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"Freezer trick" does it again

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I have a removable hard drive enclosure which contains an old 40GB Western Digital drive. This drive has been banged around quite a bit by virtue of its frequent relocation.

When I just recently tried to use it again, the enclosure did not appear as a USB device, and the drive itself made some rather unhealthy knocking noises. It sounded as if the actuator was full-stroking back and forth until it hit some sort of stopper.

As I have done in the past, I put the drive (actually, the entire enclosure) in the freezer for about half an hour.

Lo and behold, it worked the first time I connected it. I am syncing files as I type this.

While it may look like a case of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" reasoning (after this, therefore because of this), this "trick" has worked three of the three times (including this one) I have tried it, all with different drives, and at least once for a friend of mine. It seems extremely unlikely that it is a coincidence that on at least four separate occasions (more if I count ones I could not verify myself), a non-functional drive put into a freezer was functional (at least, for a while) after being removed from the freezer.

Granted, if the heads had fallen off or the platters had beach sand on them, you could freeze the drive as long as you wanted and it would still be quite dead. It is possible that the rescued drives were just confused somehow, whatever that may mean in terms of a hard drive, but whether physically damaged or not, in each case they were non-functional (non-detectable or detected as failed by SMART, BIOS, or some other means, or the system would simply refuse to POST).

Thus, freezing hard drives can almost certainly, in some situations, allow you to rescue the data from a drive.

This begs the question: Why?

Within the confines of my knowledge of the physical operation of hard drives, I can't think of an obvious reason why this would help.

Even MaxtorSCSI says that there is no reason to that this trick (among others) would work:

Sorry, I've been making HDDs for nearly 20 years now, and there is no solid technical merit to these recommendations.

Does anyone have a good theory as to what is going on when a bad drive, when frozen, miraculously works?

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I agree with MaxtorSCSI (though w/ nowhere NEAR the experience level he has to back it up) that it's unlikely freezing it will "fix" something broken. I've heard of some theories that it is because of disk lube (or pivot lube or motor lube) changing viscosity with lower temperatures, which *is* true. Still, most lubes get thicker, not thinner, as they get colder so if anything, that'd make it harder for parts to work at low temperature.

So that makes me wonder. Is it pure coincidence that drives seem to heal after getting shoved in a freezer? For all the folks that have tried it and had it work, there are also many that have tried it and it didn't work.

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The metal in the drive may also expand or shrink when the temperature changes. Perhaps this has a (temporary) influence on a damaged drive.

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Years ago, I tried freezing a thoroughly dead Fujitsu PATA drive secured inside a ziplock bag but never got it to spinup. My guess is if a drive refuses to spin and whir then its mechanical operation will not be easily restored by this or any cooling method.

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Does anyone have a good theory as to what is going on when a bad drive, when frozen, miraculously works?

No idea beyond that it just works.

Over the years, I've bailed out at least 20 drives with this method. I don't use a freezer though, inverted air can is my method.

With the aircan, the main problem is you don't let it thaw. Keep it well frozen, anywhere that starts defrosting, hit it again. The liquid in the aircan isn't conductive, but the water condensing will be.

If you go through an entire aircan retreiving 20 gig of data off a drive, you're doing it right :)

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I don't know much about hard drive mechanics, but all I can figure is that the motor is seized or the heads are stuck to the media. Freezing it causes materials to contract. Different materials expand and contract over temperature at different rates, so you may be breaking free whatever was stuck and the drive spins up after that.

There are skeptics on this method though. BBC recently dubbed the freezer trick the "weirdest computer mishap". I guess they don't know much as it seems to have worked for many people on here.

Link to BBC Article

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I don't know much about hard drive mechanics, but all I can figure is that the motor is seized or the heads are stuck to the media. Freezing it causes materials to contract. Different materials expand and contract over temperature at different rates, so you may be breaking free whatever was stuck and the drive spins up after that.

There are skeptics on this method though. BBC recently dubbed the freezer trick the "weirdest computer mishap". I guess they don't know much as it seems to have worked for many people on here.

Link to BBC Article

I go with the metal contracts when it is frozen theory and allows lubricants to reach places that were not accessible before freezing.

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I guess it's one of those things that needs an "indiviadual results may vary" type of disclaimer. I've tried the freezer trick a few times in the past and so far not one success or even a partitial success. Total "freezer trick" recovered MB's equals zero for me so far. :(

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I guess it's one of those things that needs an "indiviadual results may vary" type of disclaimer. I've tried the freezer trick a few times in the past and so far not one success or even a partitial success. Total "freezer trick" recovered MB's equals zero for me so far. :(

Maybe you didnt freeze it cold enough. Is your ice cream soft? then your freezer may not be getting cold enough for it to work.

-- just joking -- Ive never gotten it to work either, but then I like soft ice cream...

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You need to be careful about concluding there is causality. The fact that you try a given action repeatedly, and achieve a desired outcome each time, does not mean that the action resulted in the outcome. Without a controlled experiment to validate your conclusion (and/or disprove alternate explanations), it's all just "black magic".

An HDD is a complicated electromechanical device. There are 1000s (maybe millions) of ways they can fail. Performance of a particular component degrades, slowly at first but inescapably ever-faster, until ultimately the component no longer works. Some failures will be initially intermittent, others will be outright catastrophic. For the interimittent cases, at least, diligent retries might be rewarded by at least a temporary "reprieve".

Maybe freezing does help, or maybe the bad drive would have started if you'd just tried it one more time. There's no way to say because there's no "control" sample to validate or invalidate the apparent causality.

So, while I will continue to insist that there is no sound basis for the recommendation, I will be happy to agree that if your drive isn't working, and it comes down to a choice between lost data or trying the Kitchen Ice Box trick, you've got nothing to lose by giving it a whirl!

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One probable reason why the freezer trick works is that failed ICs can sometimes be revived by cooling them down (to temperatures way below their normal operating range). The spindle motor on an HDD is driven by an IC that has to withstand relatively high amounts of current during spinup.

Of course, freezing it won't "heal" anything, so get your data off the drive now, before it starts heating up. You may have to freeze it several times and rescue just a portion of the data each time.

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Maybe you didnt freeze it cold enough. Is your ice cream soft? then your freezer may not be getting cold enough for it to work.

-- just joking -- Ive never gotten it to work either, but then I like soft ice cream...

No way. I have my icecream so hard that I often bend the handle of the spoon just trying to get it out of the tub, that's the way I like it. :)

Seriously though, I think like MaxtorSCSI says, there are a very large number of possible ways that a HDD can fail. Perhaps some of these failure modes are amenable to the freezer trick, but all the ones I've tried have not been so.

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I think the "expert" is absolutely wrong in this case, for certain hard disk problems freezing the problem offers a temporary solution to get Data off drives that have severe recalibration errors (i.e. the so called "clicks of death") I have done it countless times with Western Digital hard disks which recalibrated so often that it made it impossible to get the data off the drive which I then "froze" overnight and severely reduced the amount of recalibrations while reading the drive. Experts are frequently wrong when they don't have an open mind to the options, especially thousands of people who's hard disks give them the "click of death". Freezing drives do not fix them, no one claimed they did, they give you that extra time to get the data *off* the drive. I put my money on their being something to the freezer trick for certain types of hard disk failure in my opinion.

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Yes I agree that with the number of people who have reported success that there must be something too it. Also I think we can all agree that it is not going to work with all HDD problems and that probably only very specific failure modes are applicable.

BTW. While we're all throwing around guesses as to possible reasons why it could work, I wonder if it has anything to do with the strength of the magnetic domains in the absence/presence of extra molecular thermal aggitation?

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