Tag: Hard Drives
$300 Data Recovery and My Broken Hard Drive
Today, I shipped off a hard drive to $300 Data Recovery, which after a little (well, actually a lot) of online research, seems to be the best data recovery operation for me at the right price.
What impressed me about $300 Data Recovery is the upfront, flat-fee pricing, as well as some of the comments made by employees in YouTube videos and interviews.
This blog post will document my experience using the company to recover data from my busted hard drive.
I. What happened to my hard drive?
In early June 2020, I bought a house and had to move. During the move, the wrong power supplies were placed in the box I used to store a couple of external hard drive docks.
It turns out that hard drives do not appreciate it when you put them in a dock and then connect a 24V power supply rather than a 12V one. The hard drive essentially died instantly. It refused to power on or spin up.
This may actually be good news. These days, hard drive PCB boards are equipped with transient-voltage suppression (TVS) diodes designed to protect the drive from just such power spikes. Basically, in the presence of excessive voltage, the TVS fails but, in doing so, protects the device as a whole.
There are many online tutorials and videos about fixing a device with a bad TVS diode, but electronics are not really my thing, so I’m shipping off the drive to the experts.
II. The Shippening
To start the process, I filled out an extensive form at $300 Data Recovery (it was painful to give up the password for the Veracrypt volume on the drive) and was given an order number and shipping instructions.
I may have gone overboard, but being paranoid about shipping hard drives, I took extreme precautions.
First, I put the drive in a Silicon Forensics hard drive transporter. These things add quite a bit of heft to the hard drive, but I’ve been using them for years to transport hard drives and have yet to have a drive suffer any mechanical issues.
Then I got a 16 x 16 x 16 box and a 100-foot roll of 5/16″ bubble wrap from Office Depot. I used the entire roll of bubble wrap to encase the hard drive on all sides until it fit extremely snugly into the box.
There’s a FedEx store near my office, so I shipped it via FedEx Ground.
Total cost so far: $99
Bubble wrap and box: $20
And now, I wait for the hard drive to arrive in California.
III. The Arrival
The shipping process will, hopefully, be the most stressful part of this process. It took FedEx Ground nine days to get my hard drive to California–and several of those days were spent with an ominous red “Delayed” tag accompanied by a message that no delivery time could be estimated.
The one thing I feared most in this process was a shipping company losing my hard drive before it ever reached the data recovery center. That being said, it did actually arrive on Friday, November 12.
IV. The Initial Approval
$300 Data Recovery was a bit more forthcoming. Just a couple hours after the hard drive arrived, I received an email from the company requiring a response.
RESPONSE REQUIRED BEFORE WE CAN CONTINUE
We just received your device!
Before we can start working on your data recovery, we need to review our policies, just to avoid any confusion down the road. Please write back to confirm that you understand and agree to our Terms & Conditions below (you can just write “I AGREE”).
Unlike other data recovery companies, we do not diagnose your device first and then provide an estimated cost for recovery. Instead, our flat fee rates are pre-determined, and you agree to pay our rate (specified below) if we can retrieve at least 99% of the data/sectors on your device.
IF WE CAN RECOVER AT LEAST 99% OF THE DATA/SECTORS ON YOUR DEVICE, YOU AGREE TO PAY $400 (this includes our $100 fee because your device’s capacity is greater than 2TB).
*If your drive is found to be encrypted (i.e., with Bitlocker, FileVault, WD Smartware, etc), a $100 “encryption fee” will apply.
If we recover less than 99% of the sectors on your device, we will send you a file listing of the good/bad files (if not possible, then the “percentage” of the files or sectors recovered). You can then decide if the data we recovered is worth our rate. We charge a $100 LABOR FEE (per drive) if you don’t want the data we recovered.
About 25% of drives we receive have bad heads (these are most often drives that have been dropped and/or are clicking. We always try to offer our customers the option of an affordable “partial” recovery, by disabling the bad head(s) and recovering data using the remaining good heads. However, sometimes the only way to recover any data is by replacing parts inside the drive. In these cases, we will offer you the option of paying for the necessary donor part after we find the best matching donor online. You can also decline our attempt (for no charge, excluding up-front fees) if the cost of donor parts is too expensive.
If we are unable to retrieve any data from your device, there is no charge (besides shipping back, if applicable).
Once we determine that at least 99% of your data is recoverable, or after you approve a “partial recovery” because less than 99% recovered, we will start moving your data to the smallest drive we have available for purchase that can accommodate all your data.
If we are not able to successfully recover your data, we only permit sending your device(s) back to your address on file (some exceptions allowed with prior approval). We may also offer to send your hard drive to another data recovery company if we think there is still a chance for recovery with a more expensive company. We will not send your hard drive to any data recovery company we do not trust.
We charge a flat-rate for shipping any single-drive recovery (one bad drive + one transfer drive): $10 anywhere in California; $15 elsewhere in the US. Shipping to other countries and multi-drive recoveries (i.e. RAIDs or several recoveries in one shipment) will cost extra (price to be determined based on actual shipping rate).
At the end of our service, we will send you a money request for payment.
We also accept payment via Bitcoin.
You will have 14 days to pay for your recovery. After 14 days of non-payment, you will incur a $10/week storage fee. After 60 days of non-payment and non-communication, we will recycle your drive (including a transfer drive, if applicable).
By responding “I AGREE,” you agree that under no circumstances shall you be permitted to return to $300 Data Recovery (whether for a cash refund, credit, or exchange) any goods or services provided, including, but not limited to, any transfer hard drive sold to you in order to accommodate all recovered data.
Please let us know if you have any questions about our services, policies, or pricing, BEFORE agreeing to our terms.
$300 Data Recovery
I immediately responded “I agree” and was greeted with a follow-up email a short time later.
Your device has reached the front of our data recovery queue and we have started to work on recovering your data!
We should have another status update soon (usually within 5-6 days for standard service and 1-2 days for Priority service), but it could be longer or shorter depending on the exact problem with your device.
$300 Data Recovery
And now, I wait.
V. The Recovery
It didn’t take long to get an answer back on recovering data from my drive.
November 15 at 8:39 p.m., this showed up in my inbox,
We were able to recover 100% of the sectors on your device.
We’ve started moving your recovered data to the transfer drive and we’ll touch base when it’s all finished and ready to go.
The problem(s) with your device include (at least):
DEFECTIVE/FAULTY PCB (CIRCUIT BOARD ON THE HARD DRIVE). The PCB holds information unique to your hard drive and must be fully operational for the hard drive to function properly. The PCB is similar to a computer’s motherboard/BIOS — it contains the basic instructions which enable the hard drive to function.
Based on the problem(s) with your device and the complexity of your recovery, you likely saved over $850 by choosing $300 Data Recovery to recover your data!
Please let us know if you have any questions.
VI. The Review/Approval Process
After receiving word that all the sectors on my hard drive were recoverable and my data was being transferred to another drive, I didn’t hear from $300 Data Recovery for a few days. On November 18 at 3:28 p.m., however, they contacted me to let me know the transfer process was complete and asked me to review a listing of the recovered files.
We have finished moving your data to your transfer drive. The last step is for you to download and examine our file listing to confirm that the files you want are present.
Please follow these steps to see your file listing:
1) Click the following link to download the .zip file containing your file listing (if the link shows “404 Error” then you are likely behind a firewall in a corporate setting; please try again from home): [REDACTED]
2) Find the .zip file in your Downloads folder
3) Double click the .zip file to “unzip” the .html file
4) Double click the .html file to open the file listing in your web browser
. . .
If everything looks good, reply to this email to let us know, and we’ll get it finished up. If not, please describe any missing files/folders, and we’ll search for them.
I was actually fairly impressed by the HTML file they sent me, which was an interactive, navigable representation of the file structure rather than just some text dump. I was able to quickly confirm that everything on the listing matched what was on the hard drive. They really did recover everything.
I replied that the file list was accurate, and received a reply that represented the only minor snag so far.
Thank you for your response. We are going to finish things up and we will contact you again as soon as your drive is ready to go.
Please also note, since the total amount of recovered data is close to or exceeds 1TB, we will NOT be keeping a backup of your data. For this reason, it’s important to backup the transfer drive as soon as you get your data back so your data is safely in two places.
We use U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail for return shipping, but before we can prepare your drive for return shipping, we need you to quickly confirm your return shipping address is correct.
I was a bit surprised that the company would not be maintaining a temporary on-site backup until I received the transfer drive and confirmed the data made it back safely. That obviously represents additional expenses in time and money, but I’m surprised they didn’t offer to do so far an additional fee.
On the other hand, the data on the drive is moderately sensitive, so I’m not sure I would have gone for making an additional backup copy of the drive. Either way, I confirmed my address and didn’t bring up the issue.
This is the point at which $300 Dollar Data Recovery finally requested payment, and I paid immediately.
My final cost was significantly higher than $300, but I knew it would be based on the estimate the company gave me after filling out their online form to start the process. The only thing I didn’t factor in was the cost of the company shipping back the hard drive via USPS priority mail, which ended up making the final cost a bit higher than I anticipated.
It was, however, fully in line with what I expected and it is probably difficult for the company to give an estimate of return shipping costs before they’ve received the hard drive or device to be recovered.
I paid the fee immediately, and later that night was given a USPS priority tracking number. Because that was on a Friday afternoon, the package wasn’t actually picked up and taken to a USPS facility until Monday, November 22nd. USPS gave me an estimated delivery of November 26–delayed a bit by the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.
YouTube Video of Hard Drive Shredder
This is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Seagate Is Shipping 16TB Hard Drives
Continuing the march of progress in the HDD industry, Seagate has revealed that they have started shipping their 16 TB PMR hard drives. In a quarterly earnings call last week, the company reported that the drives have been shipping since late March, with current shipments coming ahead of high volume production of the drives. Seagate in turn expects to kick off mass production in the second half of 2019, and by Q2 2020 the new 16 TB drives will be its highest revenue SKU. What is particularly noteworthy here, besides the capacity of course, is that these drives do not use next-generation heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology. Instead, they’re based around conventional magentic recoding (which is a new way to call perpendicular magnetic recording, PMR), which is being boosted by two-dimensional magnetic recording (TDMR).
. . .
For a number of years Seagate has implied that HAMR will be first used for 16 TB drives, so the unexpected shift to CMR + TDMR raises several question about the the state of the market and the technology. Is the delay client-driven, with the company’s clients wanting to stick to proven technologies for another round? Or, since HAMR HDDs use different components (new media, new heads, etc.), do the manufacturing costs of HAMR hard drives present a hurdle to manufacturing and/or client adoption? Or is the change in plans due to something else entirely?
Consumer SSD Prices and Sizes
It’s interesting to see how quickly the per/gigabyte price for SSDs continues to fall as companies begin introducing bigger and cheaper models.
Back in February 2018, I bought a couple 2TB SSDs for some new laptops for about $500/each. Today, ten months later, those SSDs can be had on Amazon for $290, a 42 percent price drop in less than a year.
Meanwhile, Samsung recently announced consumer level QLC SSDs in 1TB/2TB/4TB capacities that will initially retail for $149.99, $299.99, and $599.99 respectively.
Aside from the relatively low prices, one of the interesting things about the QLC drives is their write endurance,
The 860 QVO, from the box, is given a write endurace rating equivalent to 0.3 Drive Writes Per Day (DWPD), which even for the 1TB means 300GB a day, every day, which goes above and beyond most consumer workloads.
Better drives, larger capacities and cheaper storage prices. What’s not to love?
How Hard Drives Are Made
Interesting YouTube videos showing how hard drives are made at a Western Digital and Seagate factory, respectively.