Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Tech Support

So at about 4:30 yesterday, my computer died. it was seconds after I recorded a BloggingHeads video. I went to open Firefox, and Firefox froze. I went to force quit Firefox, and the Finder froze. I shut down the computer and -- tear -- it never restarted again. I just got a blinking file folder with an ominous question mark.

The fine people at the Apple store say my hard drive is shot. Fair enough, my computer served me honorably and well, but it was a pretty good time in the Apple life cycle to upgrade to a new laptop. I can handle that. But though most of my data was backed up, the BloggingHeads I'd just recorded was still on my desktop. Does anyone have any ideas for how I could retrieve it? The Apple people weren't able to do so on a cursory attempt.

Help me, anonymous blog people. You are my only hope.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 17, 2009; 11:18 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Bad Start for the HELP Committee
Next: Jay Rockefeller and the Question of Compromise


You might want to try Alsoft's DiskWarrior product; it can often retrieve materials assumed gone forever.

They'll have a copy at your local Apple store.

Posted by: tylerstone | June 17, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

They are hard drive wizards. It's a bit pricey, but they will get your data back.

Posted by: baldrige | June 17, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Hokay... This is all going to depend on how hosed your hard drive is - if it's a major physical problem (head crash, etc.) then there's no hope. On the other hand, if it's a problem with the directory structure, you may be able to get your data back pretty quickly.

First off, I'm assuming that the Apple folks started up the laptop with a CD and tried running Disc Utility on it. If you haven't done that, try it.

Second step, if that doesn't work, is gonna depend on the laptop. If your machine has a Firewire port, you may be able to start it up in "target disc mode" by holding down the "T" key on the keyboard while it boots. You'll get a blue screen with a floating firewire logo if that works. Once you've got that, hook it up to another computer using a firewire cable. It should show up as an external hard drive, at which point you can try just copying your files off, or running Disc Utility or some other repair programs on it (Disk Warrior is a pretty good one).

I *think* that the non-firewire laptops have a similar function using USB cables, but I've not tried that before.

Posted by: quirkblog | June 17, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

It all depends on how dead the HDD really is. I have had luck a couple times in the past with putting the dead drive into an external HDD case (available at Best Buy, Fry's, etc) and "kick starting" it. That is, plugging and unplugging the USB cable until the computer recognizes the drive. This is by no means fool-proof, but sometimes is enough to rescue that one important file.

Also - some people recommend putting the drive in the freezer for a bit, but I don't really understand that one.

Posted by: discotastic | June 17, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I second trying DiskWarrior. It has saved me my entire hard drive no less than four different times. It really does work.

Second of all, your computer is not dead, you merely need a new hard drive. If you had a white or black MacBook, for instance, the hard drive is user-replaceable. I believe that you can get at it underneath the battery by opening up a little door. For probably $100 you can be up and running again. I promise that it's not any more difficult than installing new RAM. I'm not sure if the hard drive in MacBook Pros and the new MacBooks is made to be user-accessible. You'd still be able to take apart the computer and replace it, although it would be a chore.

Posted by: zshoup | June 17, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

If you are seriously interested in saving data, do not do anything to the disc. Stick it in an external drive enclosure and sector by sector copy it to another disc. Work on the copy. Failed attempts to access hard to get at data can render it impossible to get at data. On the other hand, if you're thinking "It is inconvenient that I lost this" then you won't want to go to that expense.

The first thing I would try is to stick it in an external enclosure (which you can buy for ~$50), start your machine with a Knoppix bootable CD (available free here and see if you can mount it. You'll have to learn a little bit about how to use an actual computer as opposed to a Mac, but if you can't copy files off that way then the problem is serious enough that it is probably going to be fairly expensive to recover.

"Hard drive shot" can mean a lot of things. It may mean the master boot record is damaged, in which case your file system and data are intact. It may mean the file system is hosed, in which case the data is still there but can't be located by the system. It may mean physical damage to the disk -- e.g. a head crash, which digs a groove in a platter, a broken platter or spindle, a damaged logic board, or a worn out bearing. In the first three cases, someone must disassemble the drive in a clean room and remount it on viable hardware. You can imagine how much that costs. In the latter case, stuck bearings, many people have gotten a drive running long enough to extract critical files by simply leaving it in the freezer overnight (in a plastic bag with some silica gel to prevent condensation). "It" means the drive, not the whole computer.

If none of these tricks work, it is probably going to cost more to recover the data than the data is worth. Anything can be recovered by some technique or other, up to and including using an atomic force microscope to read the individual 1's and 0's. The question is will it be worth the cash? Most of the time, for most people and organizations, the answer is no.

Posted by: evenadog | June 17, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, im definitely going to replace the hard drive so i have it as a second cpu.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | June 17, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

What's it worth to you? The data recovery companies charge an arm an a leg, and if your drive is really shot, that's what you'll need.

It would probably be cheaper and easier to just redo the segment.

Posted by: andgarden | June 17, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Lots of good comments, but, short of quirkblog's and evenadog's physical solutions, I also recommend DiskWarrior. It's been able to recover stuff from failing drives that nothing else could. And if you run into real trouble, their tech support is amazing once you get a callback.

Posted by: itch | June 17, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I was listening to a tech podcast the other day and someone said they were able to use Spinrite and a PC to recover data on a Mac disc.

Posted by: StoicJim | June 17, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I have mostly worked on Linux & Windows boxes. Since the latest Mac OS is based on BSD, you can download a copy of Knoppix ( a live Linux CD ) from the web and burn it to a CD and you have a bootable OS on a CD. Boot the computer with the CD and if the disk is not totally shot (you should hear a clicking sound with the computer running) you should be able to read the file structure on the disk. The boot CD will mount the HD so you have access to the files on it. You can then copy the files off the machine to a USB device and recover your data. If you had a head crash it will only destroy some of the data on the disk. It could be in the area where the files you want are located, so recovery is not certain, but reasonably good.

Posted by: knuthxxv | June 17, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

When my PC laptop hard drive died a couple years ago, I got a cheap adapter which allowed me to use it as an external hard drive. I just had to take the hard drive out of my laptop, connect it to the cable, and then plug the cable into the USB drive of another PC. I was able to copy all the files from the dead hard drive to the other computer. I think it works with Macs too, although of course it all depends on how damaged your hard drive is. Let's see, the adapter that I used is this one, which seems to be discontinued, but I'm sure that there are similar ones out there:

Posted by: you-dont | June 17, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

if all else fails,
look on the bright side...

determine to use the vanishing files
for the spiritual discipline
of non~attachment!

like infinite sheets of paper,
floating in the ether.

Posted by: jkaren | June 17, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

This is not a procedure but a specific professional reference. I have relied for over 5 years on Mr. Seth Forster. He has successfully rescued me from at least 4 similar situations. I have referred him to many friends and everyone has been satisfied. He is a sole proprietor, his rates are eminently reasonable and he covers most of the Washington area. I'm pretty tech savvy but not strictly a techie but I tire pretty quickly of doing it myself - with or without outside instructions. (202) 365-3430. Full disclosure: I get no consideration of any kind and have no relationship of any kind with Mr. Forster, except that of satisfied customer.

Posted by: sailorman2 | June 18, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

Your best bet is FireWire Disk Mode. You don't actually need the HD to work, you just need it to spin up long enough to get to that one file. And you've already got all the stuff you need to try this. And if it works you'll be good to go in a half-hour

Your next option is a data recovery program. AlSoft and ProSoft have good programs that do that sort of thing. I've used Data Rescue II from ProSoft a few times and it's worked quite well. It's not perfect -- it'll take time, and cost money, so try it second.

Your last option is just to re-record the video. It will not be fun, but it has a 100% chance of success.

Posted by: NickBenjamin | June 18, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company