A word of warning on hard disk recovery by swapping logic boards

A word of warning on hard disk recovery by swapping logic boards

Summary: I've noticed that over in the TalkBack section of Zack Whittaker's post on his hard drive going belly up that a few readers have suggested a possible fix involving swapping the logic board of the dead drive with one from a working drive.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware

I've noticed that over in the TalkBack section of Zack Whittaker's post on his hard drive going belly up that a few readers have suggested a possible fix involving swapping the logic board of the dead drive with one from a working drive.

I feel that a word of warning is in order here.

A logic board swap can work. I've done it before on numerous disks. You need to have an identical drive to act as a donor drive though, because a logic board that just looks right won't work. It has to be exact, down to the model and usually revision.

BUT ...

It doesn't always work, and increasingly it's getting harder and harder to pull the trick off because drive makers are storing specific drive parameters relating to the specific drive on the firmware of the logic board. This makes it hard, if not impossible to find a compatible logic board. To make matters worse, because the firmware contains drive disk parameters, you can damage the dead disk worse, making recover even more difficult (and expensive).

So, bottom line is that it might work, but there's a good chance that it might not too ... as a last ditch, final throw of the dice, no looking back, I might try it, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Thing's I'd try before swapping the logic board:

  • Fitting the drive into a USB caddy.
  • gently tap the drive at spin up (as long as it's not making, or has made, a grinding noise ...)
  • Popping it into a sealed plastic bag and freezing it for a few hours. Alternatively, blast the logic board with canned air.

Topics: CXO, Hardware

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  • Freezing it?

    "Popping it into a sealed plastic bag and freezing it for a few hours."

    Pardon my ignorance - what does this do to help?
    • Strange. Hu?

      I can't say how it works, but I can say it does work and has saved my behind a number of times.
    • Can work

      I'll personally attest to this approach allowing me to recover data from 2 of the 6-8 drives I've tried it on. If you try it, get the most important data off first--you typically get only one shot at this from what I understand.
    • The theory behind it is...

      that if the heads are getting too hot, this will contract them enough to spin freely for a few minutes (hopefully long enough to get the really important stuff of of the drive).

      It's an age-old (read 1990's era) solution that still works on occasion.

      Have a great day:)
      • Oh - very good!

        Thank you for the info!
      • The freezing also ...

        ... increases resistance in duff components and along any possible cracks and shorts too ... and the cold contracts dry joints ...
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • back in the early pc days

          there was a drive manufacturer, cmi, used in the pc/at. they were awful. according to wiki, 23-30% failure rate.

          anyway, one of our clients was a major arts and crafts store. the vp of finance had just finished the budget and his hard drive died. as a last resort, i threw it out on the window ledge, it was the middle of winter, for about 20 minutes. put it back in, fired it up and copied the excel sheets as fast as i could.

          worked for me.
    • As strange as it sounds...

      It can work. It may not ALWAYS work but I have done this successfully. I wrapped the drive in papertoweling and put inside a plastic bag in the freezer. the papertoweling was to prevent any vapor transfer as the drive cooled in the freezer. I don't know if the science was correct on that but I wasn't taking any chances. and you typically get one shot at this, so don't just grab the critical stuff thinking you'll get the rest later; get it ALL..
    • It does work most times.

      I can vouch for this it has saved a couple of hard drives in the past.

      It's amazing at some of the solutions we have used to recover systems after failing.
      Enter Name Here
    • Eproms

      Back in the old days you were able to save failing EPROMs by freezing it, then read it and program again. So I guess the freezing might help by making the firmware readable for a while.
  • Except in this case, the problem is almost

    certainly fried electronics because of the method in which the drive failed.
  • Another theory

    I worked for 10 years an electronic tech troubleshooting down to the component level, not just the board level. The bottom line is that a LOT of failures are caused by damage from heat. You can get ridiculous things like microscopic cracks in the solder joints or a "cold" solder joint, where the solder cools and there is no electrical contact between two parts although they *seem* connected. There could actually be a physical and electrical connection because the parts just happen to be touching rather than actually permanently connected. (Your hand isn't actually permanently connected to a glove, for instance.)

    Cooling can cause parts to shift an imperceptible amount but enough to break a short circuit (until the part heats up enough from use) or to reconnect an open circuit, etc. You can even get broken conductors *inside* an integrated circuit.

    Cooling is really along the same line of reasoning as "tap the drive" except it is less likely to cause physical damage.

    By the way, it's logical to think, "If cooling can shift things, so can heat." Although that's true, heating is a lot more likely to cause damage than to help.
  • RE: A word of warning on hard disk recovery by swapping logic boards

    Hey... I learned something useful today...


    Can I go home now???
    • Class dismissed!

      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • hard drive motor failure?

    Just curious if anyone has every encountered a dead drive motor, and if they were able to do anything about it.

    I had a drive (WD circa 2000/2001) a couple years back that quit working suddenly upon startup of the machine - gave no previous signs of failing: noise, file system issues, etc. I had gone through the typical remedies to no resolve, and finally attempted the logic board swap with one that was same model, rev and even month of manufacture - that still didn't work. I figured at that point it must have had the drive motor die, and would not spin up at this point.

    By now, I've trashed the drive, but I just wondered if anyone has had success with that kind of problem for future reference (other than professional services - I don't value my personal data as much as those services cost).
    • Never seen that myself ...

      ... but it's possible. Could also be a siezed bearing ...
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Suggestions For HD Failures

      As Adrian pointed out, there are several things to try if your drive won't boot, or won't spin up. For any drive failure, you have to consider all of the things that are involved with the drive working correctly in the first place:

      1) Power
      2) Control (data cable to motherboard)
      3) Hard Drive

      One key reason that the drive may not spin, which would appear as a dead drive motor, is that there is no power to the drive. This could be due to a cable, or the power supply itself. It helps to have spares of both handy, to do a swap out, which will help with the fault isolation. Just this week, I had to swap out the power cable, because the drive would only spin up intermittantly.
      Regarding the control/data cable, there have been a few times, when the signals through the control cable, were telling the drive not to spin up. So the next isolation step, is to remove the data cable and re-start the computer, to see if this allows the drive to spin up. If the drive does spin, then you need to look deeper into the machine, to see if the motherboard has problems. But at least your data is probably OK.
      With regards to failures caused by the drive itself, the components involved in the motor turning are:
      1) Motor
      2) Bearings
      3) Platter
      4) Head & Armature
      5) Servo Logic & On Board Controller
      For drive problems that are truely a dead motor, it essentially requires performing all of the other isolation techniques first, and then just shaking your head and resigning yourself to throwing the drive away. The motor is normally in the hermetically sealed envelope of the drive, and if the seal is broken, even if just for a minute, the normal dust that exists in room air, will guarranty that the drive surface and the data will be damaged, and difficult, if not impossible, to recover. So replacing the motor is not a user option.
      Regarding the bearings, Adrian pointed out that ! SOMETIMES ! freezing the drive can relieve pressure on the bearings which allows the platter to spin. I've done this myself, and through several freezing cycles, was able to recover all of the data, before the drive was scrapped and replaced. A little known fact (at least among PC people) in the early days of the MacIntosh, the lubrication of the bearings would settle if the drives were turned off for a substantial period of time, and the drive would not spin up when the Mac was turned on. This would require turning the Mac on it's side for a few hours, or a day, so the lubricant would redistribute, and then turning the Mac on.
      For platter problems, you must very carefully jar the drive, to loosen and/or relocate particulate or FOD, that may be jamming the platter or shaft, which keeps the drive from spinning. Tap the drive gently on a solid surface, making sure that the g-forces applied don't vibrate the head onto the platter. This requires that you tap only the side edge of the drive, and not the top or bottom surface. Remember that the head is attached to an arm, which hangs over the platter surface, and you don't want that arm to flew toward, and contact that platter.
      Head & Armature problems generally give you a warning ahead of time. If they fail, and cause the head to crash into the platter, which causes debris, there is generally some noise before hand. But the bottom line is the trash barrel.
      As Adrian pointed out, the last thing you should try is the controller board swap out. But a visual inspection of the board and it's components, using magnification aids, can sometimes reveal a component that has come loose or fallen off, or has burned up. Finding replacement components isn't always easy, but places like Fry's Electronics carry so many electronic parts, that you might just be surprised.
      When all of this has failed to get you running, there is always the "Data Recovery" specialists, that work in ISO Class 1000 Clean Rooms, who will remove the drive case, and work magic to retrieve your data. Last time I checked on the price to have this done, it was around $1,000.00
      Hope this was helpful to someone in need.

      • Thanks for taking the time to post that!

        I'm sure others will find it useful!
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Thanks Steve, Good Read! NT.

  • no excuse for not backing up

    no excuse for not backing up, no sympathy here either. backup in triplicate and keep one copy in a separate building. oh, get a mac! nyuk nyuk nyuk (I'm a PC myself but macs are for stupid people)