-wrap envelope. I’d recover what I can, upload it to my server, set you up with an FTP account, and you could grab whatever is there at your leisure.

  19. 25

    Jason, thanks for the offer, that means a lot to me. Let’s move this conversation into email if that’s alright, and we can figure out what’s next…

    (I have to do the clean room thing and then send it to you?)

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