Hard drive platters swap

September 30th, 2012 @ // No Comments

Changing Hard Drive platters to extract information.

We needed to extract some useful information from a damaged hard drive.
It was not looking like a logical problem, so we took a closer view over the drive’s mechanics.

We suspected the heads actuator. Since another identical drive with a dead controller was available, we just couldn’t help it to play with it.

Changing the drive platters in condition different from a controlled laboratory environment is tricky and
will probably give you a limited time to copy your information, if you ever get to that part. When using a new drive, keep in mind that even if you do everything properly the drive will probably fail in a short time.

Since we do not have a lab, we needed to clean everything as much as we can.
We picked and cleaned a nice workplace. Isolated it from the rest of the office. Closed all windows and gaps, stopped all air conditions. Since the drive heads are travelling on a microscopic air cushion, a dust particle there could lead to a catastrophic collision between the heads and the platters. Even with all the precautions we are far away from a dust free environment so we have to minimize the exposure of the open drives to the elements.

Organize your workplace well. Investigate what tools will you need, probably a Phillips screwdriver and a torx for the drive and some other to help you with random sub tasks. Remove all magnets and keep the screwdrivers magnetic bits away from the plates or use non magnetic ones but be aware not to loose something in the drive. You should avoid every unnecessary movement. You will generate air diffusion that will lead to dust contamination. Clean you hands well, do not use fluffy towel. Use gloves, avoid latex with powder. When you are ready take a break for the dust to settle ….and give it a go.

A special tool is used to fix the platters to the electric motor spindle … you can use a larger screwdriver to bypass it. Be careful, you will severely damage the drive if you slip. Be careful when removing and installing the platters. The heads should be parked but there are some other slots you must match without scratching the platters. Since a torque screwdriver was not available at the moment we left the drive opened. This way it is also easier to see if the drive operates normally. The biggest problem with this is dust. In order to keep it clean we have, a transparent plastic case for opened drives. If you do not have one, just put the drive cover without tightening the screws too much.

We put the drive on a stand, with a new drive to backup the info, kept our fingers crossed and powered the beast. The drive detected normally which is a good sign, then we booted from a USB stick, and discovered the drive was also logically troublesome. We mirrored everything sector by sector. And couple of hours later from the healthy drive we managed to recover almost all the information we needed.

If you are lucky, when you connect the drive it will be recognized by the OS and you will be able to copy your files without the upper complications. Keep in mind that the whole procedure is highly risky. If you have critically important information it is better to consult with a data recovery service provider or data forensic lab.


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