Need advice on recovering data from failing drive


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Hey all,

A friend of mine has a 2009 Macbook Pro, and while she was using it one day, the laptop suddenly shut off by itself. When she tried to reboot the Mac, it was stuck on the grey Apple screen with the spinning gear.

After having me look at it, I confirmed that the drive is failing, as verbose mode began spitting "I/O error" messages from the boot drive.

I've removed the drive and installed a fresh one in her computer, so no problem there. The big issue is how to collect what data I can from the failing drive.

WHAT I'VE TRIED:
1.) I connected the drive to a hard drive dock and hooked it up to my Mac for diagnosis. The drive does mount on the Mac desktop, and I can access it directly, so there is hope of recovering files.

2.) When I try to copy over the home folder from the drive - the only folder I'm interested in - I can only copy over some of the files. Finder will give me several error -36 messages, and I have to restart from the last transfer.

3.) In an attempt to get around this Finder recovery method, I've run Disk Warrior on the drive, and it has rebuilt the directory, but it hasn't helped. I also have noticed that the drive does have a grinding noise whenever I access it, leading me to believe that it is a mechanical failure.

4.) I attempted to clone the drive using Carbon Copy Cloner, but after giving me several bad sector errors, the clone was canceled, even after I tried to clone again.

5.) I tried to access the data with Data Recovery 3, but all it does is give me slow access speed errors, and hangs when copying over the home folder.

6.) When I booted the Mac up with a Lion Recovery disc, when the drive was still inside the MacBook, Disk Utility reported that the SMART status was fine. I also tried repairing the drive with DU's First Aid options, but all it did was report that the drive was fine.

WHAT I'VE FOUND:
1.) The drive cannot be repaired by software or drive repair programs. I think the drive is suffering from a mechanical problem, rather than a directory or file structure error.

2.) All this leads me to believe that I will need to copy the files over manually with Finder, waiting for the slow response times, and re-running the transfer as the Finder encounters problem files and errors out.

Does anyone have any advice on a better way, besides tediously using the Finder, to recover the files, including those that are "bad" or "corrupted"? I am open to any command line or Linux-based utility, or even a Windows recovery option that can read HFS+ volumes, which might copy over all the files regardless of error, after which point I could go through them and delete the files that are gone for good.

I want to avoid writing to the drive as much as possible, as I'm worried that it could fail at any minute, and I don't want to do anything until I have a solid plan of attack.

Naturally, this also serves as a great opportunity for me to lecture my friend on the importance of Backup, Backup, Backup!
 
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You have been very meticulous, you could try the mv function from Terminal but it sounds like you'll be lucky to get anything.
 
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Thank you Kaveman, I'll try the mv command and see what I can do. While there's no way I can get everything off of the drive - I've already failed to retrieve the iPhoto library - I can at least salvage what I can before the whole drive goes belly up.
 
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(SOLVED!) Re: Need advice on recovering data from failing drive

Great news everybody! This hard drive tale of woe has a happy ending after all!

I thought I'd give ddrescue a try, as I'd read a lot of good things about it, and I was willing to try my hand at a command line based utility. Naturally I got the command backwards, so instead of copying over the bad drive to a spare drive, I copied a working drive to the bad drive. The result of this is that it overwrote the partition scheme and format of the drive, and I thought I was done for.

Fortunately, a couple of things happened. First, I didn't copy over the entire drive. I realized my mistake, and I interrupted ddrescue when it was only about 12% complete.

Second, I had run a scan on the bad drive with Data Rescue 3, before I had tried using ddrescue. Miraculously, when I reattached the now partially overwritten drive to my Mac, I opened DR3 and checked my saved scans. It still had the saved scan of the bad drive, including the original folder hierarchy and partition layout. As a result, I was able to recover the files from the drive using this saved search with DR3, and the files still worked (mostly).

Now it did take a long time to copy everything, because of course due to the damaged nature of the drive, some of the files literally took hours to pull off, with one directory taking over two days! But I had the Mac run nonstop, and I ordered DR3 to ignore any read delays it encountered while reading from the dying drive.

Naturally, it was a risky proposition, as all that reading could have killed the drive, and ignoring read errors can damage files further, but I didn't really have any other option at that point. Fortunately, nearly all of my friend's files were recovered, and the ones that were not were replaceable. Some of the files were naturally corrupted, but at least my friend now has a working list of what was damaged, so she can go about replacing the files with better copies. For example, part of her iPhoto library was toast. However, she still had most of the pictures on her camera's SD card, so she was able to check the photo's names against the pictures on the card, and copy over the ones that couldn't be opened from the bad drive.

It took probably almost a week to recover the drive, which had about 120GB of personal data on it, including pictures, documents, music, and more. I'm really pleased that DR3 was able to pull through in this situation, and the fact that it was able to recover most of the data from a drive that was not only damaged, but also partially overwritten with ddrescue, and recovered using an older, saved scan really says a lot about this app. It may not be the best option to recover data from a bad drive, but in my case - and fortunately for my friend - it really saved the day.

Thanks again for your help Kaveman, and I'm marking this thread as solved!
 

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