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I would like to take out an external 2.5" hard-drive (Toshiba MK2555GSXF 250GB SATA) out of its external case (Icy Box IB-AC603A-U3 Adaptor) and place it onto a laptop cooling pad (Zalman ZM-NC1000). The drive has recently suffered a fall and is damaged to dying. Before resorting to extreme last resort measures such as the freezing trick, I would like to ensure that it has proper cooling in place while I am attempting to ddrescue the data.

So are hard-drives airtight (hermetic)? Is there any risk of dust exposure if I set the internal hard-drive with the USB connector (without its external USB case) onto a cooling pad?

  • After re-reading your question, can you clarify what you mean by: "bare hard-drive"? To me this implies removing the casing of the drive and exposing the servo motor, etc. directly to air, but as you are discussing an external enclosure, it could also simply mean the internal 2.5" drive. – Andon M. Coleman Feb 2 '14 at 15:46
  • @AndonM.Coleman Thanks. No, I don't want to disassemble the thing. Just remove the internal hard-drive from its external enclosure (i.e. the internal hard-drive as sold in stores; NOT the bare, disassembled drive). See edited OP. – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 15:50
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    Why is everyone talking about taking apart the hdd? Inside the enclosure is a normal SATA drive it should be as simple as hooking it up to a open SATA to USB adapter – Ramhound Feb 2 '14 at 16:46
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    Fun fact: Hitachi is releasing hermetically-sealed, helium-filled 7TB drives for datacenter usage. – Bigbio2002 Feb 3 '14 at 22:13
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Hard drives are not air-tight - they have a small hole with a filter that allows them to maintain the correct pressure in the drive. As long as you don't block the hole, though, I don't think there should be any issues with that.

  • Is it fine/necessary if I put the disk into a ziploc bag, and then onto the cooling pad? Does this risk obstructing the small hole? – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 15:44
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    @landroni With the info above I would assume that it would be fine and that the pressure is just for DRAMATIC changes in pressure like going up or down a mountain. Putting it in the freezer, I would recommend double bagging it. As long as you don't plan on scaling a mountain with a freezer containing a HDD, I suppose you'll be jut fine. :D P.S. as far as putting in on a cooling pad you don't have to worry about dust the little hole has a "filter" for that reason. Fans blow on hard drives all the time in higher end computers to keep them cooler. Some cases are even designed for this. – Anonymous Penguin Feb 2 '14 at 15:56
  • Please don't out a hdd into a plastic bag will cause an ESD event – Ramhound Feb 2 '14 at 16:42
  • Hm? I've had them running in plastic bags before during data recovery (good old freezer trick) and haven't experienced such an error. – WindowsEscapist Feb 2 '14 at 17:38
  • @Ramhound I suspect that putting the HDD onto a sheet of paper, onto the cooling pad will do just fine. Thanks! – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 18:19
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It will be perfectly OK to remove the HDD from the Icy Box enclosure. Be careful not to put any up/down force on the connectors - slide the drive until it is clear of them before removing the drive.

Any fan blowing air over the drive will keep it cool, e.g. a desktop fan. You can sit the drive on one of its long edges to get more airflow over it.

From the looks of the enclosure in the link you gave, just opening the lid of it and blowing a desktop fan on it will be enough to keep it considerably cooler than it would otherwise be in the enclosure.

Bear in mind that the HDD will have a minimum operating temperature of maybe 5 or 10 degrees Celsius, whereas a freezer may be at minus 30 degrees Celsius. Please also see Freezing your Hard Drive - A Bad Idea.

Addendum: from Toshiba's specs (pdf) Operating temperature 5°C - 55°C, storage temperature -40°C - 60°C.

  • Very interesting! Thanks for the specs (didn't think of that). Does it mean that it is perfectly fine to store the HD in a -20°C freezer (assuming that you can avoid the humidity/condensation issues)? The Freezing your Hard Drive - A Bad Idea guys seem to be saying otherwise. – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 18:35
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    @landroni Unless I was informed otherwise, I would take the storage specs to mean it was still factory-sealed in its ESD film with a silica gel packet. – Andrew Morton Feb 2 '14 at 19:27
  • Indeed. In your opinion, would the freezing trick be less dangerous (or at least more likely to avoid humidity issues) if I first sealed the HD in a double or triple ziploc bag with a silica gel packet inside, left it outside the freezer for a day or two, and only then put it in the freezer for 12h? – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 19:41
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    @landroni If you have exhausted all other methods and no longer care that you might completely and utterly destroy the data on the HDD, then carry on. If you are "lucky" then it is the USB/SATA adapter which is faulty rather than the HDD, so it would be worth trying a different adapter if you can't connect the drive to a computer using a SATA cable (and power, of course). – Andrew Morton Feb 2 '14 at 19:58
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I would like to take out an external 2.5" hard-drive (Toshiba MK2555GSXF 250GB SATA) out of its external case (Icy Box IB-AC603A-U3 Adaptor) and place it onto a laptop cooling pad (Zalman ZM-NC1000).

So far no problem here...

The drive has recently suffered a fall and is damaged to dying.

Probably a problem here: How do you define damaged? 99% of the time if a drive has experienced any loss of altitude before suddenly finding itself stationary on a hard surface there is almost guaranteed to be damage inside to the moving parts.

Before resorting to extreme last resort measures such as the freezing trick,

HUGE PROBLEM here. I am wondering what you are hoping to accomplish by performing a "trick" here. And how freezing a drive with damaged inner parts will help them become undamaged.

I would like to ensure that it has proper cooling in place while I am attempting to ddrescue the data.

ANOTHER HUGE PROBLEM. Basically what you are trying to do here is a crash and burn and hopefully get some data off the drive in the process. BEFORE you do this the RIGHT thing to d o is repair the DAMAGED parts inside the drive to preserve the condition of the platters ie. YOUR DATA. (read about dangers of using DIY recovery software)

So are hard-drives airtight (hermetic)? Is there any risk of dust exposure if I set the internal hard-drive with the USB connector (without its external USB case) onto a cooling pad?

If you continue down the road you are going none of this will actually matter. In order to get data back where there is suspected physical damage the drive should be opened by a professional in a clean room and inspected or repaired. If you don't it's like driving on a busted tire off the road to a gas station. By the time you get there you will need to replace the rim also. In this case, you will only end up killing the drive in the process of running your cloning utility which more than likely will give you an incomplete corrupt clone anyways.

  • Good points, thanks. If only I had such suggestions about a month ago! Currently the drive is mostly, sort of dying. I checked local prices, and professional help would go upwards 150 euros up to 1000 euros (depending on the exact damage); so this is a non-starter for the owner. As it stands I see little downsides from trying extreme measures (freezing, spinning, and even hitting the hard-drive), as I assume that the data is pretty much gone. (BTW, I wouldn't mind a corrupt or incomplete clone, as I'd use photorec or similar to extract whatever intact files are present.) – landroni Feb 13 '14 at 11:30
  • word of advice for anyone.... hitting a hard drive will never fix it :) – BillyData Jun 10 '14 at 0:03
  • Hitting a drive will fix it in some cases. In college (199x - the very same workstations that @JoelSpolsky learned the ropes using) we had a tech who would 'repair' Sun workstations by giving them a whack; some manufacturing defect meant that the heads would sometimes fail to park properly when spinning down, and get stuck, so the drives wouldn't spin up. A whack would get the drive to start spinning. I remember seeing this logged in the ticketing system. – Matthew Elvey Aug 15 '14 at 10:25
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Yes, when mechanical hard drives are manufactured they are assembled in a clean room, but they are not airtight. You can remove them from their enclosure and run them but you will expose the platter(s) to dust particles/humidity and this will eventually lead to failure.

That said, if you are doing this for data recovery then it really is not going to matter much. You will no longer have a clean read/write surface, but the whole point of this seems to be that you want to get the data off the drive before it fails completely (if I am not mistaken).

UPDATE:

After clarifying exactly what you are referring to by bare drive, I should point out that cooling probably will not be an issue. For a long time I had a WD VelociRaptor 2.5" drive sitting outside the chassis of one of my computers connected via external SATA. This drive runs at a demanding 10K RPM but only requires passive cooling. The drive itself is 2.5", but it has a heatsink built-in that makes it occupy a 3.5" form factor:

    

Your drive should not require anywhere near the same level of sophistication in terms of cooling as the WD VelociRaptor. But it would be a good idea to put it somewhere with good ventilation since you are going to run the disk continuously to get the data off of it.

If you ever take apart a TiVo and look where the disk drives are mounted with respect to cooling fans, you will notice there is no special consideration taken to cool the drive (short of not putting it directly over top the CPU or PSU). The only fan in a TiVo is always located next to the PSU, and blows air out.

  • The cooling is necessary, I think. Without any additional cooling (just the external casing), after several hours of continuing work testdisk was reporting read errors everywhere and the drive got quite hot; while subsequent smartctl failed. Some suggest to add cooling so as to improve operational performance. Freezing the disk for 12H may be one way to go, but others suggest to simply ensure proper cooling before anything that extreme (e.g. put the drive in sealed ziploc bag in the fridge/freezer while trying to copy data from it). So I'm trying to start slow with an even softer approach. – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 16:24
  • I am confused, I thought you wanted to get the data off the disk and replace it because it was damaged in a fall? How many hours of continued operation would this entail? For that matter, your original external enclosure solution served as nothing more than a crude heat spreader at best. If you place the internal drive on the same cooling pad nothing should change. – Andon M. Coleman Feb 2 '14 at 16:28
  • The external enclosure has no fan whatsoever (completely passive). But I would like to place he HD on a proper cooling pad (and with the window open, handily cold in winter). As for the ddrescue backup, I have no idea how long that would take. Probably depends on how quickly the drive gets hot, and how many bad sectors there are (assuming that it works at all). – landroni Feb 2 '14 at 17:59
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    @landroni - The fan isn't required. build a small support so nothing makes direct contact with the PCB. – Ramhound Feb 2 '14 at 20:05

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