Catastrophic Storage Failure


Active Member
A friend of mine called me today with a problem: his computer failed while he was away for Thanksgiving.

The power supply died, because the fan had stopped. I measured the +5 volts at under 2 volts, and the +12 volts at almost 18 volts.

His storage was a Raid-1 array, with two WD1200JB 120GB Caviar EIDE drives. The 18 volts seems to have taken down both drives. So much for redundancy . . .

Both drives do not spin up, nor do they respond to the bios. His off-site backups are almost two weeks old, so there is a lot of recent data that he doesn't want to loose. He's willing to spend to recover the data from either drive.

Here are my questions to the best computer brain-trust on the net:

1) Has anyone used a service that recovers data from drives? where? how? how much?

2) The WD1200 PCB can be removed easily. I'm considering getting another one to swap circuit boards. Has anyone tried that? Any reason why it may not work?

3) Does anyone have any old WD1200JB worn-out drives to donate for experimentation?

4) Any other suggestions?

Thanks for any advice you can give.
rocco said:
2) The WD1200 PCB can be removed easily. I'm considering getting another one to swap circuit boards. Has anyone tried that? Any reason why it may not work?
I have not done this because of a power surge but I had a few quantum fireball drives that went, I was able to swap PCB's and get the data off them as it didn't effect the drive itself.

I dont know if it was only yesterday, but Bestbuy had some 250 gb drives on sale for $90 I beleive... but it could have been a black friday only sale...
mustangcoupe said:
I have not done this because of a power surge but I had a few quantum fireball drives that went, I was able to swap PCB's and get the data off them as it didn't effect the drive itself.
Well thanks, Todd. That's encouraging.

I will forward the 250Gb tip to my friend, as he will need some form of replacement. However, he is reconsidering Raid-1 (obviously). I might suggest this:
but I first want to determine if the power-supply has over-voltage protection. :eek:
Using a service will be pricy. Usually many ask for a non-refundable $1000-$2500 review fee, then a charge to recover the data. I have heard this run from another few thousand all the way up to $20K (and I don't think that is the limit).
I'd definitely try to swap the boards yourself, as the recovery places usually are very expensive, as Mike said. Once you get the drive spinning, you may want to try a forensic sleuth kit such as Helix (boots from CD) rather than try to mount the drive and recover it through the original OS. You can often get a lot of if back using the forensic tools even when the drive or partition is not mountable.

I agree to try and find a donor drive and swap the PCB's first. I've been successful bringing a number of drives with non-mechanical failures back to life doing this.

Be aware that even drives of the same model can have slightly different PCB and firmware revisions so shop carefully for the donor(s).

As huggy mentioned, check out some of the available drive recovery apps yourself before sending out to a data recovery outfit. I haven't done anything like this for a couple years so can't make any recommendations.

To back up what Mike said... expect that sending to a data recovery service will start at $1k and can go WAY up from there. The experience I've had with these usually meant $2-3k per drive with results varying from recovering almost all data on the drive to only recovering "" (which didn't seem like a very good return on the investment!).

Have also unfortunately had the need to use these services for data recovery that was used in litigation of employees at previous jobs. :eek:

Good luck and let us know how you make out...

Thanks Mike, Gordon and Paul. All good advice.

Our first approach is to find a replacement board, which will not be easy (more on that in my next post). Failing that, we have a list of data-recovery services.
This seems to be a common Western Digital problem.

My friend spent two days researching ways to recover the data on the WD1200JB. What he found was surprising.

He found dozens of people with the same problem with Western Digital drives. With no exceptions, each situation had these points in common:
1) The power supply failed.
2) After the power-supply was replaced, the Western Digital drive(s) would not spin-up and would not respond to the host.
3) Where there was more than one WD drive (many cases were RAID systems), every WD drive was dead.
4) Nothing else was damaged by the power-supply failure, even in systems that also included Maxtor, Seagate and Toshiba drives.

The problem was so prevalent that:
1) There was detailed instructions on how to swap or repair the boards (although it's very difficult).
2) Many users recommended not using WD drives in a RAID system.

One person postulated that anytime a drive lost 5 volts while the 12 volts remained (or maybe visa-versa), that the drive will die. It was also clear that over-voltage protection in the power-supply does not help, as some of the failed RAID systems had this.

I am now looking for a board for a WD1200JB-00DUA3, with an LBA of 234441648 and "JAH" as the last three characters of the DCM code (whatever that is). Failing that, I need to replace the spindle-control chip.
Long shot here. I would call some place like or similar places that always sell "refurbished" drives and ask them who their supplier is (tell them your situation).

Hopefully that supplier will have a large stock of used disks and will have your desired brand.

Like I said, loooong shot... ;)
I would also check eBay. I have done the PBC replacement method myself, pretty easy. If you are however serious about using one of these repair services, then don't touch the HD at all, and just send it in, or it might end up costing more.
Update: All the data has been recovered. Break out the champagne.

On E's advice, I sent questions to all auctioneers of WD1200JB drives on eBay, asking for the firmware revision of their drives. I found the correct one and paid a small premium to get it (thank you, Chris Johnson!).

I tested the used drive when it arrived, and it worked. I swapped the PCBs, and the old drive would spin up for a second, and then spin down, and then repeat, repeat, . . . (dang!)

I was warned that this might happen, so I removed the flash-memory chip (M25P10) from the PCBs and swapped them. I was told to do this because bad-block mapping and calibration data is stored in the flash chip. The formula was:

Use the OLD Flash memory chip, on the NEW circuit board, on the OLD head/disk assembly.

The drive booted up and is now working. All data was intact. We are currently backing it up onto another computer. Time to go NAS shopping.
electron said:
Did you have any problems replacing the flash memory?
Actually, that was the easiest part. It took ten minutes.

It's was just a little 8-pin soic. Everything I design is surface-mount, so I have all of the requisite tools.

Knowing that the survival of the data hung in the balance, the hard part was getting up the nerve . . .