How to copy data off an old IDE disk

Chris Devers cdevers at
Sun Mar 30 14:58:02 BST 2008

On Sun, 30 Mar 2008, Andy Wardley wrote:

> I bought an IDE enclosure but failed to persuade either my Mac or Ubuntu
> box to mount the disk.
> I'm assuming that a Mac should have no trouble mounting a FAT32 disk, but it
> complained: "The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer" and the
> syslog sayeth: disk2: I/O error.

That's how the Mac responds to a failing drive. 

You can scrounge for data several ways, including `ddrescue` and some 
useful `rsync` flags. I've attempted this (many times) in the past with 
something along the lines of:

  while true; do 
    rsync --ignore-errors --partial --recursive /Volumes/BadDrive ~/foo/
    sleep 10

And just let that loop for a while (hours, days, etc), the idea being 
that it should be making incremental progress on each run, the ignore 
errors flag should force it to go as long as possible before konking 
out, and the partial flag should prevent you from losing progress when 
it does konk out and start over again. 

If it's too far gone for the system to mount, you might get somewhere 
with ddrescue (, or 
you can buy a copy of Disk Warrior (primarily for filesystem repoairs, 
with some recovery options) or Data Rescue II (just for repairs, but 
more tenacious than DW). 

The folklore approach of sticking the drive in a freezer for a few hours 
does actually seem to stabilize flaky drives enough to get more of the 
data off, at least sometimes. I've shrink-wrapped the drive to do this, 
but if you don't have access to that, a ziplock bag or other airtight 
equivalent ought to work as well. I've sometimes found that after 
freezing a drive overnight, I can get maybe 30 minutes of stability to 
get what I can before it locks up again; sometimes a couple rounds of 
freeze & recover can get a bigger chunk of the data. 

Let me know if you need more ideas or details...

Chris Devers
has had to recover lots of data from lots of dead drives

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