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Sophistication beyond software utilities

Modern spinning platter hard drives pack a tremendous amount of data in a very small physical space. They are designed to work as part of a larger system and be as trouble-free as possible. Because of the high density of data on these mechanical devices, even on perfectly healthy drives there are always issues, but the drives are simply designed to manage errors internally without system intervention.

As hard drives age, the issues become noticeable and problematic; files go missing or damaged, the computer slows and eventually it can fail to boot on start-up. Beyond aging, HDs can experience more catastrophic events like head crashes, platter damage or electronics failure. Either way, at some point the problem is often addressed using data recovery software.

Unfortunately, data recovery programs (like all applications) sit on top of the operating system, which communicates with the drive interface, which issues commands to the drive, which is designed to deal with issues internally. Down this line of command, the utility cannot prevent the drive from trying to behave as though everything is normal; like automatically attempting multiple retries, designating a sector as bad or update log status. Not to mention even “see” a drive that won’t mount. This doesn’t just limit effectiveness, it will cause further damage to the drive and the chance of data recovery.

Commonly, we find that most people will attempt software-based data recovery, then if the data is important enough, send the HD to a drive/data recovery company that specializes in the process. These companies have clean rooms where bunny-suited techs can disassemble the problematic drive and offer a last-ditch recovery. They do a very good job but can be very expensive.

Typically, the first thing a data recovery company does (before handing the HD to someone in a bunny-suit) is plug the drive into a specialized computer with a custom interface. It is designed specifically to evaluate and image the drive in a non-destructive manner so that the data can be copied to a healthy drive.

This special type of equipment allows:

  • Changing of drive initialization procedure; if one option ties up the drive on startup, like a software reset, it can be disabled.
  • Disabling manufacturer features such as read retries; this puts less stress on the drive during imaging.
  • Create heads/LBA (logical block address, or sector) map adjustments for differences in the manufacturer.
  • Adjust read sector timeout- the shorter the time the less stress on the drive.
  • Adjust block size- typically adjusted to the average number of bad sectors in a row.
  • Set the number of read retries- best set to read data only once at first to reduce stress and adjust for a later pass to get more.
  • Set drive response timeout.
  • Adjust drive reset type- multiple hardware resets, software reset, power cycle or recalibration.
  • Allows for sequential imaging through LBA or by heads (forwards and backward).
  • Set algorithms based upon error types, number of errors, or time-based options. For example, if 1,000 bad sectors in a row are encountered, perform a drive reset, or skip 25,000 sectors to jump beyond the bad spot. For an overheating drive, image for x seconds then pause for y minutes.
  • Define configuration sets for different passes- quick initial pass and a longer follow up the pass with read retries for a higher chance of getting data from rough patches.
  • The imaging process can be paused to allow the settings to be adjusted on the fly.

The MacCafé has been using this type for device for several years and we find that data recovery is as much an art as a science. We’ve become pretty good at it. And we charge less than the out of town recovery companies. Remember, it is a non-destructive process. So, if we can’t get your drive’s data, it can still be sent off to the cleanroom.

If you think your drive is failing (slowing down, longer boot times, slow application launch, spinning pinwheel…) bring the machine to the MacCafé. We can image most drives in any format; Mac, Windows or Linix/Unix. Don’t destroy more data by using a software utility.

Save time, money and more data at the MacCafé.