We’ve all been there at one time or another-and if you haven’t, you will be at some point: Your computer seizes up, the Blue Screen of Death rears its ugly head and your computer passes away into the night, taking all that data and functionality with it.
We’re talking about the life cycle of the typical hard drive, which can vary between anywhere from a couple of weeks to 12 years, depending upon many factors.
I personally have a 16GB C drive inside my ancient enterprise-class Hewlett-Packard Vectra desktop, which was a corporate standard in 2000 when I was senior editor at DevX.com.
It still runs wonderfully well, although it’s way outmoded. It does what I need it to do, thank you, and I don’t need it for videogames or for showing movies.
(Just to make sure, though, I have Carbonite backing up everything I do on it. Fifty bucks a year, unlimited capacity file backup, operates in the background with no effect on my work-not a bad deal. It’s a service in the cloud, like EMC’s Mozy, that is highly recommended.)
So today’s story is about hard drive rescues: how someone opens up a dead hard drive and is able to get the files and other data off it, and then put that data back onto another drive that can be used.
I had two other old hard drives, both six to 10 years old, that contained some valuable personal files (mostly music and photos) and were sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. As luck would have it, Seagate Technology called me one day and told me about the company’s new Recovery Services.
Here’s a short recap:
Seagate Recovery Services opened for business at 1,400 Staples and 33 Fry’s Electronics stores in North America and Hawaii in November 2007. It is competing with the Geek Squad, which is ensconced at Best Buy stores.
Staples fronts the Seagate services through Staples’ in-store EasyTech services staff. But Seagate people actually do the work.
Customers can walk up to the EasyTech counter and drop off any make or brand of digital storage container-hard drives from laptops, desktops, iPods, or external drives; RAID storage arrays; flash drives; optical drives; digital videocams; and tape and optical media, including CDs and DVDs.
In each store, Staples staff people offer a free evaluation of the media, determine the cost of recovery and, once approved by the customer, try to recover the data.
“It’s sort of like the relationship Geek Squad has with Best Buy,” Jay Remley, president of Seagate Recovery Services, told eWEEK. “There isn’t a lot of investment from Staples in this new service, outside of some training. Seagate is handling all the recovery services itself.”
Service costs will vary, but most hard drive data recovery projects will cost between about $200 and $2,000, Remley said. But you get a fresh new USB-connected storage drive that holds your old data.
Data loss can be caused by mechanical failure of a device, contamination, fire or water damage, human error or other factors. In most cases, the data can be recovered by trained technicians by using a combination of software technologies and physical reconstruction of the device, Remley said.
Remley said the services include the guarantee that if Seagate and Staples can’t recover the data, there will be no charge to the customer.
Two Fried Drives Rescued
“We’re pretty confident about what we can do,” Remley said. “We’ve found that we can save data about 98 percent of the time.”
When the data is recovered from bad digital storage, it will be returned to the customer on an external USB hard drive with a two-year limited warranty.
“If a customer drops off an 80GB hard drive, for example, we’ll return the data on a similar-quality 80GB external drive, with a simple USB connector,” Remley said. “So all the customer has to do is plug it in, and the data will all be poured back into the new drive or device.”
I decided to go out on a limb and ask Remley if I could have Seagate recover the data from my two fried drives. I had some vintage Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton tracks and some rare Beatles outtakes on one of those drives, and I wanted them back in my music collection in the worst way.
“Sure, let’s see what we can do,” Remley said.
A few weeks later, during a slight lull in schedules, I brought the two drives down to the Seagate Services fix-it shop in Santa Clara, Calif., just down the Bayshore Freeway from my office.
I was impressed with the way the whole process was handled. The workshop had about a half-dozen technicians working on rescues of varying kinds (“This one was in a bad fire, but we were still able to save most of the data,” one fellow said, showing me a badly blackened drive.)
Mine weren’t blackened, but they were in sad shape. My technician carefully took my first drive apart, gave it a visual inspection and remarked that it looked pretty normal to him.
But after plugging it into a diagnostic workstation, he could immediately find the sectors of the drive that had gone bad. A confusing grid of numbers popped up on his screen, but he knew exactly what it all meant. He took furious notes, smiled quite a bit and assured me that he could save most of my data on that drive.
With the exactitude of a watchmaker and a scientific outlook, he went about his business, and I felt good about the eventual outcome-although you never really know what’s going to happen when you turn in a burned-out HDD.
In about four days, I received a call informing me that I could pick up my data on a brand-spanking-new storage drive.
Wow! Now this was cool.
The Seagate team had loaded both of my drives onto a new FreeAgent Pro, sporting a storage capacity of 320GB. This model stands vertically, with only a 5- by 7-inch footprint on my desk. It connects via USB to any computer I own, and carries with it its own backup software. It lights up in a very cool way when it’s running, too.
It was so nice to get Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, the Beatles outtakes and all my other stuff back into circulation. For that, I can thank the Seagaters-who really know what they are doing, because they actually design and build these things.