Data Recovery In The Woodshed

A 1TB drive fails. How do you recover the data? If you are like us, you imagine a high-tech lab with serious-looking technicians and engineers. [John Graham-Cumming] managed it in his woodworking shop. Granted, it was a solid-state drive, so a clean room wasn’t necessary, but we still found it an unexpected story.

[John’s] gaming rig had two Seagate Firecuda 530 SSDs and decided not to boot. A quick analysis found one of the drives failed — it happens. However, the drive showed some signs of life after cooling off. A 30-minute trip to the freezer made the drive work again until it got warm again.

Suspecting a bad solder joint, [John] applied pressure to the board and got it working. The problem is you don’t want to have a death grip on your SSD while you copy a terabyte of data from it. The answer? A woodworking clamp applies pressure in just the right place. Are you worried about excess heat build-up? A carpenter’s square makes a good heat sink, apparently.

Like all the best stories, this one had a happy ending with complete data recovery. Even better, a bit of hot air reflow restored the drive to fully working status again.

Our usual data recovery efforts take more wire than woodworking. Depending on your media, if freezing doesn’t work, maybe try an oven.

24 thoughts on “Data Recovery In The Woodshed

  1. Oh the joys of Lead-Free solder… There is a big reason the military and space applications do not use lead free solder; Lead Free solder joints are prone to failure, and are way less reliable than traditional leaded solder. I have been in the industry for 15+ years, and its way better than it used to be, but still, I bet the joint suffered from thermal fatigue which is something that usually only occurs with lead free solder. The crystalline structure is way more brittle than regular leaded solder, and thermal cycling causes the joints to crack. Cleanliness at the joint is also way more critical than it was with traditional solder, as impurities have a much larger effect on the quality of the joint. This is part of the reason most consumer electronics are not what they used to be, and are mostly throw away now. Don’t get me wrong, I am very glad to see less lead and other heavy metals in waste streams, where it will inevitably end up in my drinking water, but it hasen’t come without its side effects. Glad he was able to get his data back! That sucks no matter how you spin it. Backups, backups , backups!

    1. Agreed. When I grew up, a television set, for example, was a durable good, like a water heater or fridge. You might hang on to one for 20 years. If you got rid of it, it’s not because it was bad, it’s because you wanted something bigger or nicer, in which case said TV would be disposed of in a garage sale and the next person got 5 or 10 out of it before something really broke or the tube grew dim.

      Now you’re lucky if you get much past the warranty before a crappy lead-free solder joint opens up. I’ve lost count of how many modern electronic devices I’ve had to fix by reflowing bad solder joints…literally hundreds by now… TVs, remotes, computer peripherals, electronic games and toys, and yes… even a thumbdrive or two.

      Lead in the waste stream? Potentially bad… but something that could be addressed and mitigated. Lead is one of the most easily recyclable metals there is. What I wonder is… truly… what is holistically more dangerous to the environment…X electronic devices with lead solder, discarded in a landfill, or 20X ROHS devices (many of which died infant death) in the landfill?

      I also think it’ stupid to collectively wring our hands over environmental impact of waste electronics, while at the same time permitting the manufacture and importation of electronic devices with glued-in batteries. It’s like selling cars with the hood welded shut and the gas cap glued on, then complaining there are too many wrecking yards.

      1. The EU is trying to ban the glued in batteries, which I’m pretty happy about.

        I rarely ever see consumer electronics fail for any reason but battery, connector, or switches. Maybe everything I buy is counterfeit and has lead, or I don’t buy as many things total, or maybe it’s use and storage conditions, but I just don’t see it.

    2. > There is a big reason the military and space applications do not use lead free solder

      [citation needed]

      Speaking from personal experience from working at Radmor (WB Electronics), the only place where lead solder is still used is to repair old soviet gear like analog R-123 radios used in T-72 tanks. Everything else, including prototyping has been done with lead-free since early 2010s.

      1. It may be different now (its been what, 20 years since ROHS went into effect?), but for a long time, Aerospace and other high reliability assemblies were not permitted to be assembled with Lead-free solder due to the reliability not being adequately characterized. I worked at a CM where we made stuff for Aerospace use and we were not allowed to use lead free solder paste. This was about 2010 ish. Tin whiskers were a huge problem with Lead-free alloys initially, though that has been addressed for the most part with newer alloys. There are no papers or standards I can link to as they are all behind Paywalls! Funny part about Lead in the EU; it seems to me that at the time ROHS was coming into effect, the Lead in the plumbing and paint in the EU was probably more of a contributor to problems than discarded electronics would ever have been.

      2. 1 Thank you for your work.
        2 Products you work on are dual-use (drones, radios)? those arent exempt.

        Excluded from the scope of the RoHS Directive are ‘necessary for the protection of the essential interests of the security of Member States, including arms, munitions and war material intended for specifically military purposes’

        I imagine prototyping and development being rohs compliant due to cost. Mass market components are cheap.

        3. Why do WB drones suck so much? WARMATE pretty much always misses by meters compared to Lancets, and FLYEYE image stabilization is a joke compared to cheapest DJI.

          1. The Notre Dame cathedral fire scattered a large amount of burned up lead downwind from all the lead roofing that vaporized and oxidized in the heat.

      1. I have some devices (Hard drives and radio gear) that are more than 20 years old, that have easily been thermal cycled way more times than the SSD in the Article, and still work flawlessly. I have only ever had modern equipment with lead free solder fail in this way, where a joint has opened due to thermal cycling, and a reflow our touch up has solved the problem. I have at least two High Dollar video cards, ROHS compliant, mind you, i.e. built with lead free solder, that have failed in exactly this way. This is not something I ever saw with equipment built with traditional solder alloys, ever. Only time I ever saw traditional joints fail is when the joint was poorly made (a possibility here, but unlikely considering modern inspection techniques and reflow processes), or the device experienced physical shock that ‘removed’ the parts in question from the board all together, or over heated to the point that the solder partially melted or became ‘plastic’ due to excessive heat and poor thermal design. Hence my ‘suspicion’ that it is related to the solder chemistry. Per the article, a reflow cycle ‘fixed’ the problem. Solder related by default. SSD ‘s are newer devices built per ROHS, lead free solder would have been used to assemble the device.

        1. I’d put more of the blame on poor BGA soldering than the solder alloy used. Most devices using BGA chips are from the lead-free era though.

          With leadfree, it’s a bit of a gamble whether the BGA pads or the solder joint fails first. Making the joint stronger would just damage the chip in same conditions.

    3. Reminds me of an HP laser printer I owned several years ago. It would randomly fail due to this, and I would take it apart and reflow the board again. It would last several months and then fail again with the same thing. Eventually I gave up after the connectors were all turned into a gooey mess. I’m sure if leaded eutectic solder was used in it’s manufacture, I’d be using that thing still. Big surprise, it wound up in a landfill instead.

      1. Ah yes, the famous HP LaserJet 2015(??) series I believe.
        Have “repaired” several of those.

        Even had the opportunity to repair a few of those in a proper lab (IR oven for surface mount stuff & hot air reflow station).

        My HP LJ M2727nf still works fine and I only had to repair it once ~10 years ago.

        Some stories where husbands reported the bewilderment of their wives when they baked the boards in the kitchen oven were amusing. ;-)

      2. Similar story. LG 55″ TV that would suddenly have all it’s HDMI ports go dead. The motherboard went into the oven and out it came, good as new (just as bad as new, in this case). after a few months the story would repeat. After the 3rd or 4th time, I had my fill. Dismounting this thing from the wall, laying it on the living room floor, disassembling, baking the motherboard, reassembling, and remounting was too much of a chore and made the living room off limits to everyone else in the house during the process. I had even tried adding an extra heat sink to the BGA HDMI processor, to no avail.
        It’s now connected via the analog “PC” port, with no further issues.

  2. In days past I have performed data recovery’s with the drive in the freezer to keep it cool enough to stay running during the recovery. My wife would tolerate the recovery computer sitting on top of the fridge.

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