Dear Lifehacker, I dropped my external hard-drive which has all my photos from the past seven years and music collection on it. I took it to a professional but he said it would cost $2,500 to repair it. I'm a uni student so I don't have that kind of money.
Every time I try to plug the hard-drive, I hear it working and I see the light blinking but the external device icon just never seems to pop up on the desktop or anywhere else for that matter. After Googling, it seems like the only other viable solution is to put it in the freezer - which I have some qualms about, because if that screws it up then it's all gone (right?) Anything else I can try besides the freezer method? Thanks, Frozen Out
Dear Frozen Out,
We've offered a detailed guide to using the freezer method in the past. The key point to note is that this method works best on a drive with warped platters. That might be what's causing your drive not to be recognised, but it's impossible to say for sure. (By the way, I'm assuming that you have checked the drive on multiple machines. It's not unheard of for a drive to be unrecognised by one PC but to mount OK on another one.)
As you rightly identify, the risk with testing the freezer method is that if that isn't your problem, freezing the drive might make things worse. If you conclude that you're never going to be able to afford to get the drive professionally fixed, it might be worth the risk, since then you're contrasting "I will definitely never get this data back" with "I might not get this data back".
On the other hand, you might prefer to put the drive aside for a couple of years (in a cool, dry place) and try having it fixed in a few years when you're less cash-strapped. Magnetic media does degrade over time, so this also involves some risk, but not necessarily a huge amount. (I got data recovered from ancient floppy disks after leaving them in my garage for the best part of a decade.)
Professional data recovery isn't cheap, but $2,500 does sound pretty high — I'd also be shopping around before making the decision. I've had good experiences with OnTrack in the past. If readers can recommend other services that don't cost a mint, I'm sure that would be very welcome as well. Good luck!