View Full Version : Freezing Hard Drives...

09-07-2003, 09:36 PM
I was reading through the latest PC world, noting especially the section on hard disk recovery, as I am often asked what to do after they accidentally format their hard disks, or their PC comes back from the shop with all their data gone, and I noted a piece about putting a dead hdd in the freezer for an hour if recovering data from the drive was problematic. I remember thinking that surely the PC World were slightly more credible than crackpot theories like this, and ignored the rest of the piece...

Three days later, the hard drive in the studio computer at the radio station I work at bit the dust, and was reporting a S.M.A.R.T failure at startup... This is the PC that runs the radio station when no-one is in the studio... The latest backup was over three months ago... Lovely, thinks I...

I stripped out the drive and tried to ghost it to an image, and it was bearly capable of 10Mb / min, wheras a good drive can manage 130-160Mb / min... I remembered the PC world article, and promptly threw the hdd in the freezer.

An hour later, and out it comes, very chilly, and I hooked it back up to the PC. I was a bit concerned about the condensation forming on the drive circuitry, so I blasted it with a hair dryer for a minute. I turned the drive on, and started the ghost session back up, and to my suprise, it was running a healthy 125Mb / min. Much better.

However, I did notice the speed dropping after 20 mins or so or a 2 hour estimated procedure, so I got a cold pack for keeping drinks/chilly bins cold, and sat the drive on that - back up comes the speed, so I kept the cold packs coming for the rest of the 2 hours, as they defrost in about 30 mins under a hot running hdd!!

I was able to successfully recover all of the data from this drive, wheras had it failed a week ago, it would have either ended up in aukland at the data recovery specialists, or in the bin, depending on the value of the data.

I would recommend this process to anyone who needs to recover data, the only thing to watch out for is the condensation, as any moisture on the chips will cause permanent damage if short circuits occur...

Thanks PC World for the excellent tips,
Keep em coming.


09-07-2003, 09:40 PM
interesting, i wouldn't mind someone explaining the physics behind this???

09-07-2003, 09:54 PM
Its real, I used this technique a year ago to recover data from a drive that would fail after about 3 minutes.

As to the science, in my case it was pretty clear it was a failing controller chip. It as failing as soon as it got warm, so chilling it was the obvious answer.

I have used spray cans of refrigerant often years back, to suddenly chill components to locate faults. There is a contraction of all components, both electronic and mechanical with cooling. In some cases this will cause temporary corrections to faults. In other cases it will exacerbate them (then use heat for a temporary cure). Some, of course will not respond to either treatment.

Steve Askew
10-07-2003, 01:11 PM
The same method was given as a tip on Tech TV a few weeks ago & they suggested putting the hard drive in a plastic bag first.

Another method I used recently on a non spinning HDD was to gently tap it with a screwdriver handle.
As far as I know it is still running sweetly & the owner now knows the importance of backing up important data.

Cheers Steve

Susan B
10-07-2003, 02:04 PM
Well thanks for posting that, it is rather comforting to know all this information. :-)

I started having boot-up problems with my PC last week which coincided with a big drop in the room temperature down here (winter's arrival). It actually got me wondering if I should be putting my baby to bed with a hottie each night. :p

Anyway, I *think* I have solved my problem (thanks Babe :x) and it had nothing to do with cold, heat or any other physical matter, thank goodness, but it is nice to know that a bit of cold won't hurt it.

Billy T
11-07-2003, 06:13 PM
Reflecting on condensation issues, wouldn't this be pure water and as such, non conductive? High power radio transmitters used to use water cooling with anode voltages of several thousand volts without problems so I can't see 5 volts being too problematic.

Of course it could eventually pick up contaminants from the PC board and thus become conductive, but it would not be likely to conduct damaging currents in the short time the drive was undergoing data recovery.

Just musing :|


Billy 8-{)

11-07-2003, 06:22 PM
Its not well understood that pure water is a perfect insulator, I suspect.
I have seen 11,000 volt overhead lines sitting on the ground encased in snow (the weight of the snow stretched them down to ground level) and still alive. The snow was pure and uncontaminated.

Even some minor contamination of the condensation on the HDD controller would be tolerable, given the low impedances and low voltages involved.

Stumped Badly
11-07-2003, 09:46 PM
It's an old trick this one.
I've tried it four times with a 50% success rate.
I used to have a list of 200 ways to revive a dead hard drive but can't find it.
If I find it I'll post it.

Stumped Badly
11-07-2003, 09:50 PM
Can't find my copy but here is a link, you can download as Pdf or view online

Hope link works

Stumped Badly
11-07-2003, 09:59 PM
Sorry about the link, I thought it was a bit dodgy
Go here http://www.hddrecovery.com.au/downloads/
And right click on "200ways.pdf" & save target as (500k download)

13-07-2003, 10:49 AM
Hehehe, you are welcome to trust the water as being an insulator - givin the damage i have seen caused by conducting water, i certainly won't, especially not with a dying hdd that I may have only the one go at recovering data...