Thursday, October 29, 2009

A tale of woe, and a small plea

I have been taking digital photographs for about six years now. A year ago, these were mostly stored on the hard disk of my principal desktop computer at the time. I had backups on hard drives on a couple of laptops and also on some CDs and DVDs. Backups of recent files were in order, but older backups were not very well organised.

In March this year, I decided to fix this and simultaneously better organise everything by importing all my photos into iPhoto on my Mac laptop and then backing this up with Time Machine. Impatient about the idea of importing everything over my home network, I removed the (PATA) hard drive from my desktop, and put it in an external hard drive enclosure I had around. This worked fine, and I backed up some of my photos. I then discovered that I needed the hard drive back in the original desktop, and so I removed it from the external hard drive enclosure and plugged it back into the PATA connection of the desktop.

At this point , disaster. The hard drive would no longer work. Foolishly, I had left the motherboard plugged into the power when I plugged the hard drive back in. The CPU was not spinning and I believed the hard drive power cable was not live when I plugged the drive in, but perhaps the power was in fact live. Or perhaps some sort of static discharge occurred. In any event, the hard drive that had the only complete copy of my photo collection had failed. My belief was (and is) that the electronics on the hard drive was fried.

I then looked for my older backups. I found that one of the DVDs that had contained backups was physically broken, which presumably happened when I moved house. Another was unreadable. Still, however, I was able to retrieve about 80% of my photo collection from backups. However, I have lost some photographs from 2005 and 2006: specifically the some (but not all) of those of two trips to the US from 2005, and one trip to China and one to Korea from 2006, as well as a small number of European photos from those years.

I decided that the lost photographs were of sufficient value to me that I was willing to pay for data recovery if possible, so I sent the hard drive to a data recovery company. I chose it from advertising and online recommendations: I have no idea if I chose well. From certain aspects of their customer service that I will not go into, it is more likely that I chose badly than not.

My belief was that the drive simply had electrical problems, but the data recovery company claimed that

The primary failure is a failure of the read/write heads. The read/write heads have also made contact with the platter surface causing media damage and unreadable sectors. These unreadable sectors span the disk surface causing corruption. There is also a PCB fault.

It is entirely possible that they were exaggerating the damage in order to increase the price. After a little negotiation, I agreed to pay £450 on a no data no fee basis.

After several months in which I didn't hear from them, the data recovery company finally told me that they had been unable to get the hard drive to respond to a replaced PCB, and they returned the hard drive (and the spare PCB - they presumably sent this to me to show they had tried).

So, I was back where I started. I get the feeling it may be worth having one further try with another data recovery company, assuming that someone is willing to try. The model is a Hitachi hds722516vlat80

However I need to find the best experts I can find - preferably Hitachi specialists. Any thoughts as to who I might ask?

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