Data Recovery Myths: I need a “Level-3” clean room repair to recover data from my hard drive.

This myth revolves around “clean rooms” and “Level-3” repairs. It’s based on the false belief that you need an expensive “Level-3” repair in a dust-free clean room environment to safely and successfully recover data from a bad hard drive. However it’s not required for most data recoveries we receive.

The truth is clean rooms are only necessary when the hard drive’s cover needs to be removed* and the platters inside are exposed to dust particles.

This makes sense: if a dirt particle or piece of dust lands on the platter when the hard drive is powered on, the head (which reads the data off the platter) may “crash” into the obstruction. This can lead to scratched/damaged platters and broken heads.

But it’s important to note, only an experienced data recovery technician (not a computer technician, Apple “Genius,” or even your company’s top IT guy) can accurately diagnose a hard drive to determine that a Level-3 repair is necessary. Even the most computer savvy user would suspect a “clicking” hard drive has bad heads — it’s often not the case. Only by using our specialized data recovery tools, along with years of research and real-life experience, is an accurate diagnosis possible.

In our experience, about 70% of all bad hard drives can be successfully recovered without the need for level-3 (“expensive”) repair in a clean room. If the drive wasn’t dropped, this number jumps to about 85%.


Myth: A “clicking” hard drive means it has “bad heads” or is “physically broken” and needs to go to a Level-3 clean room for data recovery.

It’s understandable to believe that “clicking” noises are caused by “bad heads,” since it is the heads inside the drive making the noise. However, in our experience, it is bad sectors, bad PCB components, corrupt firmware, or bad power supplies that are the most common causes for making the heads “click.”

There are dozens of different sounding clicks which are all caused by different problems and have different solutions.

Diagnosing the cause of “clicking” often depends on the hard drive manufacturer. For example, if your Western Digital hard drive is clicking, the most likely causes are a bad PCB or corrupt firmware module(s). These are problems which can be fixed by MacSolutions Plus Data Recovery because we have the tools and knowledge required to properly diagnose and repair these kinds of issues.

Around 20% of the clicking hard drives we receive are caused by a crashed heads or scratched platters. In these cases, we offer our customers two options: we can disable the bad head in the drive’s firmware and provide a partial recovery of your data (using the drive’s good heads), or we can refer them to a clean room data recovery company that does heads swaps.

Myth: My two options for data recovery are running software data recovery applications or paying thousands of dollars for a clean room data recovery company.

This myth really boils down to the belief that there are only two kinds of data recovery: software-based data recovery and expensive clean room data recovery. If this was true, we would not have invested in MacSolutions Plus Data Recovery. Instead, we are pioneering a third kind of data recovery: hardware-software based data recovery. But before we get into that, lets examine the two common methods.

Software-based data recovery requires the hard drive to mount in the operating system. On a PC, that means it shows up in the BIOS or Window’s Disk Management. On a Mac, this means the hard drive appears in Disk Utility or on the Desktop. If the hard drive doesn’t show up on the computer, then software data recovery tools can’t access the hard drive and therefore can’t recover any data.

Even if your drive is visible to your OS, running software data recovery tools can easily kill your hard drive. Repeatedly encountering bad sectors and re-reading problem areas on the drive can result in increase damage to the platters and a greater number of unrecoverable sectors.

Another big risk when running software on your PC or Mac is that your OS may also attempt to “repair” your hard drive while it’s connected to the computer, which can completely destroy data when the hard drive has bad sectors (and most hard drive’s we get have bad sectors along with more serious problems). This automatic repair often happens in the background without any user approval or knowledge.

If you need your data back, don’t run the risk of destroying it forever by running software data recovery tools!

Clean room data recovery companies, in theory, can recover just about any bad hard drive (although there are hard drives which are unrecoverable by any means — or mis-diagnosed as unrecoverable).

Most people believe that if software can’t recover the data or if their computer can’t “see” the hard drive, then the hard drive is physically broken and needs a level-3 data recovery. Belief in this myth could end up costing them thousands of unnecessary dollars.

Our secret to affordable data recovery is our mastery of “hardware-based data recovery” techniques, which avoid the need for expensive data recovery prices and save our customers lots of money (and time).

Hardware-software based data recovery involves using specialized data recovery hardware and software tools to speak directly to the hard drive, without the need for an OS or computer “interpreter.”

Working with a hard drive on a firmware level, we can do things like: disable corrupt hard drive features (i.e., smart), disable bad or weak heads, use different methods to read (and re-read) the bad sectors off the hard drive, and avoid bad sectors on the hard drive (to name a few). These types of features are impossible to access using software tools alone or by hooking up a hard drive directly to a PC or Mac.

A crucial aspect of our hardware-software based data recovery is addressing firmware problems on the hard drive. The firmware on the hard drive is comparable to the operating system on your computer. If the operating system crashes (i.e., Window’s “Blue Screen” or Mac’s Kernel Panic) on your computer, the computer won’t function properly. Similarly, if the hard drive’s firmware becomes corrupt, the hard drive won’t function properly (it may “click” or it may not spin up at all).

Using specialized data recovery hardware and software designed to help identify and fix firmware problems, just about all firmware issues can be fixed without the need for expensive level-3 data recovery repairs. Software-based data recovery tools can’t deal with these problems because they can’t “talk” to the hard drive on a vendor-specific base-level.

Finally, our hardware-software based data recovery techniques deal with the hardware on the hard drive itself: the PCB. The PCB is the circuit board on the bottom of the hard drive. This circuit board, just like your computer’s motherboard, is filled with small components (like resisters, RAM chips, ROM chips, fuses, and jumpers). If any of these tiny components fail, the entire hard drive may stop working. Diagnosing and fixing these tiny PCBs safely is something you only learn from experience and practice.

Myth: Hitting, slapping, or intentionally dropping my hard drive, can bring it back to life.

There are loads of rumors around the Internet about various thing you can do to bring your dead or bad hard drive back to life. The truth is, it’s technically possible these could help, but the chances of success are low and the chances for further damage are high.

It’s much more likely these techniques will further damage your drive to the point that even we can’t recover it and the only remaining chance for recovery is with a $1000+ level-3 data recovery.

“Hitting,” “slapping,” and “intentionally dropping” a hard drive, as crazy as it sounds, has been known to work before. However, this was back in the good-old-days when hard drives were prone to “stiction.” “Stiction” occurs when the heads of the hard drive “stick” to the platter and cause the drive to not spin. Slapping the drive then, offered a chance of freeing the stuck heads and freeing the platters so they can spin up. Even if the hard drive starts spinning again, the chances for recovering all the data is small, since now there is very likely platter damage (since you just “dragged” the heads across the platters).

Hitting, slapping, or dropping a hard drive will often lead to scratched platters. Once platters are scratched, it’s likely no one will ever be able to recover the data (no matter how much you’re willing to pay), at least the data which falls under the scratched surface.

These dangerous “shock” techniques should never be used on a hard drive containing data that is valuable to you. It’s a guarantee that they will lessen your chances for recovery with us and likely some data will be permanently lost.

Myth: Freezing or heating my hard drive can bring it back to life.

Putting your hard drive in a freezer, or heating with a hair dryer, are two more common “Internet solutions” to fix a bad hard drive. While they both have a very slight chance of working, they are much more likely to cause serious damage. It’s a weekly occurrence that we get a previously “frozen” hard drive that is too damaged to be recovered. If your data is worth at least three hundred dollars, then freezing or heating your hard drive should never be attempted.

There are a few theories behind the “freezing” and “heating” ideas. Some people say the temperature change from hot-to-cold or cold-to-hot will expand the metal inside the hard drive (in particular, the spindle/motor) and allow a non-spinning drive to spin again. Other people say that freezing will cool down a drive that has a problem overheating.

The truth is, even if freezing does allow a drive to spin again, it will only be momentarily (often only a few minutes) and will not work repeatedly. This will typically not be enough time to recover all your important data. And subsequent attempts will last for even less time (if they work at all).

When “freezing” a hard drive, the drive’s platters are being filled with condensation. These platters need to remain perfectly “pure” for the magnetic data to be read off of them. The circuit board (PCB) on the bottom of the drive, which is filled with electronic components, will get wet from the condensation and it’s electronics can easily become damaged once the drive is powered on. There is no question, the chances for a successful Data Recovery greatly decrease after a drive has been in a freezer.

If the hard drive has “heat” issues (which alone is extremely rare), it’s almost always caused by a faulty PCB, something we have a 95%+ success rate recovering data from. Solving “heat” issues using a freezer, is like pulling out a bad tooth with a rocket. It may work, but there are much more reliable and safer methods to recover your data.

In conclusion, attempting either of these techniques should only be used as a last resort. Even then, the chances of it working are minuscule and will likely end up further damaging the hard drive to the point that expensive level-3 data recovery (read: “very expensive data recovery”) is your only remaining option.

Myth: I can swap the PCB (circuit board) from my bad hard drive with a good hard drive’s PCB and recover my data.

It’s important to know when a PCB is bad and when swapping it with a donor PCB could work. A thorough diagnosis using special data recovery tools is required.

But more to-the-point, a straight forward PCB swap can only work with really old hard drives (10 years+ old), aside from a few very rare exceptions. The reason for this is the PCB’s ROM information. Embedded in a chip (or two) on the PCB is “adaptive data” that is unique to the hard drive it’s attached to. This “adaptive data” includes information about the hard drive’s heads, its firmware version, any bad sectors in the drive’s service area, and more. Since each PCB comes from a particular drive with different head maps, number of heads, firmware versions, and factory defects, it cannot simply be swapped and provide access to your data.

It’s possible, if the “bad” hard drive is completely dead, that swapping the PCB may get the hard drive spinning again. However, it will likely start clicking, or at least not provide any access to the user data area of the hard drive. In this case, the only way to successfully perform a PCB swap is to move that unique ROM data from the original “bad” hard drive’s PCB to the donor PCB. This is accomplished using special data recovery tools or by manually moving the ROM chip(s) to the donor PCB.

It should also be noted that sometimes a PCB is bad and the electronics in the hard drive failed. Swapping the PCB in this case could end up destroying the donor PCB. Even more serious, sometimes swapping the PCB (without moving the ROM information) can seriously corrupt the “bad” hard drive’s firmware. It’s possible even the best and most expensive data recovery company cannot recover from this problem.

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