How best to handle a POTENTIALLY damaged HDD

A man I know, who died in 2010, may have left some vital information on his computer. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll say it's cryptic directions to an Illuminati gold cache - textual data, possibly in multiple files, most likely under 5mb total. His computer was left to a friend of his, who's kept it in an unheated garage in the San Fernando Valley for the last 5 years. I don't yet know how old the computer was when he died or what brand it is, but he wasn't very technologically inclined so we can assume it's either something off-the-shelf running XP, possibly Windows 7, or an Apple device running whatever was contemporary back in 2010. Could potentially be a laptop.

1) California's pretty warm even in the winter, but there've been some record breaking cold days in recent years, to say nothing of potential exposure to moisture and condensation in the garage. What do you think the odds are that the HDD is damaged?

2) I don't know much about the workings of HDDs and what happens when they crash. What are the risks to the data if try to turn this computer on? Naturally I'd open it first to clear the dust and dead insects out of it. If it's a PC I hope to swap in a blank HDD before booting it for the first time to make sure none of the other components are going to explode, but assuming that goes ok, what's the worst that could happen to the HDD if I boot from it? Would sticking it in a drive toaster to copy the whole thing be safer? It will probably try to write to it if I boot, whereas the toaster would only read, but the toaster would put more stress on the drive arms by copying everything when all I need is a very tiny amount of data. I'd think the least dangerous thing to do would be to pull the drive out, stick a SATA adapter on it, access it as an external drive from another PC, and hope that what I'm looking for is easily found from the desktop or start menu, or that a file search will pull it up without much effort.

I know nothing about Apple hardware. What kind of options do I have if it turns out to be an iMac?

Any information or advice is appreciated. If all goes well, I promise to share my Illuminati gold with all of you!

I wondered what a drive toaster was, just a usb drive bay..?

You assuming its SATA but you could do this if you know where it is.

Its been off and not used, its probably more likely to work than not. If its going to fail it will likely fail no matter what you do, and you'll likely know right away. Personally id just pull the drive plug it into a "toaster" and use dd to image the drive.

If it's that vital send it to a lab

I guess I'm trying to do a risk/benefit analysis here. How likely is it to catastrophically die vs the cost of professional data retrieval. Also, if I send it to a lab the Masons might catch on.

Do you care enough about the data to spend potential thousands of dollars to get it back?

Yeah, something like this that copies from one drive to another.

If it does fail, how badly would it be damaged? Would it potentially no longer be possible for a lab to recover the data?

It's a crap shoot, but honestly the odds are in your favor, if the computer was shut down (heads parked on the drive) and stored there is a very good chance that it will simply fire right back up like it was yesterday, it would be a good idea to put it in a controlled environment for 24 hrs so it has time to acclimate.

If it were mine I'd have all the stuff ready to copy the files I needed and fire it up, if I was successful I'd remove the hard drive and beat it to a pulp with a ball peen hammer to make sure the Illuminati couldn't retrieve the data also, then buy a gun and keep a close watch in the rear view mirror cause you know they will be following you for the rest of your life.


ah you put in a blank drive and it copies.. seems a waste of a drive :p but if it works.

really depends. Drives tend to tell you when they are dying by the awful noise they make. A lab could still potentially recover the data if there was no damage to the platter the data is on, but it would be a fortune (damaged or not).

If the data is that important your wondering about professional recovery, maybe just consider that in the first place.

But I agree with @blanger it is likely the drive will work its not been in any particular harsh environment just a garage.

Also agree with @Streetguru is the data worth high hundreds to the thousands to recover? If it is, thats your answer.

There are lots of tricks to revive a dead hard drive like putting it in the freezer over night will in some cases get you a few minuets of run time to retrieve data, but there is a cost of introducing moisture by doing this but I have seen it work.

Like @Eden said as long as the platters are undamaged data retrieval is always a possibility but the cost will give you nightmares.

edit: can't spell worth crap...

I'd be willing to pay a few thousand for the data, but I actually have no guarantee that the ancient Babylonian cyphers I'm looking for are on the drive or that they're complete. There's also the fact that I don't have access to the thing yet and may never get access - right now I'm working through the woman who owns the garage and I don't want to trouble her too much. I'm willing to roll the dice with booting it if the odds aren't too bad, and so far from what everyone says it sounds like they're not. So I think that's the route I'm going to go. Thanks all!

And your not at least worried that the Illuminati are monitoring your communications? They could be at that garage right now or setting up equipment to send a EM pulse in that direction to wipe the drive before you get your hands on it.....I'd move fast if I was you the secret societies are no joke and take no prisoners Best of luck!.

I wanna know what it is now.

how to handle hard drives you say?

Well they never came for the computer in the first place, so after 5 years I'm pretty sure it's off their radar. But just in case, I've been making these posts through a proxy I set up at my local Comcast office. If someone's gonna die, it's gonna be someone who deserves it.

Touché well played Sir!