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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.

For instance, a side effect of freezing a hard drive is corrosion, caused by the transformation of water vapor inside the drive to ice crystals. Upon removal from the freezer, that ice will melt and foul the delicate electrical components inside the drive. If the drive spins up before the ice has melted, catastrophic damage will occur and data may be permanently lost.

ACS Data Recovery Services provides a bit more detail: As data storage densities have grown higher and higher, the height a head flies above the spinning hard disk platter has steadily decreased. In modern drives, the clearance between a head and the disk is is slightly less than 10 nanometers—or about four times the width of a single strand of DNA. If any ice crystals form, chances are that head will crash into them.

According to Moyer, today’s read errors can cascade to the firmware, then to possible electronic or PCB damage, and then on to possible errors with the drive heads themselves. 

Granted, a disk-drive error may be less catastrophic now that data can be backed up to cloud services like OneDrive or Google Drive, and SSDs have begun to replace hard drives inside laptops. One tool we recently discovered at CES, DriveSpar, can save you from seeking out a DriveSavers or other professional recovery service for a failing hard drive or SSD, though it will also require some investment (by either you or your local computer shop). 

We all have our little bags of tricks: fixes we can bring out when all else fails. But it’s important to let people know that an important one doesn’t work any more.


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