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How to Recover a Dead Hard Disk?

Nov 27, 2013

Your hard drive just stopped working. It never made any odd sounds like screeching, popping, or clicking, and it didn't crash. It just quit and it has some priceless data that isn't backed up to another device. This guide may help you troubleshoot and correct any problems related to your drive. Be sure to read all warnings before proceeding.

Method 1: Basic Steps

1. Inspect the outside of the hard drive for damage.

2. Replace the cables.

Plug the hard drive in with new cables (power and data connection) that you know work and try again. Note that an IDE drive will need a flat-ribbon cable.

3. If you have a PATA (IDE/EIDE) drive, switch drive pin settings.

If it was “slave” or “cable select,” set it to “master.” Then plug it in alone without any other device on that port and try again.

4. Try other IDs and/or another PCI controller and try again.

If you don't have another controller, a PCI card that adds ports to your computer, just change the ID.

5. Plug it into an external drive adapter or external drive case (i.e. USB) if you have one.

If it does not spin up, try connecting it to another power source (include data connection as some drives don't spin up without). If on both it does not spin up, the fault is most likely related to the Printed Circuit Board.

6. Connect the drive to another computer and try again.

If this works, it is possible that the motherboard is at fault and not your hard disk.

Method 2: Replace the Drive's Controller Board

1. Inspect the drive's controller board carefully to see if it can be removed without exposing the drive's platters. Most drives will have an externally-mounted controller board. If not, stop here.

2. Find a sacrificial drive.

It is important to match the exact same model number and stepping (i.e. firmware revision, printed circuit board number). Matching drives can sometimes be found at places like eBay, inspect the photo in the auction carefully to determine if the model and firmware match. Contact the seller to be sure the drive being auctioned matches the picture prior to buying.

3. Remove the controller board of the failing drive.

Remove the screws with the correct screwdrivers. Most drives use a Torx head which is available at home repair stores. Be careful, the screws are soft. Learn everything about how it is connected to the drive. Most drives are connected via ribbon cables and pin rows. Be gentle. Do not crimp or damage the connectors.

4. Remove the controller board from the working drive. Again, be extremely careful.

5. Attach the working board to the failing drive.

6. Connect the drive to your computer or device and test.

If it works, immediately copy your data onto another form of media or a different hard disk drive. If that didn't work, try to reassemble the sacrificial drive with the working controller board. It should still work.


1. Heat is the enemy of all electronics.

2. Take note though that a hard drive containing surface damage can be irreversibly damaged by trying to read the damaged area over and over thus damaging the head assembly or worse.

3. If data comes in faster than backups and is precious, consider RAID 1, RAID 5, or RAID 10 disk configurations. A RAID array will keep running when one physical drive dies. A good one will even re-write a replacement drive that's "hot swapped" into it without stopping. External controllers will do this better than ones integrated into motherboards.

4. NEVER use RAID 0 for anything but scratch data. It's fast but has no redundancy, so it's twice as likely to crash with two drives than a single drive and take your data with it. Recovery of these systems often is very difficult.

5. When you are unsure what to do, contact a professional company, repair on hard drives without the correct knowledge often results in worse situations heightening the costs for repair.

6. The partition table is located on the first sector (often 512 bytes) of a hard disk. It contains all the information about how the drive is organized. Without it, a computer will simply think nothing is there.