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Why is it that computer equipment, and especially any form of computer equipment that stores data, always only ever fails at an inopportune moment?

Laptops for work never break the day before you go off on holiday leaving plenty of time for them to be fixed while you don’t need them; digital cameras never fail once you’ve finished using them to take pictures of something important; and harddisks never, ever fail when they’re sat on a shelf or desk, blank, without anything important on them.

 

We were unfortunate enough to have a laptop harddisk fail which, just as it was needed and while it contained a substantial amount of documents, PDFs, InDesign files and stock photos that for some currently unknown reason were not being properly backed up to another device.

 

The disk started to make lots of nasty sounding noises – metallic clicking, rasping and grinding sounds… none of which you really want to ever hear emanating from the direction of a hard disk – so after a quick check of the obvious, we determined it had a bit of a problem and removed it from the host computer.

The next stop saw us embarking on what’s turned out to be an unexpectedly difficult challenge of finding someone who’s able to take a look at the failed disk, fix whatever’s failed, and hopefully recover the data.

 

We started looking around for a data recovery company using the same method as I’d expect most people would… Google.

Searches for “hard disk data recovery” and “laptop data recovery” etc all returned 10000’s of hits, most of which seemed to be links to a variety of small outfits who seemed to collectively promise to fix any form of fault known to man but yet didn’t actually seem to either be properly established companies & typically lacked any form of actual clean-room facility. Not really the sort of outfit you’d want to entrust anything to – yet alone a disk containing loads of stuff that we wouldn’t mind seeing again. How on earth are you supposed to be able to determine who you can and can’t trust to recover your data!?

 

In the end we bombarded most of the top 4 vendors found in our search with a number of questions to see whether they were able to help and ended up selecting one of them based largely on their quick & precise responses and a reasonable cost… along with a no-win-no-fee type guarantee around diagnostic costs so that if they were unable to recover the data all we’d end up paying was the cost of return shipping to get the disk back.

A quick phone call later and a courier collection was booked for the following day.

 

We duly packaged the disk up as instructed and sent it on its way… hoping to hear something positive within 24 hours or so.

 

24 hours passed… and the silence was deafening.

 

Another 24 hours passed without word from the company, so I called them for an update to be told something along the lines of “yup, we’ve had a look… it looks like it’s suffered a mechanical failure with failed read/write heads, and we need to source parts to repair”. Fair enough I suppose, so we sat back to wait a little longer.

 

A week after we’d dispatched the drive and after a few more phone calls similar to the above, it was starting to become fairly evident that the company we’d selected were struggling with this disk, a thought that was confirmed when they called to say that despite replacing the read/write heads they’d deemed the device to have a corrupted “service area” and as such was beyond their ability to recover.

 

Back to the drawing board…

More Googling quickly revealed that there’s a fairly short list of companies who have the ability to recover from Hitachi disks with corrupted service areas so we called what appeared to be the top two companies offering this capability and quickly picked what looked like the front runner in terms of capability.

Our original vendor was happy to send the drive directly onto the new company so this was arranged and the disk dispatched.

 

Within 12 hours of its arrival, the second company had inspected it and interestingly diagnosed it as having failed read/write heads – suggesting perhaps that either the first vendor’s claims of repairing the disk either weren’t strictly correct, or they’ve swapped the replaced heads out for the original failed ones.

 

We’re now back in the waiting game….

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