Necessity breeds resourcefulness

As a theorist I am often fond of joking that you shouldn’t let me near lab equipment.  It’s an image I semi-consciously try to cultivate.  But it appears that cracks may be forming in my theorist guise.  Anyone who looks at my CV will notice I have a degree in mechanical engineering.  I can usually convince people to ignore it (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”).

But, after nearly a decade of living frugally (i.e. being in debt up to my eyebrows), people are starting to notice the following facts:

  • Since I couldn’t afford to replace my iPod Video when I broke its screen, I bought a replacement screen online and very, very, very carefully – and successfully! – replaced it.
  • I am building a tree house out of scrap wood and logs I have lying around, prompting my father (a retired HS English teacher) to remark that “he’s not his father’s son,” indicating, rather, that I took after my grandfather (and my mother).  I have also built an eight foot tall arbor out of cedar for my church (matched to the style of the 1775 building) and a slew of other things.
  • I now regularly perform maintenance on my car and my tractor.
  • I chop wood.
  • I’ve fixed numerous electronic devices via creative splicing.

There are tons of other examples that have gotten people’s attention, but what might just throw the cloak off my disguise is the fact that I am seriously considering attempting to fix my busted hard drive myself.

I don’t have the $1800 it would cost to send it to a clean room (after trying everything under the sun short of taking it apart).  I have a new drive in the computer already.  So here’s what I, who am poor, plan to try in order to recover my data:

  • Buy a cheap hard drive of the same size.
  • Swap the platters from one to the other.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The IT guys at work showed me what the inside of a desktop drive looks like so I’m going to get an old busted laptop drive and take it apart to see what it looks like.  Then I’m going to try to swap the platters out.  What have I got to lose?


9 thoughts on “Necessity breeds resourcefulness

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  1. Do you have something approaching “clean room” conditions at the college? An 80GB, 2.5″ HD has a density of at least 3 GB/in^2, so a single speck of dust could destroy many megabytes of data. Not to mention getting stuck under a read head and scratching away any data under that head.

    If you can, find a shutterbug to take pictures during the whole process. Any way this turns out, it will probably look awesome.

  2. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, different hard drives can use different encodings for the data on the disk platters. You might want to look for one of the same brand or even the same model to make sure the new chipset can read the data that was written by your old chipset.

  3. Unfortunately no, we don’t have anything close to clean room conditions. Hmmm… Maybe I can borrow the clean room in UNH’s Space Science’s Center. I’ll have to ask around…

  4. I’ve been asking around, and I’ve been told that since your drive isn’t making rattling noises when it spins up, it may be the controller board that’s fried. If you can (I know this is a long shot) find an IDENTICAL hard drive – down to the same firmware revision! – you can swap the controller boards *much* more easily than the platters.

  5. Yeah, one of the IT guys suggested that as a first step. How do I figure out what FirmWare version is on it if it doesn’t boot up? Nothing is rattling and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the controller board since I think what fried it was a power surge.

  6. Oh wow, thanks for the immensely helpful information! Cool! I’ll Google it and see what I can find. At this point, a used working drive would be fine since I’ll probably just copy everything over to the new drive that I bought if I’m able to recover anything.

    Update: OK, I think the firmware is actually MHW2080BH. It’s a discontinued drive but I might be able to find a used one out there.

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