Above is an example of a drive that has been completely frozen.
Normally you would put the drive in the freezer for about an hour. This was a common hard drive recovery trick called a thermo challenge. The only real worry was condensation either on the circuit board or even worse inside the drive itself. This used to be a viable way to recover data. In fact I had a whole system built to ensure that I could run the drive in a very cold environment. This would ensure I would not get any shorts in the electrical components of the hard drive. That being said those days are all but gone.
For many years the internet has been filled with information and success story’s regarding freezing your failed hard drive to temporarily repair the drive and enable you to pull small amounts of information from the drive.
I would like to revisit my experiences with this technique as a data recovery professional of more than 11 years.
The first thing we need to look at is:
Can freezing your hard drive actually repair your hard drive?
The answer is:
YES! In rare and particular circumstances it is possible. Especially on specific drives whose size are under 10 GB. The reason for this is that certain drive manufacturers used material to fabricate platters that would swell in extreme heat. Placing the hard drive in the freezer would cause the platters to shrink to their original specifications.
What are these specific drives and under what circumstances will I be able to recover my data? In my experience they were IBM Deskstars and drives manufactured by Seagate Technologies. One of the signs that these drives could in fact be recovered is a shudder in the device due to the platters swelling and causing an imbalance. These drives would usually initialize but then fail to come ready or come ready for a brief moment and then drop out. The hard drive would then no longer be recognized by the systems bios.
These drives did not exhibit any of the normal anomalies such as clicking. In fact they were receiving power and spinning at optimal RPMs. So if your hard drive is exhibiting any of these faults putting it in the freezer is NOT going to fix it. In addition, if the hard drive has a power fault related to the printed circuit board (PCB) freezing will not fix that.
Drive manufacturers have since realized that using such materials in the design is poor engineering. Since then they have found other ways to design platters that will spin at high speeds, and will not heat up and swell.
I hope this article clarifies the reason clean rooms used to put hard drives in the freezer. We no longer use this method in our clean room.
In the final analysis we would never tell you NOT to put your hard drive in a freezer. What we would say is make sure everything stays dry. If you decide to freeze your drive and it is still clicking you should contact a hard drive recovery professional to at the very least help you to assess the situation.
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