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Tragic accident. The electronic board that's mounted to the hard drive is all gunked up, but the top of the drive didn't appear to get wet, nor the small pressure hole.

Using an external PATA mount, it doesn't appear that the drive is powering up at all. No whirrs, clicks, beeps, anything. I'm hoping that just the controller board is fried and that the platters with the data is fine.

The contents of the drive are pictures/music/emails from a family laptop.

What are my options? Should I have it professionally restored by a service? Does anybody have experience with any of these services? I'm pretty tech savvy although no experience with this sort of data recovery.

Any ideas?


It might be worth mentioning that the general location of said hard drive is Minneapolis, MN.

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Drives these days are pretty much water-resistant. I wouldn't submerge one but a little liquid on the outside shouldn't have been able to get inside.

Take the circuit board off and wash it in warm water. Wipe the beer gunk off the main drive body with a damp rag. Then let both parts dry - completely! Reassemble. If it was a temporary short you might be back in business. Circuit boards are pretty resilient to spills as long as you don't power them up before cleaning. Since you have apparently powered it up - well, it's worth a try anyway but I'd put the probability of it working as < 10%.

If the data on the drive is worth spending $$$ to recover and you can find a similar drive you can always swap the boards yourself. I'd put the probability of that working as about 80%.

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Thanks hotei. Are you saying that the controller boards and platters are independent and completely interchangeable? I would have guessed otherwise, but just a guess. There isn't a risk of the controller getting confused and wiping the data? Would I need to stick with the same brand of HD or are they pretty standard? PATA drives are relatively cheap. – jjj Sep 22 '10 at 2:29
You'd need exactly the same model of drive for a controller replacement to work. I don't know what you have in your system, but lots of controller boards these days are a simple plugin. There's always a risk, but from your statements the data is currently gone. I'd probably get some quotes from disk/data restoration services first but my guess is you won't like their price. – hotei Sep 22 '10 at 4:52
I would recommend against using water, it can do nothing to help at this point. – MaQleod Sep 22 '10 at 6:26
If you must use water, use de-ionized water or distilled water otherwise the mineral salts in the liquid might cause rogue connections. Best use the right stuff though - like a can of PCB cleaning solution. For a controller replacement, you need the same model of drive ** and controller firmware version ** - that last bit can be a show stopper if, for example, the manufacturer has changed platter topology within the model without releasing it as a new product/part number. – Linker3000 Sep 22 '10 at 9:47
@Linker3000: Distilled water isn't required for this but if it makes the OP more comfortable it's a cheap precaution. As to the firmware version I agree that a topology change would require different firmware but I believe the likelihood of that being issued as the same model is very remote. The plus side is that even if the card swap fails OP still ends up with one working drive (the new one of course). – hotei Sep 22 '10 at 16:52

I don't have experiences with data recovery services, but from what I've read this should be a minor recovery. I read, data recovery places have circuit boards for the various model hard drives, and if a similar make/model board is installed on the drive it should work. If the damage is more extensive, the motor or some liquid leaked in, that will cost more.

I know after this you will probably get backup religion so I will skip the backup lecture.

Good luck recovering your data. I think we all have been there.

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+1 for "backup religion" – emgee Nov 28 '10 at 4:58

WD40 is a common method to remove gunk on circuit boards, you will however need to carefully remove the WD40 after removing the gunk as the oily residue can eat some plastics. Lexite PS is the industry standard and is the absolute best option, but is a bit more expensive, although it requires no extra care once you've used it, it is safe to leave on the board.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, professional recovery on a drive that won't power on or has any type of mechanical flaw requires rebuilding in a clean room and this is pricey. You can expect a service like this to be around $1000 or more.

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