Pro­ject : Sal­vage an old hard drive

Dis­cover how to re­trieve a disk and its data from a mal­func­tion­ing drive

Mac Format - - CONTENTS - Nick Peers

Re­trieve data or even ex­tend a disk’s life­span

it will take

45 min­utes

you will learn

How to re­cover a work­ing hard disk from a failed drive en­clo­sure.

You’ll need

A new ex­ter­nal drive en­clo­sure. Data Res­cue for pos­si­ble re­cov­ery.

The un­think­able has hap­pened: your ex­ter­nal hard drive has sud­denly stopped work­ing.

You’ve checked the ca­bles and power adap­tor – per­haps us­ing a tool like the LAP Non-Con­tact AC Volt­age De­tec­tor (£5.99, screw­ to ver­ify it still works, but your Mac can no longer see it. In this pro­ject we’ll look at how you can res­cue your disk from a failed drive en­clo­sure, re­cover data from it if nec­es­sary, and then con­tinue to use the in­ter­nal disk go­ing for­ward.

The pro­ject re­lies on one key el­e­ment still work­ing: the disk it­self. If the disk still whirrs into life, but gives off an omi­nous click­ing sound, it’s pos­si­ble it has phys­i­cally failed (or is fail­ing). In this case, you can still fol­low the tu­to­rial, but chances are you’ll need to use a third-party data re­cov­ery spe­cial­ist such as Kroll On­track (krol­lon­ to get data off the disk be­fore re­cy­cling it.

Ex­ter­nal drives con­nect the disk in­side to your Mac via cir­cuitry that trans­lates the disk’s phys­i­cal SATA in­ter­face (un­less it’s very old) to your Mac via one of its ports – typ­i­cally USB or Thun­der­bolt, but some­times Firewire. If this fails, the disk can’t com­mu­ni­cate and you’ll need to lib­er­ate it from the case.

Sim­ply re­plac­ing the en­clo­sure should suf­fice more of­ten than not, but if the disk is larger than 2TB or has come from a net­work drive, there are added com­pli­ca­tions that we’ll cover in due course. For now, though, let’s fo­cus on get­ting the drive out of its case.

Phys­i­cal re­moval

You’ll need to source a new en­clo­sure to house the disk in. See Best Buys (page 65) for some ad­vice on mod­els to choose. Prices range from as lit­tle as £10 for a no-frills por­ta­ble USB en­clo­sure to over £100 for a Thun­der­bolt one. As USB is the most ubiq­ui­tous choice, we’ve high­lighted three solid USB mod­els that are de­signed to make it rel­a­tively easy to in­sert and re­move disks – but that’s not true of your ex­ist­ing drive en­clo­sure.

Pre­pop­u­lated ex­ter­nal hard drives aren’t de­signed to be user-ser­vice­able, so you’ll

3TB disks may be un­usu­ally for­mat­ted to be us­able with older PCs

rarely find con­ve­nient screws hold­ing them to­gether; in­stead, a se­ries of plas­tic tabs click the chas­sis’s var­i­ous el­e­ments into place. Thank­fully, oth­ers have boldly gone be­fore you and doc­u­mented the dis­man­tling process on YouTube and other web­sites. So, your first task is to track down one of these and use it, in con­junc­tion with our step-by-step guide, to trans­fer your disk from its old case to a shiny new en­clo­sure. En­ter the name of your drive’s make and model in Google, such as Sea­gate Backup Plus 4TB, plus the words “open case”, which should find you a suit­able video.

We sug­gest you watch the whole video be­fore reach­ing for tools. It’s a good idea to avoid us­ing sharp or me­tal­lic ob­jects to prise open the caddy as these can dam­age it – some ex­perts use gui­tar picks, but you don’t need to rush out and buy a job lot. In­stead, cut up an ex­pired credit card, and then use a rounded cor­ner as the end of your ‘pick’ to prise open the drive case firmly, but care­fully.

The mo­ment of truth

Once fit­ted in its new en­clo­sure, con­nect the drive to a power source (if ap­pli­ca­ble) and your Mac, then wait while it’s de­tected. If it’s a straight­for­ward swap, and the disk isn’t dam­aged, it should ap­pear in Fin­der with all your data in­tact. Con­grat­u­la­tions, job done!

How­ever, you may see a mes­sage telling you the disk is not read­able, invit­ing you to ig­nore, eject or ini­tialise it. This means the disk is phys­i­cally okay, but is for­mat­ted in a way your Mac can’t read. Ini­tial­is­ing the disk will wipe it, so if there’s data on the drive, you’ll want to re­cover that first – click ‘Ig­nore’ if this is the case.

Most disks from net­work drives use the ext4 for­mat favoured by Linux. If you have a vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion app, such as Par­al­lels Desk­top, VMware Fu­sion or Vir­tu­alBox, you can cre­ate a vir­tual ma­chine run­ning Ubuntu Linux (, then con­nect the drive through that. It’ll show up as read­able, and you can then copy data off it to an­other drive.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can in­stall a vir­tual driver that will al­low you to read the disk di­rectly in OS X. Start by in­stalling FUSE for OS X from os­x­ – dur­ing in­stal­la­tion, make sure you en­able ‘MacFUSE Com­pat­i­bil­ity Layer’ when prompted. Af­ter in­stal­la­tion, re­turn to the Fuse for OS X web­site, open the Wiki and se­lect your tar­get

file sys­tem from the list – ‘EXT’ is a likely can­di­date for disks pulled from net­work drives. You then need to fol­low the in­struc­tions to in­stall the lat­est ver­sion (which is com­pat­i­ble with El Cap­i­tan, so ig­nore the warn­ing) – we rec­om­mend in­stalling Home­brew ( and fol­low­ing that set of in­struc­tions. Although the process com­pleted with er­rors for us, our ext4-for­mat­ted drive was read­able in El Cap­i­tan af­ter­wards. From here, trans­fer your data off the drive, then for­mat it in a Mac-friendly for­mat and trans­fer the files back. Job done.

Re­cover your data

If your drive is 3TB or larger, it may have been for­mat­ted in an un­usual way in or­der to make it read­able on older ma­chines. The down­side is that its disk can’t be ac­cessed in any other en­clo­sure with­out first wip­ing it. Don’t do that just yet; in­stead, em­ploy the ser­vices of the Mac’s best data re­cov­ery tool, Data Res­cue. Down­load the free edi­tion from prosoft­eng. com/free­datares­cue and per­form a Deep Scan on the en­tire disk (as op­posed to the only vis­i­ble par­ti­tion on it) to pro­vide you with a list of re­cov­er­able files.

Note that the ini­tial scan can take up to a day to com­plete, so you may want to start it run­ning overnight and leave it to its own de­vices. You can click Can­cel at any time to sus­pend the scan, or end it early to see what’s been found on the por­tion al­ready scanned. How­ever, it’s best to let the scan com­plete to en­sure it finds all re­cov­er­able files.

Once an­a­lysed, you’ll be able to pre­view the re­cov­ered files be­fore choos­ing whether or not to pay to re­cover them. The cheap­est method is Data Res­cue’s new ‘Paper­byte’ method, where you pay to re­cover a set amount of data ($49, about £38, for the first 250GB). How­ever, on larger drives, it’s more cost-ef­fec­tive to splash out $99 (£76) for the stan­dard edi­tion, which of­fers un­lim­ited re­cov­ery on up to five drives.

Af­ter re­cov­ery

Once you’ve re­cov­ered data from an un­co­op­er­a­tive disk, you can then re­for­mat it, which en­ables you to keep us­ing it in its new en­clo­sure go­ing for­ward. Open Disk Util­ity (from /Ap­pli­ca­tions/Util­i­ties, or use Spot­light) and se­lect the disk in ques­tion – you should find no par­ti­tions have been listed on it, mak­ing it easy to iden­tify. Click Info to ver­ify this – check ‘File sys­tem’, which should say ‘Un­known’. With the disk se­lected, click Erase to turn it into a HFS+-for­mat­ted disk that your Mac should have no prob­lems read­ing from or writ­ing to go­ing for­ward.

Net­work drives of­ten use the ext4 for­mat; data can be re­cov­ered us­ing a Linux vir­tual ma­chine in some­thing like Vir­tu­alBox.

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