First I'm going to show you a picture, just to get your attention.

I have a rather old computer case that I've been lugging around for years. It's a Hush Technologies Mini-ITX. I don't think they even make these systems anymore – I got mine many, many years back, and it was one of the first they produced.

The Hush Mini-ITX was a near-silent computer, before silent computers were anywhere close to as easy to build. It used a Mini-ITX board, a small quiet low-power motherboard that frequently had a small fan for cooling, but instead of the standard fan it used a heat pipe connected to the side of the case. The case itself acted as a large heatsink and radiator for the CPU. The hard drive was enclosed in a heat-conductive but noise-silencing frame. Overall, a clever design.

It's been a hardy case. I can't say the same for components put inside of it. It runs hotter than I really want – so far it's on its third hard drive, its third motherboard, and its second power supply. Last time I swapped the hard drive when it started getting a bit noisy – not "there are things banging around in the hard drive case" noisy, but "its hum is getting louder". I figured the same thing would work this time, so in my recent upgrade I included a spare hard drive for it. Standard replacement deal – turn the system off, plug the extra hard drive in, toss a SystemRescueCd in the drive, and it refused to detect either hard drive.

Eventually I figured out that my old hard drive was deeply, deeply unhappy. It wouldn't show up in BIOS (and neither would any other drive on that IDE chain) and it wouldn't even initialize – it would just sit there and click. Click. Click. Click. Click-whir. Click. Click. Click. It was spinning up just fine . . . although after enough clicks, it would spin down again. It just wasn't showing up as a hard drive to the computer.

I did a lot of research and tried the standard recovery tricks. Apparently there's a rather infamous hard drive Click of Death, but it's more of a general symptom than a specific cause, and the causes can be anything ranging from "your hard drive is somewhat old" to "your drive head is now bent at a ninety degree angle". So that didn't really help me diagnose it, much less solve it.

The tricks are, to be said, odd, but I tried them anyway. Freezing the drive didn't help – if anything, it made the click noisier. Banging the drive gently didn't help. At this point I had kind of given up, so I tried banging it more emphatically and that didn't help either. That's most of the standard tricks.

So I sat there, with a slowly thawing hard drive sitting on the desk in front of me, and thought.

One of the possible reasons for the Click of Death was that the heads had gotten misaligned, either vertically or horizontally, or in some combination of the two. Another possible reason was that the heads had actually gotten stuck on something. If I could jar the heads loose, or get it started, it might function fine after that. And it had been working just peachy-keen in the computer beforehand – I hadn't even realized it was defective, just old.

So if the heads are just stuck . . . and freezing the drive makes it louder . . . well, brief diversion. If you have a jar that you can't open, there's a trick to getting it open. You run the jar under hot water. The lid expands, and the neck expands, and that also means the gap between the lid and the neck expands. And that makes it easier to open. Now, if I heated up my hard drive, perhaps the same thing would happen. On top of that, the drive had been quite a bit warmer when it was working – it had been encased in that soundproof frame I mentioned before. What if I brought it to near that same temperature before trying?

Obviously I didn't want to melt the drive, or burn it, or get it wet. This is exactly what a double boiler is for, and you can approximate a double-boiler easily using two pots. Thus the picture at the beginning of this entry.

I heated the drive up until it was bordering on "hot to the touch". I figured that was around how hot it was before. I plugged it in, and . . .

. . . well, apparently I've now invented a new way of repairing hard drives. I copied over the most vital stuff, moved it to a different computer quickly (I've never been afraid of a component cooling down before, but I suppose there's a first time to everything) and successfully took a disk image of it. Worked 100% perfectly. I can't find any references to this technique online, so perhaps I really am the first one to try it.

I can't say I recommend this as a standard repair method, and obviously this is no substitute for professional repair services. But if you've tried freezing your hard drive, smacking your hard drive with a hammer, and all the other "normal" tricks . . . maybe it's time to try double-boiling it.


On another subject, I will admit that this has little to do with Mandible Games. I've just been kind of busy lately, in entirely uninteresting ways. First off, Mandible Games almost has a logo – I'm just asking for a few minor changes before I finalize it and put it up. Second, I've been doing a lot of work on the interface to D-Net. I want people to be able to change the game's resolution and aspect ratio, and that takes a lot of effort to make the menus work sanely. Third, I got a new computer and almost lost a lot of data – obviously that's a bit of a slowdown as well.

My todo list, however, is getting shorter and shorter. Right now there's only six items left before I actually release a public demo version. The first version is going to be Windows, since that's what I develop on natively, but D-Net builds perfectly fine on both Linux and OSX – all I need to do is figure out how Linux and OSX packaging and installing works.

The first version also isn't going to include online play or single-player play, just to warn you, but it should give a sense of what the game is like, and if you have some friends who want to blow you up in tanks (and, ideally, some USB game controllers), it'll work just fine for that.

I think that's the current State of Mandible. Double-boiling hard drives and writing uninteresting UI code. Yep. That's about the size of it.

  • Big Al

    2011, August 24th 6:39 PM

    To all of you who could retrieve their files from their dead HDD, don't forget to return it to the maker to get a new one. I have myself a click of death case here for a Seagate Barracuda bought a year ago, when I'll be through with the retrieval (if I succeed with the present method), I'll send it back for sure for a replacement as this drive is supposed to be garanteed for 5 years. I have to admit that I'm also considering the SSD solution, as there are no moving parts in these drives, but they're still very expensive. I'll also change my PSU as this is the second Seagate that I lose this way in a year (the other one was replaced for free where I bought it) and I'm afraid that underpower could be the reason why this happens.

    Best to all,

  • KeithFromCanada

    2011, August 25th 11:55 AM

    Hey, you! Yeah, you. Right now, this *second*, look at the label on your surge protector, and see how many 'Joules' it is rated for. If the answer is 'it doesn't say anything about Joules', the protection light isn't on, or the rating is for less than 1800, GO GET ONE RIGHT NOW!!! I'm *serious*. It is the cheapest insurance you can buy for your electronics. Take a look around you and figure out how much it would cost to replace everything you own that plugs into a wall outlet. Quite a $$$hock, isn't it? You should have 1 'whole house' surge protector on your electrical panel, and *everything* should be plugged into a surge protecting power bar, to double your coverage. (Many insurance plans will give you a discount if you have surge protection; check yours out.)

  • Big Al

    2011, August 25th 12:21 PM

    Keith, my surge protector says 2,000 Joules (Fellows 99073)and I've even got a Cutler-Hammer CHSP-3 Way surge protector on the mains of the house, can I be considered protected? I've had this kind of surge protection since at least 2005. Checked regularly.

  • KeithFromCanada

    2011, August 25th 12:33 PM

    Big Al, *clearly* I'm not talking to you, then. :biggrin:

    Bravo, sir!

  • Chad Garrett

    2011, August 25th 4:15 PM

    Just a warning to those of you that think that your surge protector protects you against ALL surges – Think again! Look for the "clamping voltage." It's usually between 350 and 375 Volts. This means that if there's a small strike – say a lightning strike a mile or two away, you might get a 200 volt surge. Your surge protector will happily pass that right through to your electronics.

    The only way you're safe against that is with a line conditioner. I lost ~$500 worth of equipment due to a low-voltage surge that came in through my computer even though it was protected with a 2,000 joule with a "$50,000 connected equipment warranty." That warranty only protects you if the the surge protector ends up as burnt toast. If 200 volts comes through and wrecks your electronics, you're still going to be paying the replacement bill.

  • Merovign

    2012, May 18th 7:45 PM

    I said to myself, "One in a million chance." Worked first time out! No guarantee it will always work, but I've restored about 45 gigs of data already.

    I think it may actually work better if you freeze first and then warm in something like a very low oven (mine goes down to 170 degrees). For added just-for-fun thermal shock.

    Even if some plastic on the outside gets warped, you haven't lost the "expensive" option – 170-200 degrees is *not* going to wreck the platters! If you leave it too long you could affect solder (unlikely) or varnish/coatings on motor coils. I wouldn't heat longer than 45 min or higher than 170-175.

    I'm totally jazzed about this, I'm wondering how many bad drives I have in boxes around here. :)

  • Rick

    2013, January 6th 1:51 PM

    So just to clarify, I double boil the broken hard drive, but for how long and temp range?(I'm using an electric stove by the way) My hard drive clicks every two seconds every time I try use it. I've tried freezing it, didn't work, my oven is broken and my last resort is the stove!

  • Zorba

    2013, January 7th 6:56 PM

    To be honest, I don't have a good answer for you there :)

    When I took the hard drive out of this computer, it was hot to the touch – slightly unpleasant to hold, but not actually painful. I figured I'd gradually heat it up until it reached about the same temperature that I remembered. A quick Google search tells me that hard drive maximum temperature should end up around 50c/122f, which roughly jives with what I remember, so I'd aim for that heat point.

    Remember the goal isn't to keep the hard drive at that temperature, it's just to bring it to that temperature in the hopes that this will loosen up the lubricant. Also remember that you want to be totally paranoid about heating it too *much* – melted plastic or melted solder is not going to make your hard drive work any better – so for "how long", the answer is "as long as it takes you to do it safely without overheating".

    Good luck! And don't blame me if this completely kills your hard drive ;) If you *really* need the data, fork over the money for a data recovery specialist – this is solely for people whose data is worth some work, but not worth *that much* work.

  • Rick

    2013, January 7th 7:38 PM

    Thanks for your quick response Zorba. I only have about forty family pictures on it since I was using it on a spare old laptop my family pick up at a garage sale months ago. I tried putting the hard drive into my neighbors oven at 160f for just over ten minutes, there's no clicking sound anymore, the disk spins, just doesn't want to load up onto the laptop or my other one as a slave drive. I'll guess I'll go to the experts on this one, thanks again for your help, it was worth a shot :)

    For anyone else trying this at ago, all the best, good luck but make sure if you try the other freezing method, do it for over 24hrs. I have a friend computer technician who quoted me $800 for the data recovery. So far, I'll try the heating option one more time, see how it goes but those photos don't really mean a whole lot to me so letting go won't be too hard.

    Lesson learned: ALWAYS BACKUP YOUR DATA DAILY!!!!

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