MacBook Not Booting (The Conclusion)

If you haven’t been following, my hard drive failed on me a week ago.  I’ve been trying to get that data off the disk.  Last we left off with me waiting to hear back from Jason, a tech support guy for Disk Warrior, a program I had purchased to try to rebuild my hard drive so I could rescue my files.  Jason said he was going to look into re-building the hard drives directory structure by hand.

I chatted with Jason online this morning around 9.  I wanted to paste some of the stuff he told me, but I didn’t save the chat :(  In a nutshell, there was nothing more that he could do.  The files I sent him to take a look at upon further inspection by him revealed that there was nothing he could do to rebuild it.  Of course this wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, but I was very grateful has spent the time he did and at least made me feel I had tried most of the options that I could.  So overall my experience with Disk Warrior and their staff has been very positive.

In parting he did give me some other avenues to examine.  One was a physical data recovery company called DriveSavers.  This of course meant mucho dinero.  The other was to try another program called Data Rescue to see if I could just grab any data off the hard drive.  Data Rescue has great demo mode where they allow you to download the software program for free to scan your hard drive for data.   The limitation comes in when you want to transfer a recovered file larger than 5mb you have to buy and register the product.  I figured this was worth a shot.  This way at least I could try seeing if I could recover any data before shelling out another hundred dollars.  This was my last hope.

Install was fine and things started out smoothly.  The first thing I did was I attempted to do a “thorough scan” of the hard drive.  This is where it would go through the hard drive scanning files and data that could be collected…It was kind of cool how they gave you an estimated of how long it would take to finish.  Here’s the initial screenshot of the program as it ran:

data-rescue-ii-initial-estimateThings were looking good!  At least it was scanning and reading the hard drive.  I wouldn’t mind waiting 33 hours if that meant I could recover some of my data.  Since things were working so far I decided to let it work its magic.  A little later when I checked back on the progress, I got a little shock.  The estimate had gone up a little.

data-rescue-ii-estimate-jumpsUh oh, from 33 hours to 1077 hours.  I read through some forum postings online and they said that this was natural as the program itself slows down as it hits bad sections of the hard drive.  Ok.  I can live with that.  So I let it go back to chugging away.  A few hours later I noticed that it had been stuck on one section for a long time and no longer was there a time estimate as to how much longer I would have to wait.data-rescue-ii-hangsIt sat there for hours upon hours.  I was praying it was still doing its secret voodoo hard drive magic, but apparently, hard drive block “81822720″ was too erroneous for the program.  After much internal debate I decided to throw in the towel and stope the program.  I tried stopping it through the program itself by clicking “stop”.  However, it wouldn’t quit.  So I had no choice but to force quit.  I did notice as I was trying to scan that if you stop early you can choose to recover the files that it had processed so far.  I didn’t realized what that meant, but later I would come back to this observation.

I was running out of options.  Apple Disk Utility, Disk Warrior, and Data Rescue II had all failed me.  I decided I had better start getting comfortable with the fact that my data was gone.  I decided just for shits and giggles I would contact the guys at drive savers.  Just to see if they were cheaper than the other drive recovery company I had contacted when this disaster first struck.

On the phone I talked with a jolly fellow named Ryan.  He was very friendly and professional.  He sounded a lot more knowledgable than the woman I spoke with at the OC Drive Recovery Company (I don’t remember their exact name).  At least he asked me more questions.  They have an interesting policy where if you send in the drive and they can’t get any data off of it then you don’t have to pay them anything.  But if they do recover data than you have to pay anywhere from $1400 – $1800.  He sent me a quote of some of their services and I’ve attached a portion of it underneath.

drivesavers-quoteOnce again this was too rich for my blood.  So I thanked him and went off on my merry no data way.  Later as I was pondering my crappy no data existence I finally had an intelligent thought.  Why don’t I try Data Rescue again, but then stop it before it gets to the point where it hangs?  This way, even if I don’t scan the whole drive, I’ll be able to recover some files rather than none.  It made a lot of sense to me so I sprung into action.  One little snag, however, I had unplugged the hard drive from the dock I was using and when I plugged it back in none of the data recover disk fixer programs recognized it.  It was like it didn’t exist.  I think it was Ryan from Disk Savers was saying that normally when hard drives physically fail they get worse the more you use them.  This was not cool since I had just had my stroke of brilliance.  I kept docking and undocking the drive hoping that it would finally show up.  After 10 minutes of attempts (and even pointing a fan at it) it finally recognized the drive.

I proceeded as how I had thought of doing it.  Actually,  I had to run out to a meeting so I had my mom help in my absence.  She  put a piece of tape on the progress bar to indicate when she should click stop.  Luckily, I had the screen shots from before to compare and give us an idea of when things start going bad.  When I got back from my meeting things were still processing.  The following day I opened the folder with the rescued documents.  What I was expecting was a lot different than what I saw.  Instead of files with the file names I had named them with.  Everything was organized by file type.  Rescue Data must organize the files according to the file names it knows (like office excel, html, powerpoint, etc…), but I wasn’t quite sure what it does with other application extensions.

rescued-dataSo the good news is that I was able to recover some files off the bad disk, but the bad news is that I have no clue what they or their original application extensions (for the files that Data Rescue didn’t understand).  At least for the document files like word and excel I can go through them and rename them (which will take some time), but for the Apple programs like Pages, Keynote, or Omni Outliner, I’m not if any those files are around anymore.  But hey better to get something than nothing right?

The timing was pretty good, because a few days later I tried scanning the drive again, but it wouldn’t work no matter what I tried.  The drive was pretty fried.  The moral and lessons of this story are:

  1. Hard drive data recovery is a lucrative business
  2. There are good programs out there that can help you recover files
  3. Don’t give up too fast
  4. I’m an idiot for not backing up when I should have

Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to you.  I know I’ve learned my lesson.  Maybe in a future post I’ll write about my new backup setup I have now.  What’s the saying about mistakes?  Is it “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

**** UPDATE 3/5/2010 ****

It’s been well over a year since my failed Macbook hard drive debacle.   It was a really crappy experience to go through, but at least I learned my lesson (again) to always back up.  However, besides the lesson I learned I do feel somewhat vindicated (or at least happier) by the fact that well over 3 years Apple has finally admitted that there was something wrong on their part that was causing hard drives to crash like no tomorrow.  Officially this is what Apple has fessed up to…

Apple has determined that a very small percentage of hard drives that were used in MacBook systems, sold between approximately May 2006 and December 2007, may fail under certain conditions.

If your MacBook was purchased in the date range listed above and shows a flashing question mark on the screen, please take it to Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider and they will examine the hard drive to confirm if it is eligible for a replacement, free of charge, under this program.

As chance would have it my Macbook fell under that “small percentage of hard drives” that failed.  Lucky me.  Anyway, even though it’s a year late and many dollars short I found my broken hard drive (luckily I didn’t throw it away) and had it replaced.  So while all the data I lost is still gone at least I have a new hard drive.  I’m thinking I’m going to turn it into an external hard drive.   Guess it’s better than nothing.  I slightly tip my hat to you Apple…but only slightly.

Read the full Apple announcement

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