This is an old post, preserved for reference.
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I've been working on a data recovery case for the last few days. A collection of family photos on a USB hard drive. The hard drive has presumably been knocked when spinning and has had a head crash. All it will do now is click as the heads go back and forth searching for track 0. I've tried a few of the usual tricks, but I can't get the drive to initialise at all. It is normally possible to recover most of the data from a drive if it will at least start up, but when there is significant physical damage and it won't do that, it's time for clean rooms and microscopes - a bit out of my range.
Luckily in this case, the hard drive had been used to copy the photos from an ailing laptop which had since been retired to the loft. I was able to extract the drive from the laptop and recover a lot of the pictures. They had been deleted, so some had been overwritten, but many had survived. The client also had copies of some of the pictures elsewhere, so not as bad as it could have been.
Just another reminder to backup really, we all rely far too much on tiny pieces of magnetised rust spinning at 7200 RPM!