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I live in the Philippines and our house here was one of the many that was submerged by the flash floods that Typhoon Ketsana brought. We moved one of our computers from the first to the second floor in an attempt to spare it from the floodwaters, but the water rose past the second floor and submerged the computer anyways.

I've managed to retrieve that computer to see what parts I could salvage, but it doesn't look good. The computer had been disconnected from power and from all the other components attached to it and was powered down when the water hit it, so is there any chance of me salvaging all the components? So far I've managed to salvage the lone stick of RAM that was inside it, I simply washed off the now hardened mud from the module, dried it very thoroughly and placed it into a machine that was donated to us by a family friend.

I'm interested in salvaging the GPU (a passively cooled, geforce 2 mx400) and the hard drives next (2 IDE, one Hitachi 40 GB and one Seagate 80 GB), but this looks tricky seeing as there are more places for water and crap to seep into. Is there any chance of me being able to salvage either of these? What would I need to do, do I need to get it completely clean (I don't think so, the RAM module I salvaged still had a little crap stuck between the pins of the memory chips)?

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4 Answers 4

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Dried mud (in most cases) isn't a good conductor, so not getting ALL the mud off isn't going to be a big deal. It IS a good insulator though, so it may cause over-heating if caked on in the wrong spot, so you want to get as much off as possible (without damaging what it's stuck to).

For your hard drives, you're probably best sending them off for professional data recovery, or at least an assessment, as particulates may (probably) have seeped into the inner mechanics.

For other, solid-state devices, I'd say your best/cheap bet is to clean the dried mud off with a stiff, plastic-bristled brush and a can of compressed air. Then use some high-percentage Isopropyl Alcohol (97.5% or better), and cotton swabs to clean it up further.

You're going to want to disassemble the devices to some extent (ie: remove heat sinks and detachable daughterboards), just make sure you have the right tools to do the job (for both removing and reattaching) and pay attention on how you took it apart, so you can get it back together.

The most important part is testing them in a system that you can afford to damage by using a possibly shorted device. :)

I hope your computer damage was the worst of it for you!

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3  
stiff bristled? no!! and no wire brushes please! a plastic toothbrush might be ok (as soft as possible). scrubbing too hard might scratch through PCBs or chip packages and damage internal components or break wiring. –  quack quixote Jan 25 '10 at 16:30
    
What is the alcohol supposed to do? I don't have access to high-percentage alcohol, but would lower percentage (say, 50 %) work as well? I'm willing to bet that the passive cooler on my GPU (its one of those low-profile cards), is fixed to the GPU with epoxy - wouldn't that render it airtight, and if that's so should I go ahead and try to take it off to clean it (I suppose I could use a hairdryer on "high")? –  cornjuliox Jan 25 '10 at 16:41
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@quack: I said STIFF, not WIRE. ;) I specified stiff for the same reasons as you mention, you don't want to use anything wirey due to possible scatching. :) –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jan 25 '10 at 16:57
    
@cornjuliox: It'll help disolve and remove the mud, but then evaporate, leaving no residue. If you use the lower percentages they tend to leave residue. Don't use just 'any' alcohol, ensure it's electronics-grade Isopropyl (the lower percentage stuff is usually referred to a 'rubbing alcohol'). Heat sink: if it's attached with no hold-downs of any kind then it's probably epoxied and I wouldn't worry about removing it, just clean out any gaps. –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jan 25 '10 at 17:01
    
Edited for quack, and to avoid having people use wire brushes. ;) –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jan 25 '10 at 17:07

there may be a chance to recover data from drowned/flood damaged hard drives but you will need the service of a professional data recovery company, if you send in the drive, you will get a quote and then you can decide whether it's worth it or not:

Remove the hard drive from the case and immediately place it in an air-tight plastic bag, such as a Ziploc® brand bag. If the drive is wet do not leave it out in the air to dry. Do not attempt to dry or clean the drive in any way. If the hard drive is covered in mud, rinse it in purified water and wrap it in a moist paper towel before placing in into the plastic bag. Never attempt to open the hard drive. Allowing the drive to dry out may cause additional damage, which may make the recovery more difficult, if not impossible.

Act quickly and send off the drives as fast as possible. For water-damaged media, swift action could make all the difference.

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Judging by the hardware configuration, I doubt that the OP could even afford the data recovery quote :( –  efotinis Jan 25 '10 at 16:54
    
If he can afford to ship the drives, many (most?) recovery places will diagnose and quote for free. –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jan 25 '10 at 21:22

I've been advised in the past to clean electronic components with distilled water. I suspect your hard drives are now paperweights, but solid-state components are quite possibly recoverable. You'll have to test them to find out, there's no way to tell from here in the United States. Flush with distilled water, let them dry thoroughly (like for more than one day, given the humidity in the Philippines) and test them.

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You are unlikely to be able to save anything unfortunately.

The water will have been carrying a shed load of impurities so even if absolutely all the water has dried off you will be left with gunk either causing shorts, gumming up moving parts, and insulating things so even if things do work they'll probably burn our soon as they are unable to correctly dissipate waste heat.

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I managed to save a single 512 MB RAM module. I cleaned the gunk off of it as best I could (there's still a tiny bit left in between the pins of the ICs soldered onto it) and I'm using it right now. Do you think this would be possible for something more complex, like the GPU? –  cornjuliox Jan 25 '10 at 16:31

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