Recovering Data from a Dead External HDD

Over the years I’ve had multiple external disk failures. I don’t have an exact count but it’s more than a few. In every single case, it was a failure of the circuit board in the case and not the disk itself. I expect most of the problems were heat related; these external cases offer little in terms of heat removal.

Anyway I was almost always able to recover my data by removing the disk from it’s case and installing it in one of my computers or in a replacement case. Your mileage may vary of course, if the drive was corrupted by bad transfers from a failing circuit board (this happened to me once), or if the drive itself failed (which hasn’t happened to me yet).

Getting the drive out of the case can be tricky though. Most have a few screws which are often hidden under rubber feet. Many plastic cases also have tabs in addition to the screws. Those need to be pried apart with a small screw drive or knife inserted into a seam. The case often breaks when you do this but who cares if the drive was dead anyway.

If your computer is a laptop or if portability is important to you, then buy a replacement case. I suggest getting a decent one with an aluminum case rather than a cheap plastic one. But even if you are going this route I’d suggest temporarily hooking the disk up to a desktop machine first to make sure the drive is good before you buy a new case.

Installing the disk into a desktop will take a sata cable as well as an available sata power connector. You will probably need to buy the sata cable but most desktop computers will have at least one free sata power connector. For testing purposes you can plug in the cables and sit the drive on a flat surface inside your desktop. To install it permanently you’ll likely also need 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter brackets if the disk was a 2.5″.

Whichever way you decide to go, the parts you’ll need are relatively easy to find on Amazon or Newegg. Frys is another possibility.

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