Putting a Computer Hard Drive in the Freezer Will Help Recover Lost Data?

Hmmmm. But why?

A few months ago I was visiting another computer-forensics specialist when I learned about the freezer trick. This fellow gets a few broken disk drives now and then, and, by putting the drives in a freezer overnight, he’s frequently able to recover data that would otherwise be “lost.” Well, when I got back to Harvard, where I work, I took a few of my “broken” drives down from the shelf and put them in the freezer overnight with a note: “These hard drives are being used for a research project; please don’t eat them.”

The next day I took two of the drives back to my desk and plugged them into my computer. How about that: two of the drives that had been “broken” were now giving me their data.

This is a big deal for me. For starters, it means that I can now get data off many of those “broken” drives I’ve been keeping on my shelf. But it also means that many of the drives being sold on eBay as broken can nevertheless be scavenged for data. This is particularly troublesome because it’s unlikely that the previous owners of the drives were able to properly clear them before they were sold.

(via Geekpress)


  1. Apparently, if the cause of the problem is physical then a good shrinking of all the components is often enough to loosen them. Makes sense I guess.

  2. We used to use this all the time at my old sys admin job.

    The dirt buildup in the bearings is too much for the motor to overcome and spin up. When you freeze the drive, it contracts the bearings and will let the motor get moving. Once you have the drive spun up, it can continue to spin and get data off of it. Once it spins down, however, it will not be able to spin up again unless frozen.

  3. Another regular user of this procedure. Plus I’ve used a heat gun/hair dryer to ‘warm’ a drive that wouldn’t work cold on a server. It would only work ‘hot’ so in order to save the data I heated it up rather than cooled it down. As noted by Jim, you have to act quickly since it’ll seize again once warm and if it seizes while in action it may cause more damage.

  4. A classmate of mine in college wrecked all these Vax drives by churning out party invitations… This was about two decades ago. Fuck, I’m old… He inadvertently made his little virus go into an indefinite loop. It was designed to spread out onto every computer on the system, and print out ten invitations on every printer attached — but well, he screwed it up… It was supposed to do this on every computer in the universities in Manchester, England. But it went to the US, and also, for some reason, Holland.

    I ran into the dude, wondering what he was doing with all those printouts… This poor Geordie sod was hoofing it around the campuses, trying to grab the printouts before anyone realized what he’d done.

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