Seagate ST3500320AS, Free Data Recovery Method

The Seagate ST3500320AS 7200.11 500GB "Barracuda" drive must be the bread and butter of folks that do data recovery for a living.  This drive was sold back in 2007 (until 2008 I believe).  It was really cheap at the time and places like Fry's and Newegg couldn't keep it on the shelves.  A 500GB drive in 2007 for around $70 was a big deal!

Clearly this model possessed one or more design defects.  I don't know if Seagate ever admitted to the problems, nor do I care since I'll never purchase another Seagate (or Maxtor) product ever again.  A search on seagate's own forums brings up about 600 threads with people describing the failures.  Mine lasted a year and then outright died one day.  I could no longer get any data off of it whatsoever, regardless of all the state of the art 'miracle' hard drive recovery tools.  I'm referring to stuff like SpinRite, MHDD, SeaTools, etc..  They all proved useless.  Anyway, with a little ingenuity and perseverance I was able to recover about 90% of the files I had on there.

I basically froze the drive, and then pulled files off over short periods, refroze, pulled more data off, etc..  Freezing the drive works because it causes all the parts to contract (shrink) slightly.  Clearly whatever design flaw existed had something to do with heads or head mechanism.  Cooling the parts (shrinking the parts) allowed the heads to read data on the platters at least for short periods of time.

I used two large ziploc style bags.  I put the hard drive inside one then put that bag inside the second bag and filled the second bag full of water.  I say "full of water" meaning to the point where the bag was bulged out almost as far as it could go without spilling into the first bag.  I left an opening to the drive for the SATA and power cables, then propped the bags up in the freezer and waited until the mass was frozen solid.  Anyway, you can see it in the photos.  Keep in mind that ice takes more volume than water due to the molecular arrangement in the frozen state, so don't fill it so full that it bursts the outer bag when frozen.

It's important to have a large mass of ice surrounding the drive.  Although when you pull the bag out of the freezer it will stay frozen for a long time, while the hard drive is powered inside the ice mass it is still generating a lot of local heat and tries to melt the ice mass from the inside out.  This explains why you can only recover files in short sessions and why the mass needs to be constantly refrozen.