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That old 'freezer trick' to save a hard drive doesn't work anymore

Mark Hachman | March 16, 2016
Properly backing up your data is still the first line of defense.

In 2007, we listed the “freezer trick” as one of the solutions to revive a failed hard drive. Well, consider that solution as over as the last Ice Age.

Freezing a hard drive is one of those home remedies that date from the early days of computing, alongside such tried-and-true methods as blowing on a game cartridge to improve its chances of being read by a Nintendo 64. The thing is, it did work. But now, storage experts say, you stand a better chance of making the problem worse.

“No matter what that article might say, the freezer trick doesn’t work,” said Scott Moyer, the president at DriveSavers Data Recovery.

Why this matters: While you may do everything right—back up files to cloud storage as well as an external hard drive, save key files on optical data, update promptly—chances are you know someone who hasn’t been as careful. Maybe they have an old PC, and they’re faced with the realization that all of their family photos could be lost. If you’re tempted to use the old trick that we all grew up with, this pro says to think twice.

What is the freezer trick?

At one time, a hard drive might suddenly lock up for any number of reasons, succumbing to the “click of death” or other failures. One of them could be what drive vendors called “stiction,” a fancy name for a drive whose lubrication failed. The drive’s platters essentially “stuck,” and the drive wouldn’t read data. That meant, of course, that any data stored on it was potentially lost forever. 

Worried you might lose your data? Here’s how to create an image backup of your entire hard drive, data and all.

The “freezer trick” involved sticking the drive in a waterproof plastic bag, and then into the freezer. If you left it alone for a few hours, the cold would cool the metal down enough to constrict it, and, in some cases, free up the disks to spin. The idea behind the freezer trick was to save the data by then quickly copying it to another device before another lockup occurred, Moyer said.

Stiction, though, is largely a thing of the past. Modern and more complex drives have improved lubrication systems and “off-platter parking” (where the drive stores its head off the surface of the disk, like a phonograph, when not in use), to prevent this problem from occurring, Moyer explained. “As a result, stiction rarely happens with today’s technology,” he said. 

“The science behind this suggestion is actually solid,” Moyer said. “However, with the advancement of technology, it’s no longer appropriate and should not be attempted. That’s because the potential for damage and/or data loss greatly outweighs any potential benefit of chilling your hard drive.”


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