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Insane Idea of the Day: BYO Dustfree Enclosure

  • Hard Drives
  • Enclosure
  • Storage
Last response: in Storage
October 23, 2006 6:05:03 PM

WARNING: Thought experiment only. I DO NOT PLAN TO ACTUALLY DO THIS.

But I don't like being told that I can't do something - so consider this as proof of concept.

Let's imagine that I need to open a small piece of equipment (cough) hard disk (cough) and I need a dust free environment for a limited period of time.

Here are the materials:

1. large (40 gal) clear trash bag.
2. nitrogen cylinder/regulator
3. sterile latex gloves
4. Duct tape

Here's what I propose to do:
1. Without opening trash bag completely, place the drive (and necessary tools - eg screwdrivers) into the bag along with a small plastic hose and duct tape the bag opening shut.
2. Use a razor knife to make 2 3 inch cuts about a foot apart in one of the walls of the bag.
3. Insert one glove at a time. Tape each to the bag using duct tape.
4. Attach plastic hose to regulator.
5. Inflate the bag. Make small incision at opposite end of plastic hose to allow nitrogen to escape - thereby creating a positive pressure micro environment.
6. Insert hands into latex gloves. Open drive. Poke around the innards. Close drive.
7. Shut off nitrogen flow. Tear up bag.

Tell me how this wouldn't work and be specific. I'll even start you out:
1. Latent dust on tools, drive will pollute microenvironment.
2. Plastic bags aren't as clean as you think they are.
3. Nitrogen flow would need to be filtered. After all, we're talking about dust 200microns or less here.

More about : insane idea day byo dustfree enclosure

October 23, 2006 6:41:10 PM

And then your cat comes out of nowhere, breaks open the bag, and starts playing with the HDD head...

It would work... you don't really need nitrogen though as long as you have an industrial grade air-filter. But it won't be fully sealproof... and there will be dust in there just from the beginning operations...

Shrug, I'm an EE, not an ME...
October 23, 2006 7:15:18 PM

You will have a very dry, non-conductive environment, be careful of static electricity. Make sure the gloves are non-powdered.

Otherwise, it should work fine.
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October 24, 2006 11:46:47 AM

The way you should do it if you want a dust free environment is this:
Go clean your bathroom the best you can.
Put a table and chair so you have a place to work on.
Close the window and all the ventilation (seal your bathroom).
Let the shower as hot as you can so you will have lots of steam.
Turn the shower off and wait until the temperature in the bathroom is the same as the rest of the house.
Now you have a dust free zone to work in. Watch out for condensation, if the temp in the bathroom is still high you will have condensation on everything you bring in so wait until the bathroom cools.

The way it works is this. The saturated water vapors forms condensation only if they have a dust particle or other solid to form to. Once condensation starts forming on a dust particle it will continue until it weights enough to bring it down.

P.S. I use this technique many times before for working on special optical instruments and it does the job very well.
October 24, 2006 3:50:16 PM

:D  :D 

Genius! Pure Genius!
a b G Storage
October 27, 2006 7:09:42 PM

I have done this 2 times. Not to be as elabrate as you, but to transplant components from HDD's into other HDD's for data recovery. It works, and I have kept both working drives in opperation with no apparent issues even with very small dust particals that may have breached the plastic seal.

I also did not use air/nitrogen...., no need.... but I did use static proof bags, not trash bags... static kills electronics boys and girls.
October 27, 2006 8:20:50 PM

Thanks for the tip.

I scoured the internet looking for solutions to this problem. Given the fact that many people now rely upon their PCs to keep their music and photos, data recovery will be booming business.

Since this happened I've gotten "Backup Religion." I set up a fileserver to store data, bought decent backup software and added an external drive. I keep all my critical data in one location, then back it up to two separate places so that it resides in 3 different locations: Fileserver HD, External HD and networked PC.

I've also cut a few Taiyo Yuden CDs of photos and am storing them in a safe deposit box.

Paranoid? Perhaps. However this drive disaster is the 2nd worst I've suffered (the first was on a Mac that crashed on the wife 3 weeks before her ph.D thesis was due!). This one was completely my fault, and I'll be d**ned if I let it happen again.
a b G Storage
October 27, 2006 9:21:04 PM

Ok incase anyone else gets the idea to do this for data recovery...

it will be the worst thing you have ever done computer-wise. You will not be willing to do it a second time, unless its your own data, or you are getting payed $1000 (which is about what its worth professionaly.)
October 29, 2006 6:19:24 AM

You sure that the gas you will be inflating the plastic bag with is up to clean room standards?

Probably has as much random particles as the air in your house.
October 30, 2006 3:17:30 PM

Ok incase anyone else gets the idea to do this for data recovery...

it will be the worst thing you have ever done computer-wise. You will not be willing to do it a second time, unless its your own data, or you are getting payed $1000 (which is about what its worth professionaly.)

I think I have made it pretty clear that this is a "Hail Mary" when it comes to data recovery. However, many people don't have $1000 to throw at this problem. They therefore have the following choices:
1. Throw the drive and data away because they don't have the $$$.
2. Save the drive and hope that someday they will have the $$$.
3. Try this.

As for it being the worst thing... This is obviously not a solution for the meek or timid - but Tom's Hardware is populated by people who have submerged their PCs in motor oil for crying out loud. Meek and timid aren't two words I usually apply to Tom's Hardware fans.

As for the worst thing I've ever done computer-wise - shorting out my drive without a backup stands head and shoulders above all else. But you make a mess, you clean it up, you learn from it and you move on.
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 3:25:21 PM

I mean this is the wost project that anyone can think of, if it is not necessary.

As for submerging a computer in oil... much more fun and easy then self data recovery after mechanical HDD failure.
October 30, 2006 7:28:41 PM

This might be a stupid question, but I didn't know if it is known or not:

Can the Hard Drive be submerged in oil?

If it can, which I realize it very well may not be viable, then IN THEORY, wouldn't it solve all the issues described above?
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 7:46:25 PM

No you would block the breather hole.
October 30, 2006 7:54:24 PM

Depends if the motor in an hdd is submersible or not, which I highly doubt... The guy who stuck his comp in oil had the hdd out of it.
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 7:56:59 PM

The hard drive breathes, therefor it can not be submerged.
October 30, 2006 8:03:04 PM


If a hard drive breathes, a CPU thinks, a microphone listens, a speaker talks, an anti-virus anti's, a FSB/HTT pumps, a (bad) CD-ROM eats, a power supply consumes, RAM remembers, a robot body provides far off are we from AI...really?

This was tongue in cheek, BTW :-P
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 8:09:33 PM

LOL. By breathes I mean it has an air hole who equalize pressure.
October 30, 2006 8:18:44 PM

Yes yes, the whole pressure differential thing.

It's an interesting concept though, being able to work on your own hard drive...which would have been feasible if hard drive platters were still bigger than dinner plates and minute dust particles didn't matter.

I liken the concept similar to how cars are not that easy for the average person to pick up as far as how to repair their own vehicle, due to the increasing amounts of computer control in the timing, etc. I just hope that computers in general don't become as such, but then again, when the industry caters (a small part i know) to the enthusiast crowd I am not too concerned about that. recovery needs a better model for business, that or some new technology on that front that brings it into the realm of Consultants and PC repair shops. There would be a lot less fear of PC's if people didn't have to worry about all of their data being lost.
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 8:26:20 PM

Your kidding right? The large platters the size of dinner tables required a complete cleanroom and cleansuits. Dust DID matter. And local computer shops can do non-mechanical data recovery (most comon) fairly easily.
October 30, 2006 8:26:52 PM

Plus, it would change the drag on the heads and cause problems there.
October 30, 2006 8:28:33 PM


I stand corrected

I am referring more to mechanical failure however, which I looked into once on a drive of mine that failed, until I found out it was approximately 1G USD
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 8:31:33 PM

Yes it is expencive. I work with a company called Drive Savers and they are about 1k-3k for data recovery depending on size.

It is not fesable to sell recovery servce for mechanicaly failed drives unless you specialize in that service.
October 30, 2006 8:47:11 PM

I would fear the gloves and trash bags would build up static. The anti-static bags spoken of above is a good idea if you can find them.

Nitrogen is ok but it tends to hang in low areas so suffication is a possibility if you keep the doors closed. (Don't laugh, I had to drag a guy out of a room he was using nitrogen in when he got woosy.)

I would be supprised if you could get the enviroment clean enough to keep the heads from crashing. I remember being tought in college that a particle of smoke would crash the head. I forget how many microns that represented.

If the data is lost otherwise, I guess it's worth a try.
a b G Storage
October 30, 2006 8:49:57 PM

Trash bags do indeed come in clear. And you can make black ones clear by stretchnig the plastic. (not recomended).

And you cant make a perfect cleanroom this way...otherwise companies wouldnt be spending millions making clean rooms w/filtered air...

Static bags most comonly come in gray seethough (when you buy a new ICC, such as a HDD, or videocard).
October 30, 2006 10:41:30 PM

I edited my post before I saw yours about the clear tashbags. (Just so no one wonders what the hell you were driving at with your first sentance :)  )

I will take your word for it on the anti-static bags. All the ones I have at home from hard drives are silvery gray or silver and I can't see through them. I don't buy a lot of this stuff so I can't vouch for anything else. Most of the equipment I get that comes in anti-static bags are for vastly different and more expensive items than standard computer compenents are they are almost always black. I have seen red tinted one and black/clear striped ones from time to time. I think this is the best way to go though.
October 30, 2006 11:05:44 PM

how about a scuba tank? instead of nitrogen.
October 30, 2006 11:49:20 PM

how again does one tape the second wrist to the bag after the first one is IN the bag? I guess preparation is the key, and you have the tape prepositioned and ready to apply with:

- your first hand working through the surface of the bag or
- your teeth

hey, I enjoyed your thoughtfulness.

October 31, 2006 12:10:45 AM

Quote: recovery needs a better model for business, that or some new technology on that front that brings it into the realm of Consultants and PC repair shops. There would be a lot less fear of PC's if people didn't have to worry about all of their data being lost.

The masses have only recently moved to digital media when you consider it. Digital cameras now outsell film by a wide margin. Every iTune you buy at Apple doesn't come with a backup.

One of the problems with backing up is that most of the time we get away with not doing so. "The positive consequences of violating safety rules reinforce our tendency to violate them, so the likelihood of disaster increases." (Logic of Failure, Dietrich Dorner).

As an IT professional with 10 years experience, I should have known better than to not have a backup strategy in place - even for my home network. Now I've gotten "backup religion" and instituting processes that will mitigate the data lost when drives inevitably fail.

However, what happens when the average user's drive fails and takes all his photos and thousands of dollars of music files with it? Perhaps people believe that they can download their files for free from iTunes (they can't - Apple explicitly states that one has to buy the files again) or that they can buy a piece of software that "fixes" their drive.

As the number of people with dead drives rises, my guess is that a business opportunity will appear in the $100-500 niche. Of course, to make that opportunity profitable, an entrepreneur would have to have a very efficient business process in place.

There's a reason why it costs so much to recover data - as I'm sure some of you know first-hand.
October 31, 2006 2:19:05 AM

an interesting fact:

to put the head of a hard drive in perspective, it is similar to a boeing 747 flying 2 feet off the ground :D .
a c 429 G Storage
November 8, 2006 8:57:43 PM

Your kidding right? The large platters the size of dinner tables required a complete cleanroom and cleansuits. Dust DID matter. And local computer shops can do non-mechanical data recovery (most comon) fairly easily.

I can remember early 1970's using an IBM 360/50 mainframe with disk drives. That is, I was a user, not an IT person - I got to look through the windows. The disk packs were a group of about 6 or 8 disks about the size of 12" vinyl records, arranged on a common shaft and spaced maybe ½" apart. The disks on shaft were kept in a plastic 2-piece case - top that gripped the disk stack, and a bottom. The drive unit had a plastic top which opened. Inside the disk stack in use was fully exposed. One took an empty case top, lowered it over the disk stack, fastened on and lifted the stack out, then put it on its case bottom. New disk pack intall the reverse, remove the case top, and close up the drive unit top. A system clearly aimed at keeping things reasonably clean, but nowhere near the totally dust-free environment of a true clean room. Of course, this meant the clearance from drive heads to disk surface was NOT what it is in today's drives. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were NOT Winchester drive systems - they came later. Winchester systems, you may recall, allow the read/write head to float over the disk surface at VERY small clearance, borne solely by the moving air layer between them. This very close distance is part of the key to higher data density. AND it means that when the disk is shut down the head WILL land on the disk, so the shut-down process MUST first move the head to a landing zone with no data.
a b G Storage
November 8, 2006 9:04:13 PM


This is where you can find the HDD's I was talking about. They are a bit bigger then vinyl records though. My uncle ownes one of these tables. Very cool.
a c 429 G Storage
November 22, 2006 8:51:36 PM

Cool pics! I would guess these disks pre-date the ones I remember. And clearly they were the innards in a permanent hard drive machine, not a removable stack like I saw.

You remind me of another relic: an 8" floppy disk. They pre-dated the 5¼" type. I saw equipment that included one to re-load a mini operating system on a network communications device when it got confused by RAM corruption. Before the days of decent-sized EEPROMS.