From the "Trippy but True Hardware Fixes" department:

For any of you out there who've had the wonderful misfortune of having a hard drive go totally belly-up on you, but recovering the data on the drive is absolutely necessary, check this out:

One of my clients' old Maxtor drives finally went South on her this weekend, just as I was in the middle of migrating her data over to her brand new computer. The drive just suddenly died- whir!, click!, spin down, vanished, kaput. I couldn't get it to spin up again on a few subsequent power-cyclings of the machine, and not wanting to damage either of her computers, I took it back to my shop to try to revive it. I put it in three different computers (running Windows and Linux), but it refused to engage in any of them at all; all I got from the drive were a few sick-sounding whines, and one of the controller chips began to get really hot.

I was just about to call her and give her the bad news when I remembered a really off-the-wall fix that I read about ages ago: wrap the drive in an anti-static bag, wrap that in couple of zip-lock baggies, and stick the beast in the freezer overnight. I Googled around a bit and found that this was considered to be a huge "Urban Legend" by many folks, but others said that the fix had indeed worked for them.

WTF I thought- the drive can't be much more dead than it is now, right? Soooo... into the freezer she went (the drive, that is, not the client). Well, this morning I pulled the drive out of the fridge and stuck it back into one of my test boxes, and the damn thing spun right up, and stayed alive long enough to let me pull all of the data off to another drive!

As weird as it sounded at first- it worked, so I just thought I'd pass my experience on in case it can pull anyone else out of a similar jam.

12 Years
Discussion Span
Last Post by DMR

I thoroughly endorse this product!

In fact, that's a tip I've been passing on for ages. It's an old trick and a goodie. doesn't work every time, of course, but when it does it's bloody wonderful!


I've found that a few hours is usually enough. (I've had 100% success on the three I've tried this on...)

I've also found that if you put the drive back into the computer with a case fan playing over it it will run for ages.


Your right Terry- I think the trick probably is ages old; I know it was many years ago that I heard about it. I never did have the "luxury" of trying it before now though; the companies I've worked for in the past knew their data was mission-critical and always has RAID redundancy, extremely current backups, and/or spare controller cards that I could swap onto a dead drive. My clients currently are mostly small office/home office operations, many of whom I find to have little or no backup strategy in place... I guess that means I'll probably get to try this little trick again in the near future. ;)

In the different discussions I read, people had varying levels of success, and many different "recipes" for the procedure, including freeze times ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours. Having already identified an overheating chip on the controller card (and not having a replacement card) I knew that the freeze method could be a one-shot, last-chance procedure for me, so I opted to leave the beast in the freezer overnight just in case.

One creative technique mentioned in one of the discussions was to rest the drive on top of one of those plastic "Blue Ice" reusable freeze blocks (the kind made for camping/picnic coolers) once you remove the drive from the freezer and hook it back up. The freeze block keeps the drive from heating back up as quickly as it normally would, thus extending your window of opportunity for getting all the data off of it.


... I guess that means I'll probably get to try this little trick again in the near future. .

Yes- twice since then; the fix worked for both...


This works great. I have used it many times over the years. The only problem you will run into is condensation.

You need to keep the drive cold but also limit air flow if you are in a high humidity climate

Ziplocks and those plastic clips you can get to keep chips fresh work great. The cables can get out of the ziplock and still be almost air tight. (Get as much air out of the bag as possible before you spin it up.) ...And set it on a block of blue ice


every 1 should read this THREAD,

Are there anymore crazy ways of fixing PC problems


If you have a PCI card that you need to put in a computer with only ISA slots or vice versa, you can use a saw and superglue* :D

Will this also work for CD burners that burn themselves before burning the CD?

*I am not responsble for any damages caused by this tip.


Hi DMR - had the lovely experience of a hard drive crash and I tried your method of chilling but had no luck. My crash was different as there were no noises - the PC hung up, did a hard boot, and then nothing :(
Any advice on recovery software? I have installed a new drive and am up and running but I would love to try and recover my pictures if possible.



Your chances of having success with recovery software will depend on exactly how/why the drive died, or whether it was really the drive that died, or some other component.

Some of the usual things to do when diagnosing a "dead" drive are:

* Check to see if the drive feels/sounds like it is spinning up.
* Check the data and power cables. Make sure they are seated firmly, and that there is no physical damage (nick, cuts, etc.) to them. Try different cables if possible.
* Remove the drive and physically inspect the circuitry on the drive's controller card. Check for burned/cracked/discolored components. Use your nose- sniff around for that distinctive, telltale smell of overheated silicon.
* Install the drive as a slave drive and see if it still exhibits problems. Make sure to pay attention to Master/Slave/Cable Select jumper settings on the drives.

- If the drive doesn't seem to power up/spin up regardless of what you've tried, and/or if you've found possible damage on the drive controller circuit card, your only option might be to replace the controller. That can be done, but it should be done by a professional.

- If, when you installed the drive as a slave, it drive seems to spin up and you can access its contents, you're obviously in pretty good shape. Copy your data off of the drive on to another hard drive, a CD, or whatever ASAP.

- If the drive seems to spin up when installed in another Windows computer and that computer's BIOS recognizes that the drive is present, but the drive's contents are not recognized by Windows, you may have corruption of the partition table, MBR, or filesystem instead of physical hardware problems. At that point, you have a couple of options:

1. You can try running a repair/recovery utility, although those programs can do more harm than good unless you know exactly what you're doing. I've used the free evaluation version of DFSee and was very impressed with it; I'd buy the full Pro version if it cost a bit less than $250 USD.

2. If you (or someone you know) is familiar with Linux, you may be able to access/rescue the data on your drive by installing it in a computer running that operating system. If a computer with Linux installed on it isn't available to you, you can download (at no cost) one of the "Live" Linux versions, which will run entirely off of a bootable CD-ROM. I've successfully used this method many times.


Hi DMR - there were no mechanical or physical issues that I could see. I tried a Linux boot CD and all the files were greyed out and unaccessable.
I changed the drive configuration around and ran GetBackData ( www.runtime.org ) from the new master with no viewable files found. A new hard drive was installed and we have started over from scratch.
I will try your DFSee but am not too hopeful at this stage.

Not sure what caused the crash but I blame Microsoft and their POS OS :(


I tried a Linux boot CD and all the files were greyed out and unaccessable.

The fact that you could see the files under Linux says something. Is it possible that you just didn't mount the drive with the proper access permissions?


The fact that you could see the files under Linux says something. Is it possible that you just didn't mount the drive with the proper access permissions?

As this was my first attempt at any Linux program, that is entirely possible :o

A brand new development in my recovery - after having runtime.org look over my recovery attempt, they suggested that I try the recovery software for a FAT file system instead of NTFS and IT WORKED!!!!! I have now recovered 90% of the files from the old drive. So to any of you attempting diaster recovery, I highly recommend runtime's software and make sure you are running the correct version depending on your file allocation system.


Yes- the type of filesystem you're dealing with (NTFS, FAT32, etc.) can definitely be a factor. Glad you got it worked out. :)

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