October 19

The Burning Question of Recovery on TV

We always love to see data recovery in TV and movies. Real problems, techno-babble, and magical solutions. One of our favorite shows is AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, chronicling the rise of early 80’s IBM-compatible development right up to the information superhighway of the 1990’s.

We’ve covered this show before; back in the first season one of the main characters has to call in his wife Donna (a better engineer than himself) to help with a burned hard drive, and she saves the data, and the day.

In the series finale episode we see Donna again tackling data recovery, this time for her desperate and distraught daughter.

halt-and-catch-fire-s04e09-data-recovery-001 - donna head to PC, platters not spinning

Listening for the infamous “Click of Death” — in those days almost always signaling head-failure. Made famous by IBM’s DeskStar line of drives.

halt-and-catch-fire-s04e09-data-recovery-002 - Haley freaking out at data loss

What it’s like to experience data loss.

halt-and-catch-fire-s04e09-data-recovery-003 - opening hard drive revealing platters

While the daughter does have a tidy bedroom, we strongly suggest not opening a drive at home. Please send in to us for proper clean-room service.

No clicking sound was heard and they mentioned the platters weren’t spinning. When the drive was opened, we can clearly see the heads stuck in the middle of the platter indicating a common problem from the era, a head stiction issue. The heads do need to be freed but this would be done by spinning the platter to rotate the heads off, not just pulling them. Drives back then were very resilient and obviously could be made to work again.

halt-and-catch-fire-s04e09-data-recovery-005 - Cameron, head down, struggling to recover/trying things

So the drive is spinning now, and we’ve moved to the final step of recovery: logical work. Here we would be attempting to rebuild filesystems, scanning for files or fragments, and extracting any locateable data. Cameron is doing something with a hex editor.

Really, they didn’t do too badly as TV shows go. There were some great examples of the stress of data loss, both in a corporate/engineering environment, and the small disasters of home. There were some great displays of old computer tech, and some of the compromises that went into design back then, and still happen today.

As far as data recovery goes, there was only a little “TV Magic” shown. Please don’t try to open your hard drives at home. Please don’t try replacing any parts. If the data is important please entrust it to a professional.

Category: data recovery

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