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independent data recovery

Recovering unrecoverable data - the need for drive-independent data recovery

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Reading some data recovery websites can lead one to believe that they have "Magic Machines" that routinely recover data from failed drives. I saw no evidence or independent verification that such devices exist for commercially viable data recovery. If they do have a magic machine it may have been created for a high-value job in the past, and probably only worked marginally. However, there are very special machines used by drive manufacturers for the design and analysis of drive components. It is often suggested that these precision instruments, spin-stand testers and magnetic force microscopes (MFMs), can be used for data recovery.

Although such exotic methods of data recovery are theoretically possible, and have even been discussed in the peer-reviewed literature, I have found no evidence of commercially viable recoveries being performed with them. Furthermore, I have seen no public demonstrations of any of these methods that show the recovery of files or even user data only images or raw encoded data.

Recovering currently unrecoverable data requires the development of drive-independent data recovery techniques. These techniques must return user data, cost-effectively, from most drive models. In a public demonstration on the exhibit floor of the 2004 IEEE NASA Mass Storage Systems and Technologies Conference (Adelphi, Maryland), ActionFront Data Recovery Labs, Inc. demonstrated the successful drive-independent recovery of user data with their prototype system employing SignalTrace technology. ChannelScience assisted with some portions of the development of SignalTraceâ„¢ technology.

ActionFront and ChannelScience worked together to overcome many long-standing challenges in order to achieve this milestone in data recovery history. An especially important advancement is the cryptographic procedures employed by the research staff at ActionFront to descramble, RLL decode, and ECC correct the raw detected data. This was reverse engineered, based on first-principles analysis of a good drive of the same model. These highly specialized techniques as well as the determination of many channel parameters, servo layout and data layout must be applied to each new drive model before recovery can be attempted. This is because the needed information for drive-independent data recovery is not readily available from the drive and channel companies.

Drives continue to evolve, getting more sophisticated, adaptive, and hyper-tuned. For data recovery of hardware-failed drives to continue to be successful, drive-independent data recovery techniques, such as SignalTraceâ„¢ technology, must be made commercially viable. Furthermore, they must work for most popular drive models and they must continue to accommodate the relevant new innovations in HDDs. An important additional benefit of drive-independent data recovery is that it can be compatible with exotic data acquisition techniques for retrieving readback signals from intentionally damaged disks. This can be a significant tool for law enforcement and counter-terrorism professionals.


The majority of drives that are sent to data recovery companies for hardware failure are a few years old. While some of them still respond well to traditional part-replacement, there are some that are almost never recoverable. These may have been hyper-tuned in the factory so that high data density can be achieved together with high manufacturing yields, and/or they may have corrupted system-areas on the disk where drive parameters tables are stored. Such drives require a very precise matching of the characteristics of the head, disk surface, and the system parameters that is not possible with traditional part-replacement. As data density continues its rapid increase, it is expected that fewer hardware-failed drives will be recoverable with traditional part-replacement.

Drive-independent data recovery methods need to be developed that re-optimize the replaced head, disk location, electronics, and/or firmware and parameters table for the media from the failed drive. This requires recreating much of the drive's optimization routines as well as mimicking the drive's own methods of seeking to a disk location and track-following. This can vary from drive-to-drive even within the same model of drive. Creating a cost-effective, reliable data recovery method that works across many drives now and in the future requires constant R&D at the edge of the state-of-the-art in disk drives.

Therefore, it is likely that the capability to recover data from almost all of the latest drives will only be available from the best of the best -- the data recovery companies that other data recovery companies turn to for their most challenging tasks. Drive manufacturers could help data recovery efforts by providing features such as special commands to load and run optimization routines that allow part replacement to work better. However this is unlikely given the effort that drive companies must devote to increasing areal density, manufacturing yields, and reliability.

Taken from:


ActionFront Data Recovery Labs Inc. is a privately held corporation founded in 1989 by Nicholas Majors and incorporated in December 1990.

ActionFront operates full service recovery labs with professional clean-room facilities in five US and one Canadian location. Since 1996 they have also maintained a receiving depot in Buffalo New York to facilitate the trans-shipment of jobs between our various labs. ADC - Advanced Design Corporation of Tokyo Japan represents their Asian market and they service European clients through an association with IBAS Data Recovery of Norway.


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