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How to Survive the Worst PC Disasters

Readers' Tales of PC Disasters

To read more users' PC horror stories or add yours, go to our forum discussion on PC disasters. Also see both our slide show on using HijackThis and a video on salvaging wet gear.

'Resuscitating a Dead Hard Drive' by PC World.com reader Nathan Wiest

Nathan Wiest, computer technician in Lincoln, Nebraska. Click here to view full-size image.
I once had a very perplexing case when I was still in school for my Microcomputer Technology degree. A lady at work had come to me saying that her hard drive would not work at all. Not unusual, since hard drives go bad, and many a hard drive won't boot because of a virus or some kind of spyware. She was worried because it had a lot of family photos and documents on it, and I didn't mind the thought of being a hero and saving her drive!

As I had suspected, the drive had crashed. There was no booting into Windows, and it made a weird noise. After messing around with it for a couple of hours and doing some research, I was about to say sorry, can't fix it, but then I stumbled on something: Freezing your hard drive. I had heard of it once before but never actually heard of anyone successfully freezing their hard drive and then retrieving some data. I thought, what the heck, this could be worth it to try, especially since the drive was already gone.

We tried it all right. We stuck the thing in a freezer for about 18 hours. It was wrapped in a paper towel and placed inside a plastic baggy, so no condensation would accumulate on any circuits or connectors. When I plugged the thing in to our test computer, I was shocked...it booted up fine and I was able to pull off most of the data she could remember having lost. It didn't completely make sense to me until afterwards, and most people won't believe me when I tell them this story, but the metal shrinks when it gets cold, duh! So if the head is touching the platter, then you freeze it, the head may pull away from the platter just enough for you to read the data again. Of course, it only works for about 20 minutes until the drive heats back up, but wow, it was a great way to be a hero!

I have used this technique a few times since, not all of the times successful, nor as important, but this is still a very worthwhile procedure. This is just one cool, bizarre, and useful way to reverse a relatively common computer disaster.

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