DIY HDD repair by transplanting platter into new drive of same model?

I have a 1 TB Seagate SATA drive fail on me recently and Seagate support is saying it looks like a hardware failure and their data recovery fee is just out of my range. They are saying it will cost $2000 or more.

However for $150 I can get the exact same model hard drive and conceivably "transplant" the platter (the magnetic disk with the actual data) from the problem drive to the new one and possibly recover my data?

Currently my computer (XP) does not recognize the hard drive (can't find a driver). I know it's the drive because it recognizes my backup of the same type and narrowed it down to the drive itself not the enclosure.

So my thought is that if I can get the drive electrically working and the device recognized by XP then maybe I could use a file recovery program to get back something.

I know modern hard drives must be very sensitive - when you are fitting 1 TB onto a little 3" disk, I would guess it would be extremely easy to misalign something or permanently damage the platter & render everything unrecoverable just by sneezing or looking at it wrong.

So is this idea at all possible, has anyone done this?

(Or are there any more affordable but trustworthy companies that do this kind of recovery?)

14 answers Last reply
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  1. Have a look at this:

    No doubt that it is a tricky operation, so beware that one little mistake will most likely be the end of the data on the platter. Also be sure to watch out for static, debris, etc...
  2. Thanks for the link, I can see it's a last-ditch effort but it looks like an option.

    Does anyone know any data recovery services that can do this at a more affordable rate?
  3. Data is more expensive than the hardware.

    Acronis DISK IMAGE is one of the better tools in acrchiving data or creating drive image. You need to look at ways to back up your data to separate media (DVD, Blue Ray, USB HDD).

    You need a clean room to access the internal of HDD. Any particulate in between the head and disc will destroy it.
  4. Are you certain that it's a mechanical failure -- not just the board ? Transplanting a new board onto the old drive is a piece of cake compared to opening a drive -- which I just wouldn't even consider.
  5. I'm not certain of anything except XP not recognizing the USB device when this particular drive is in the enclosure. XP recognizes other drives in this enclosure, and it recognizes my backup drive of the same model, in this enclosure. So my conclusion is some sort of hardware failure - mechanical, electrical or otherwise.

    Do you have any instructions or links for transplanting a new board (or determining if this is the problem) ?


    Are you certain that it's a mechanical failure -- not just the board ? Transplanting a new board onto the old drive is a piece of cake compared to opening a drive -- which I just wouldn't even consider.
  6. Transplanting a board is an option. BUt watch out for the details. It has been reported here that, first of all, the replacement HDD unit MUST be exactly the same model and Release (or revision) number. Beyond that, sometimes HDD makers change the board details and do not change the numbering, so it is still possible that it might not work. Your original option - transplanting the inner disk subsystem - is definitely VERY LAST resort, and likely to result in complete destruction of your data.

    BEFORE you get into this, you should test out some other things. It is not clear to me how you are sure the unit has a hardware flaw. You say Windows XP cannot detect the unit. By that I assume you mean it won't show up in My Computer. BUT there is another Windows tool that will tell you more detail we need to see. It is Disk Management.

    Click on Start at lower left and then RIGHT-click on My Computer in the menu to get a small sub-menu. Choose Manage to open a new Computer Management window. In its left pane expand Storage if necessary and choose Disk Management. The right-hand side will split into two panes. The upper one shows you all the drives Windows can use now. The LOWER RIGHT pane shows you different info on those units, plus any others that are legit hardware that Windows does not understand. For example, in that lower right pane your main boot HDD will show up as a horizontal rectangle with a label block at the left that says things like "Disk_0", a type, a size, and a status. To the right of that will be one or more blocks, each representing a Partition on the HDD unit. There may be only one, or there could be more. In each Partition there will be more info showing a Volume Name like "OS" or "Harry's Disk" or some such name, a letter name like "C:" assigned by Windows, a size, a File System like NTFS, and a status. Find the troublesome HDD. Is it there at all? If so, what does its File System show? If it is "RAW", what that really means is that some of the basic data in the HDD's Partition Table is corrupted and Windows simply can't figure out how to deal with it. Most probably the data on it are fine, and there is NO hardware problem if this is your case. ALSO check what drive letter is assigned to it. IF it does not have a drive letter, you can fix that right away. You RIGHT-click on the Partition block and choose a letter for it. If you do that, back out of Disk Management, shut down and reboot so Windows gets this new name straight. A simple missing name can sometimes be fixed completely this way.

    IF the troubled HDD does not even show up anywhere in the LOWER RIGHT pane of Disk Management, it may really have a hardware problem. But if its trouble is a "RAW" File System, your task is data recovery. Search this forum and the web for procedures and tools to fix a RAW Format disk.

    If neither of these is your situation, there are software tools to recover files from a damaged HDD. Most require that you have an empty spare HDD installed so that any files you recover can be copied to the good HDD. One such tool set is called GetDataBack NTFS. It is NOT free, but it has a very good process for free trial evaluation. You use it on-line to analyze your disk and it shows you what it can recover. If you believe that will do the whole job you pay them, buy the software, and get your data to copy. If not, you don't pay, back out, and it leaves your HDD unchanged so you can try something else.
  7. Thanks for your reply- I know about Computer Management / Disk Management and this isn't a case of the hdd showing up there as an unknown or empty/raw volume without a drive letter (I know the utilities for raw recovery and have used that method successfully in the past, for issues like where the drive gets unplugged without being safely removed and a delayed write fails and when you plug it back in you seemingly lose the file system). Btw all my drives are formatted NTFS not FAT.   

    What happens is, when I plug the drive in, the system doesn't acknowledge the device at all until at least a minute goes by (for all other drives including the identical model backup that takes <15 seconds) and then XP prompts for and fails to recognize any drivers (see below for more on drivers).

    As I said, the enclosure works with other drives AND the drive has the same problem in other working enclosures. So I'm pretty sure the issue is with the drive's hardware at some level, though whether it's the circuit board, the heads frozen up, or a loose SATA plug I have no idea. I used the drive for maybe a year before this happened, and although it was in an external USB case, rarely moved it. It actually stopped working after my system's AV (Avira free) detected a threat on my C: drive and I had it remove the threat and then rebooted in safe mode and did another scan with Malwarebytes Anti-malware. In safe mode my system detected new hardware and wanted to install some indexing driver and I cancelled since I was having it check the system drive and didn't need to use any external drives. Also I had never seen any xp  system detect an indexing service as a hardware device before so i suspected that could be some trick of the malware/virus. So I did not install the hardware, and just did deep scans with Anti-malware, Avira & MS Security Essentials. If my memory serves me, they removed 4 threats. Then I restarted xp back in normal mode.

    However on reboot I found 3 of my external drives were not showing up in Disk Management. However to be sure I plugged one into a different pc and it worked fine. 

    So I thought the scans may have damaged some USB or storage device drivers while removing the threat(s). So I went to my laptop manufacturer's site (it's a Toshiba Satellite) and downloaded and re-installed all drivers for the laptop with the latest from the manufacturer, and 2 of the 3 external drives were now working as they had been. However the system still could not see the 1 TB drive and I get similar behavior trying to use it with other PCs. 

    I'm not sure if it's possible for malware or an antivirus program to damage hardware but could imagine a couple scenarios such as 1) back in my 8-bit days using a Commodore 64, some software companies copy protected their apps by intentionally writing certain disk errors to certain sectors of the 5.25" floppy. Basic disk copy programs could not copy these disk errors which the application would look for and not work without. In any case the presence of such disk errors caused the 1541 floppy drive's heads to momentarily "knock", ie audibly and violently physically vibrate. This normally wasn't enough to cause any problems, but I heard of people trying to create malicious programs that would make this "knocking" happen in an endless loop, to try to knock the victim's drive heads out of alignment. 
    Or scenario 2 where maybe malware could damage a drive's formatting at a low level so it appears to be a hardware issue. No idea if these are real possibilities.

    Obviously I would like the issue to turn out to be something easy to fix without having to resort to more risky & irreversible methods like freezing the drive or putting it in an oven, or temporarily transplanting a bison's kidney or ingesting Eye of Newt, or trying to swap out the platters. As it is, I can't afford to hire Seagate's medicine man so I might just put the drive on the shelf until I have the cash or at least until I buy a couple new 1 TB drives to xfer the backup (identical model to the problem drive bought at the same time, just 6 months older data) to before attempting the board swap. 

    Got any pictures illustrating how to do it so I know what to expect so I don't end up doing it wrong? 

  8. Have you tried any data recovery or Partition recovery software yet to see if they can read your files? You need a spare HDD to put the copied files onto. Some are free, some cost a bit but allow free trials to see whether they are actually worth doing.
  9. TenBobNote said:
    ...without having to resort to more risky & irreversible methods like freezing the drive or putting it in an oven, or ... trying to swap out the platters.
    Be advised that opening the drive up is basically a kiss of death. Freezing the drive, by contrast, is actually pretty safe since most drive are certified to withstand a very wide range of temperatures at least in storage.

    But if you remove the cover and then put it back on again, even if you do nothing else, then dust will almost certainly contaminate the platters and from there it's almost a given that the heads or platters will sustain physical damage when the drive spins up.
  10. I'm sure that swapping platters is very risky. I don't have a hermetically sealed clean room, no experience with it, and am not too comfortable working with hardware in situations that aren't forgiving if you're not super precise. 

    So my question: to swap the board would the platter be exposed? Can someone post further instructions or a link? The Seagate HDD model is ST31000340NS. I have a 2nd identical drive purchased at the same time (the backup) and I have copied its contents to a new drive, so it is free to be used to swap boards. But I am not too comfortable trying it without some instructions. Any help or further advice would be appreciated!

    PS If it helps, here is the original description of the problem I posted closer to when it happened, so the details are probably more accurate than my recallations above (over a month had passed).
  11. "to swap the board would the platter be exposed?"

    No. The board is mounted outside the drive mechanicals.

    There's often a connector concealed under the board which could be damaged if you're careless.

    Try to handle the board as little as poss to minimise risk of static damage.
  12. If you really have two identical HDD units so that the controller board on each of them is identical, then a board swap is probably possible. I have never seen any such system where removal of the PC board also caused any disruption of the actual sealed disk case. You should be able to do it if you work slowly and carefully. There will be screws holding the board to the HDD chassis, and there certainly will be delicate connections between them. These may be in the form of plastic film strips with multiple wiring traces on them that plug into connector sockets, or they could be connectors on the end of wires or ribbon cables. I've even seen systems that just use springy metal fingers to make contact with stationary points on the mating surface. Just examine it all very carefully as you move things apart slowly to discern the real connections. You will need to disconnect and reconnect without damage.
  13. I think that doing this without having any experience in this procedure is a mistake, but if you are interested in seeing how data can be retrieved when hard drive fails to rotate due to bad bearing, then this video will explain everything you would need to know and have. Maybe it can be used with other disk imaging techniques than the one shown in the video but this platter swap is done with nothing but TAPE and Shrink wrap and it works like new.
  14. E-50 said:

    All the hobbyist hears is "you can do it for $5!" and not the laminate flow cabinet, then they come here and post "how come it didn't work?"

    Can't decide whether this is a shameless plug for a recovery service, but OK, good to know.
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