It’s very rare that I have a hard drive fail on me. I think the last one I had was way back in the Mac OS 9 days. I have a Thermaltake BlacX USB external hard drive adapter that I use when I want to look at some of the backup drives that I have. It’s convenient since I don’t have to reboot my Mac to swap out a hard drive just to look at some project files. There’s one hard drive I use as a backup for my Final Cut Pro projects, as well as other media projects that I worked on, and I back up my iPhoto library to it. I’ve never had an issue with the hard drive before, but that day, it overheated after backing up my iPhoto library with the telltale “k-chunk, k-chunk” sound that signals the death of a hard drive.
The first thing I did was eject it using the Finder. After the Finder ejected it, I tried to remove it only to find that the hard drive was so hot that I couldn’t even hold it. This had never happened before, and I used that hard drive a lot. I still don’t understand what caused the hard drive to get so hot but after doing some research I found that some hard drives heat up in these external enclosures while some do not. This hard drive was an old Maxtor which I’ve had for several years and never had a problem with it.
After it cooled off, I put it back in the external enclosure to see if it was truly damaged. It was. Disk Utility couldn’t repair it and Mac OS X only gave me the option to format or eject the drive. Every time it tried reading the directory I’d get the same “k-chunk” sound from it. At this point I had to remember what was on the drive, and if it was worth worrying about. My iPhoto backups were of no consequence since they still lived on my main drive and I could just back it up again, but I lost all my Final Cut Pro projects, my Unreal Tournament projects, some Xcode projects I was working on, some PHP projects, and backups of CDs that I threw away.
I had decided that the hard drive was worth recovering and looked into an app that would get the data back for me. After doing some reading, I found that Tech Tool Pro was supposed to work, but it did not. When it tried to read the damaged hard drive, it just said “Sorry, can’t read this disk”, and didn’t even attempt anything else. I tried surface scans, directory rebuilds, and nothing worked. A waste of $100. Determined to get my data back, I dropped another $100 on DiskWarrior. This time, the app looked at the hard drive, said “there’s something wrong with it”, and continued on, somehow grabbing a backup directory and giving me all my files back!
The way DiskWarrior works is that if it can’t put the recovered directory in the space of the hard drive where’s it’s supposed to go, it creates a temporary read-only disk image which allows you to grab the files off the image. Every single file was there, and I copied them to a brand new 2TB hard drive. What worried me was that the bad hard drive was already starting to overheat and I didn’t want to lose my files while backing them up, so I put a hair dryer on cool and just stood there looking silly while cooling down the hard drive. It worked, keeping the hard drive from overheating.
So in the end, DiskWarrior is a far superior app for recovering files off a damaged hard drive. I’m not saying that DiskWarrior will allow you to fix every issue that you encounter, but directory errors are catastrophic since without that, the hard drive doesn’t know where files start and the sector chains to recover them. If you ever have a Mac hard drive die, I would highly suggest checking out DiskWarrior to get your data back. Unfortunately, they do not offer a trial version. I was hoping I’d find a free version that said “here are your files, upgrade to recover them” because dropping $100 blind is not the best way to see if an app works.
Even though it’s been about ten years since I had such a bad hard drive failure, it’s always smart to make multiple backups of important files. The problem I have is that some media projects are so large that they only fit on other hard drives instead of using something like Dropbox. Still, remember to back up your data onto more than one place if you want to avoid the stress of having to get it all back.