Is all my information lost?

Two Christmas ago my father bought me a 1.0 TB WD external My book hard drive. I have used it sparingly and lovingly since it has arrived in my life. Recently I moved from China back home to Canada and need to leave my work computer behind that I had used for 3 years. I saved every file, photo, and song that I have ever own for the past 6 years on it, packed it carefully between all on my clothing and took the flight home.  When I arrived here it would no longer work on my Canada HP laptop or my Mac desktop. Thinking that warranties these days usually last no longer than a year, I took it to a local shop to see if they could fix it. After 5 days of grueling work and a several hundred dollar bill they said there was no way they could recover my files.  The have removed the plastic case on the outside, but the rest of the parts are in my hand and my heart is broken at how many important files I have now lost. Upon hearing the news my friend told me that there was a chance the warranty was longer than two years so I recently check it out online and it turns out, my hard drive is still covered!!!  I would do anything to get these files back, but am worried that because it’s been opened that it will no be covered under the warranty or that I will have to spend hundreds more to recover the files.  Please let me know who to contact, if it’s worth sending to someone to have a look at it, or if I should give up all hope.


Jessica S

Ohhh god ouch… A local repair shop (not your fault, you didn’t know). I just hope they didn’t open the disk mechanism itself. You don’t see the round silver discs do you? Did they tell you what is wrong with it? To give it back to you in pieces?? Ughh! Can you post pictures and tell us the shop name? This will give me an idea of what they did or tried to do. Computer shops do different things to disks as opposed to a specialist data recovery shop. But to return a disk to a customer in pieces, I can’t get over it!

SET EVERYTHING ASIDE AND BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE WITH THIS DISK: CHECK WITH SOMEONE HERE ON THIS FORUM! Depending what the shop did or didn’t do this could still be a simple repair and all the files still intact. I just can’t tell you without seeing the drive personally.

Well… This is a post I just made to someone else and it bears repeating here!

Speaking from direct practical experience - I recommend a pro data recovery service. This is not your local computer store or geek squad guy. Nor is this the “computer guy” down the street. This may be a simple fix, or it may be a complex repair requiring extensive work in a cleanroom lab. Depends exactly the mode of failure. But since this disk contains important information and if you don’t know *precisely* what you’re doing then all bets are off. You need to get the disk to a genuine pro. A service that practices ONLY disk repair, and not selling internet subscriptions and printers. A pro service sees hundreds of disks like this every day. And that’s all they do! Incidentally, WD has a list of recovery services under the support section on their website, and they won’t void the warranty either.

Some services charge as little as $300.00 and some as much as $2,000. It all depends on the company and the amount of damage and what parts are needed to effect repair. Some places will evaluate the disk for $50.00 and apply it to the recovery cost. Either way, the $300 company uses advanced equipment like the big boys. The big boys charge more because they tend to cater to the business crowd that needs a recovery effected overnight, or perhaps before the accident even happened!! heh!!

Disks that contain important information are nothing to mess around with. They are electro-mechanical marvels built to finer tolerances than the most expensive Swiss watch; and controlled by electronics equal in complexity to your CPU. Furthermore, the actual writing of the data bits to the surfaces inside is based on quantum mechanics. QM is an area of physics in which we don’t know how everything works - just that it does.

Until we know precisely the mode of failure I wouldn’t try to do anything with this anymore. If there is a head problem, running it will cause additional damage to the data and make recovery more expensive or not possible altogether! Put the parts in a box till you decide what to do with it.

And in the future, always be sure to have two copies of your data at all times in two locations. This means purchasing a 2nd disk and perhaps storing it at a relative’s house or safe-deposit box. Backups are as fundamental to computer operations as oil changes and gas are to the operation of your car. Without that oil change and backup, something will go boom sooner or later. An extra $100 bucks spent on a backup device *WILL* save you grief and perhaps hundreds more on data recovery if and when the time comes, like now.

Is it a My Book Elements or a My Book Essential? The latter uses hardware encryption, which means that, if the repairer took the HDD out of the enclosure and connected it directly to a SATA port on a PC motherboard, then the data would have been jibberish.

Like Keith, I would also be asking about the “pieces”. What exactly do you mean? Could we see some photos?

 Sorry by piece I meant that the otter shell of the hard drive had to be broken in order for them to look at it. That case is in pieces and has been left with the company who looked at it. I have what I assume is the main hard drive here and everything else I left it at the company.  Their is MicroAge, ( and technical support was given to me by Donald Godin and Paul…I forget his last name. You can email and I’m sure they’ll fill you in on the details.

Also, it is a My Book Essential.

I have tried to attached the images to this post, however the website isn’t working quite right and it would allow me to put any photos in. Is there someone I can send them to in an email?

-Jessica S.

First off, I don’t believe this outfit has the necessary data recovery skills to correctly repair your disk. I’m basing that by what I see on their website. I see a lot of general services, but nothing related to Data Recovery specifically. Data recovery is a specialized field and requires specialized equipment. If they had it, and the capability, they would be advertising it. It’s not a trivial investment! Data Recovery does not mean running “undelete” programs you download from the web, either. Visit the likes of Kroll Ontrack or DriveSavers or 300dollardatarecovery to get an idea of I am talking about.

2nd, they should have returned this to you intact, the way it was presented to them. It is totally unprofessional to do so otherwise. This is like going to the mechanic and getting your car returned with engine parts missing. OUCH!! Furthermore, a MyBook housing can be snapped apart quite easily if you know exactly what you’re doing. No broken parts or busted tabs necessary. No parts need be damaged or cracked or cut or anything! If they had to break it or cut it, then they have got to be the most incompetent outfit out there! Sorry to say it.

An alaming thing is that what *IF* this drive is “self-encrypting”? The little circuit board in the MyBook housing will be vital to retrieving any information from this disk. This board does hardware security encryption. Without it, all bets are off.

If you have just the bare drive and no additional circuit board, depending on the exact model, this might not be recoverable, ever. I’m not talking about the flat thin green board already flush mounted to the hard disk itself. I’m referring to a piggyback-like board, perhaps in a thin metal box/shield with some connectors on it. Namely a mini-USB connector and a set of SATA connectors. I hope you have that component!

I so much would like to contact them and have a tech-talk, but I don’t believe it is quite my place to do so, yet.

To post pictures, why not use flickr or picasa or some other online photosharing site, if you can’t get this site to accept them…

So what do you have now, in your possession, a hard disk and a circuit board?

After emailing the calready here is the responec I have received in return.  Hopefully it is of some help.


These are pictures of the only pieve I was given back.

First of all, I think your information is still present and recoverable. But at cost. By a pro specialist service. Read ahead to see why.

Alright, let’s take the guy’s word that it is not the encrypting type. There are two kinds of bridgeboards, encrypting and non-encrypting. Disks made recently have the encrypting type. And my own personal disk from the 2007-2008 timeframe is non-encrypting.

I wonder how both boards got electrical burn marks? That’s unusual for both, unless incorrect power was applied to the disk at some point. I would suspect that the wrong power adapter was used at one time, perhaps one belonging to a laptop? Too much power or power applied backwards? Could this have been opened and “inspected” by customs? And they didn’t know what they were doing? That’s a guess. The other guess is that MicroAge blew up the disk. It’s really hard to say. Could yuo have mistakenly connected the wrong adapter?

Depending where the burn marks are it could be a very simple and very very cheap fix. If it’s a blown TVS diode it’s a simple fix! Or possibly there is internal damage to a circuit called a pre-amp. This is inside the disk drive, near the heads, and this can only be replaced by a professional service at high cost. Maybe it’s a servomotor controller. Anyhow these components should be worked on by a pro only.

What *is* contradictory in what he said is that in order to run OnTrack Easy Recovery Pro and Seagate File Recovery, Windows must detect that there is a disk present. Afterall, how can you run a data recovery program on a non-existant drive?? That makes no sense. Furthermore, if components are burned, then, yes, of course, a disk might not show up.

So far, from what the MicroAge guy says, if all is true, then a pro service would probably be able to recover the files. It’s to their credit to acknowledge their own limitations and suggest sending the drive to a professional data recovery service.

Most services will charge a $50 fee for evaluation, and then apply it to the cost. Since they used OnTrack software, perhaps they have a contract agreement with them. Kroll Ontrack is quite well respected in the industry, but certainly not the cheapest either. There are other outfits like DriveSavers and 300dollardatarecovery.

Don’t go opening up the drive. That will surely nix any chances of a successful repair. The only thing you can safely do is take off the green circuitboard for inspection. Anything else is exposing the sterile disks to contaminated air, that’s not good. And, now, since all the parts have not been returned the disk is out of warranty.

BTW: I still can’t see the pictures, if you posted them.

So, to make things simple. You have some choices:

1- Set the disk aside till you have money for a professional recovery service. Typically $300 - $1,700 depending on mode of failure.

2- Get the green board that’s attached to the disk evaluated to see if it is a simple TVS fix. This should be done by someone who knows disks a little more than a computer shop also.

Pictures would be helpful.

See what your father wants to do here.

JessicaS, try uploading your photos to a file sharing service.

As for your problems, I also see several inconsistencies in Paul’s report.

Firstly, Essentials models do in fact incorporate AES hardware encryption, at least according to WD’s documentation. Therefore, throwing away the USB-SATA bridge board, “aka controller”, was a potentially disastrous mistake. You must now procure an identical board and hope that it will be compatible. Had a replacement board not been compatible, it would have been a simple matter for a competent technician to transfer the original bridge firmware to the donor. In fact I have yet to see a bridge board that could not be relatively easily repaired.

As for MicroAge’s claim that “the board attached on the hard drive was also burned”, I agree with Keith that this appears inconsistent with the subsequent claim that “we ran several software recovery application to recover you data but to no avail”. I’m wondering whether the drive is in fact OK, and whether the failure to access the data is purely due to encryption. In fact this hypothesis is quite easily tested with a disc editor such as HxD or DMDE. MicroAge should have been able to do this (in fact you can, too), assuming the drive was detected with its correct model number and full native capacity.

Like Keith, I’m still hopeful that you may be able to recover your data on your own for a minimal cost. Hopefully your photos will tell us more.

I know the later models of the MyBook Essential are encrypted. At the same time I also, personally, have 2 MyBook Essentials that do not have encrypting bridgeboards. One of them was made before WD adopted AES hardware encryption. And the other is from just a few years ago. I had to repair it and use a standard SATA connector, and I could see valid data both ways - so it was a standard non-encypting USB-SATA Bridgeboard.

I don’t believe we can determine the model number of the complete product from the drive label, it would be on the trashed housing. What we have here is a naked HDD with a (possibly) burned PCB. Or the burn marks could be from smoked TVS or simply smoke marks blasting against the drive’s controller from the burned bridgeboard.

I need to comment a little on what a competent technician is or isn’t:

Just because they work in (or manage) a computer store doesn’t mean they know everything about how a disk works. Just because they know more than you and appear professional doesn’t mean they know enough to repair a disk.

Just because one technician can’t fix something doesn’t mean another more skilled technician can’t either!

A disk is a collection of complex electromechanical components and even a complete CPU on a tiny board. There’s lots of exotic physics and electronic things going on in these things. And I don’t mean the making Drano bombs in high-school chemistry class types of physics. I’m talking about quantum mechanics and phenomena that even the finest minds in academia can’t precisely descibe. We just know they work, and how to build them.

There’s a certain methodology to troublshooting electronics. Certain steps and procedures. And in the case of data recovery, the first step is to do no additional harm to the data. Sometimes this means imaging the disk straight away, or doing a disassembly and internal inspection in a clean room. It really all depends on what condition the disk is in.

I wonder if MicroAge had determined if the board was encrypting or not? How did they do that? Did they look up the model number prior to throwing it out?

The term “fried” is a pretty vague description. Perhaps a few traces were burned, and they couldn’t re-work those. But an experienced tech could re-wire and rebuild those easily. Perhaps all semiconductors were smoked? I don’t know?!?

It’s really hard to keep guessing.

I’d be happy to look this disk over in person at no cost, and tell you exactly how to proceed, but I’m here in the States…

Hello again,  by the sounds of my last emawith the technician he says that my data is still present and recoverable by a pro specialist recovery provider, but that there is no 100%guarantee. So I guess my next question is who and where should I send my drive to? And since the casing is now gone does that mean that my warranty is compromised and that I’ll probably end up paying an arm and a leg?

The warranty (which is now void) would only cover the cost repairing the disk. It would not include data recovery. Data recovery is a separate fee an never warrantied.

And so then when looking for a place to send my hard drive for recovery, what sort of establishment should I be looking for?  I know the store had told me it would cost a minimum of 800-1000$ for recovery and just do not have that kind of cash to put towards getting my files back.

Check your private messages. I sent you a short list of companies that are reputable and would do the job. Depending on the exact failure, it may not cost $1000 at all. We just don’t know till we begin a good examination of the disk.

JessicaS, I would advise you to stay calm and take stock of the situation. You are very vulnerable at this time. At the very least you need to provide a photo of the component side of the board on the hard drive. This will tell us if there is any visible physical damage. If you are still having trouble uploading your photos, contact me privately and I’ll post them on my web site for you.

If it does turn out that the board is faulty, then a replacement PCB should cost US$50 at most, including a firmware transfer. Some models require a PCB adaptation service, in which case the cost can vary from $0 to $1000+. I can show you where to get this done for free.

However, my suspicion is that the drive is probably OK and that the fault is solely with the bridge board in the enclosure. I would go back to MicroAge and insist that they rummage through their trash and return your board, irrespective of its condition. Failing that, a suitable replacement board should be obtainable for less than US$100. At the very least, I would insist that MicroAge refund your money.

Therefore, at the present moment, I see no concrete evidence that an inexpensive DIY repair or data recovery is still not possible. Of course this may change once you provide us with more information. Can you tell us the model numbers and part numbers on the casing?

Once we establish the condition of your board, you can then power up the drive by connecting it inside your computer, or by installing it in another enclosure. Such enclosures should cost less than US$30. We will then be able to discern whether your data are encrypted. This will be very easy for you to do. In fact I’ll step you through the procedure.

In retrospect you, or MicroAge, should have contacted WD for permission to open the enclosure. WD are quite helpful in this respect. If you had done this, then your warranty would still be intact.

BTW, the data recovery profession has no official accreditation scheme. This means that anybody can hang out their shingle as a data recovery expert, irrespective of their actual ability and experience. Moreover, the word “technician” is essentially meaningless today. Decades ago, a genuine technician was someone who knew how to use a soldering iron, and who could troubleshoot complex boards down to chip level. These days a technician is commonly no more than a “board jockey”. When he sees a “fried” component, he is unable to do much more than to look for a replacement board. In fact your local TV/AV repairman is usually much more skilled in this area than the typical computer shop or data recovery company. Choosing a reputable data recovery company is a crapshoot. Kroll OnTrack is about the only company that I would trust implicitly, but they are among the most expensive.

Anyway, hang in there, all is not lost. There is still a great deal that you and your father could do yourselves.

Do we know what type of bridgeboard she would need to purchase? What model? What revision? Encrypting or non-encrypting? If the disk is non-encrypted we could just use a usb-sata adapter for $20.

Remember, the casing/housing was cracked open and subsequently trashed (at suggestion of MicroAge and with father’s approval). It’s been several weeks and I wouldn’t guess MicroAge still has it around.

Well, I’m hoping the burn marks are just smoke marks from the bridgeboard. But we won’t know till we see pictures. Hopefully the pre-amps haven’t been hit. But, the condition of the data on the platters, in this case, should be just about perfect. I don’t think any sort of utility has been run on it. Which is a good thing. Most folks start messing with utilities and make things worse than they initially were.

Kroll Ontrack is indeed the #1 operation, I recommend them to all that need data recovery operations. I have already sent a pm listing several companies, with Ontrack as the #1 choice.

Jessica, if you do decide to take pictures of both sides of the green PCB, you will need to get a hex or more likely a torx screwdriver. Go to the hardware store and match the screw to the screwdriver.

Underneath the board, you might find a bit of foam insulation, it will just lift off. We need to see the parts under it. Note how everything goes back together. And be sure to work on an anti-static surface so as not to damage anything further, especially pre-amps in the disk housing.

Sorry, I was confused about the “pieces”. Nevertheless, the drive’s label will tell us the HDD’s model number, capacity, and date of manufacture. We know it’s a My Book Essential, so all we would need is a bridge board from around that same date from a drive of the same capacity. The chips on the bridge board will have date codes of the form YWW or YYWW (Year / Week). I have several photos of My Book PCBs which I could upload to jog JessicaS’s father’s memory, if that would help.