Jonathon McKitrick wrote:
Hi all,

Help!  My laptop drive seems to be dying, and while I did keep backups, the
last one was a bit old.

When I boot up, the drive makes clanking sounds I've never heard before, and
never finishes the load.  I'm going to make a rescue disk, but does anyone
have a strategy for how I could handle the delicate job of getting my
updated data off the drive without making matters worse?  So far, I figure I
will boot the rescue disk and try to mount the filesystems.

This is based on experience rather than the extremely detailed knowledge of some other posters - like most people, I've had to get data off failing disks from time to time and so some strategies have emerged.

One moderately obvious thing - if you boot from a rescue disk, mount the damaged drive read only.

The filesystem will probably be marked unclean, and, unfortunately, running fsck can make the drive fail again before you have a chance to get any data off it. In an extreme case, dd might be your only option.

I've found that attempts to copy/tar/dump the whole filesystem in these cases often fail. It's certainly worth trying once, but if it fails you can copy/tar/dump parts of the disk individually, starting with the most important areas, and you've a fairly good chance of at least partial success.

I have a feeling that this helps because it avoids too high a level of continuous disk activity. If that's the case, I've started wondering whether using rsync with the --bwlimit argument is worth investigating as a method of limiting throughput. I haven't tried this, though.

You might find that there are areas of specific damage that have to be worked around and these can be identified by a process of elimination.

I also try not to let the drive go *cold* once these problems have started developing. A dying disk seems to be more likely to fail completely on power up than at any other time. This isn't meant to contradict the freezer idea suggested by another poster, which is widely recommended and definately worth trying. It means try not to keep rebooting once you start to recover the data, if you can manage it.

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