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I have a SimpleTech 1TB external USB hard drive. I recently backed up my entire system to it, then formatted and installed Windows 8 Developer Preview.

Before restoring my data from the external drive, I stepped on the power cord, yanking the drive off the counter, while powered up and plugged into the computer. I caught the drive in mid-air--so no hard impact--but the drive now fails to spin up.

When plugged into both power and USB, it makes what sounds like abortive spin-up attempts. It's not the Click of Death, but it's not healthy, either. After trying to spin up several times, it gives up and remains powered on. My computers won't recognize it.

I'm just sick about the lost data (years of photos). Any suggestions?

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The sudden acceleration when you stepped on the cord and/or the sudden deacceleration when you caught the drive probably exceeded the operational shock limits of the HDD. –  sawdust Dec 10 '11 at 3:19
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To emphasize how delicate external harddrives can be, one of my 1TB hard drives was ruined after falling over onto it's side while in the upright position. –  iglvzx Dec 10 '11 at 3:28
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3 Answers

You may have damaged the power and/or USB socket when the cords were yanked from the unit. Check the USB socket in particular to see if any of the pins are bent within it. If the socket can only allow an intermittent connection because of damage it may explain the powering up and powering down of the drive.

Disassemble the unit and connect the drive to another USB to SATA enclosure or PC and test it that way. If the drive works in that circumstance then you may need to replace the circuit board within the unit.

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Since there's no video of the sound, so i may guess some things for 'abortive spin up' sound

  • some bearing or other moving part moved to the wrong place and is holding some axle
  • one of the power connections (may be the kicked cable, may be the solder to some conector) may be damaged and is not alowing proper power to the motor.
  • heads are slammed on the platter

Now for the answer:

first, if using the same cable you kicked, use another.

then, do you find this data really valuable and irreplaceable?

if yes: Pay data recovery services ASAP.

if no, it's just something that you would be sad if lost but nothing major: try freezing it in an airtight plastic bag. that may help unstuck things and get back into place. just DO NOT turn on while frozen. allow enough time before. if all else fails, another hit in the opposite direction. there's not much more you can do.

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Sounds like a stuck spindle. Data recovery services are not cheap, but they can get your data back if the platters are intact. If your data is really important to you, don't do anything else with the drive yourself unless you're unable / unwilling to send it in for professional recovery.

The heads might have crashed, hopefully not while over anything irreplaceable. Laptop drives have sensors that will park the heads if they detect a drop, but I don't know that desktop drives or drives used in external enclosures for desktops have that capability.

You might be able to get the spindle unstuck yourself, but you'll be risking further damage to the drive and your data.

The "bag it and put it in the freezer" trick seems to always be suggested in these cases, and indeed, it has here, in comments and other answers. If you're not going to send your drive in to a recovery service for whatever reason, I suppose that's an option. However, I don't suggest that you randomly try things without a bit of research and planning first. Ask yourself what the theory is for the solution you're about to try, how it will get your platters rotating without further damaging your data. If the answer isn't convincing, I wouldn't try it, unless you're out of other options and are ready to dispose of the drive and your data.

If you're prepared to void the warranty on the unit (if dropping it while operating didn't do that, even if you did catch it before it hit the floor), you can pull the drive from the enclosure and see what make / model it is. That might suggest some drive specific remedies. Also, as others are suggesting, it will rule out damage to the enclosure cabling.

There seems to be a cottage industry of more economical data recovery firms springing up, with tools even available. Youtube is also awash with home HDD surgery videos. Again, I wouldn't try any of this yourself unless you're otherwise prepared to give up on your data and trash/recycle the drive. Your drive is almost certainly multi-platter due to the capacity, which makes something like a platter swap very difficult, since the platter alignment must be maintained. I've seen reports that some drives (Hitachi) have calibration data in NVRAM on the the logic board, which makes mechanical transplants useless unless you move the NVRAM data, too. I don't have a link handy at the moment, though. Something else to keep in mind, assuming non-clean room repairs / swaps are possible, what are the odds you'll be able to pull it off the first time without making a mistake? How much practice would you need?

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Two techniques that sometimes work: 1) Put it in the freezer for a few hours, then try to spin it up while it's still cold. 2) Just after power is applied, as the drive tries to spin up, hit the drive moderately hard on the top, flat side with the open palm of your hand. If it "rings", you did it right. –  David Schwartz Dec 10 '11 at 7:49
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@David Schwartz I don't think hitting drives works for modern drives anymore, they are too sensitive due to platter ariel density and lighter read arms. This use to work for me all the time on drives smaller than 20gb that had stiction issues, which is not the problem this user has, hitting the drive will cause further damage and possibly more permanent data loss. –  Moab Dec 10 '11 at 17:08
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I would think applying force to a drive a risky maneuver, unless you were sure the heads weren't over the platters. This is definitely method of last resort territory. –  Mark Johnson Dec 10 '11 at 17:39
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