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Ask How-To Geek: Salvaging Data by Freezing Your HDD, Wallpaper Swapping, and Emailing Text Messages

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You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. This week we take a look at freezer-based data salvaging, swapping out your wallpaper, and how to email text messages.

Once a week we dip into our mailbag and help readers solve their problems, sharing the useful solutions with you I the process. Read on to see our fixes for this week’s reader dilemmas.

Giving Your Hard Drive the Freezer Treatment

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Dear How-To Geek,

I’m in trouble, big time. My PC (HP Pavilion Desktop) seemingly has a hardware failure; it’s old, so this is understandable, but the hardware that failed happens to be the hard drive. I can get to BOIS, and sometimes boot to Windows, (in safe mode)but Norton Anti-Virus shuts the computer down due to instability after only five minutes.

I was wondering if you guys had some magic solution to saving all the data on the failing hard drive. I have tried the hard drive in another XP Desktop computer but it failed to recognize it (I used it as the slave, which is usually occupied by another hard drive, so I know that the connection is fine) If it involves using other hardware, I have two other XP machines desktop computers, at least one spare hard drive, two Windows 7 netbook computers and access to a Vista desktop Computer if need be. Please help if you can, it would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Dying Drive in Denver

Dear Dying Drive,

Hard drive failure is right up there with PSU blowout as the worst of the hardware failures. If the drive has absolutely critical data that cannot be lost (because you need it for a legal case or because if you lose it the IRS will kill you with a screw driver) we’d recommend first considering a professional data recover service. Professional data recovery services aren’t cheap but can you put a price on not getting stabbed by a G-man with a screw driver?

If the data is important to you but not important enough to spend $$$$ to get it back, you might try a more DIY technique that many people have reported success with: deep freezing the drive. It’s unconventional, it’s a last ditch effort, and it might not even work, but under the right conditions it can keep a drive alive long enough to save your data. Check out this guide over at Lifehacker.com to read more.

Swapping Out and Automating Your Wallpaper2011-03-28_152331

Dear How-To Geek,

Please explain to the novices among us how we can take advantage of all the awesome wallpaper pictures you’re always sharing! I know it’s novice level stuff but I’ve never changed the wallpaper on my computer and don’t even know where to look!

Sincerely,

Still Got Stock Wallpaper in San Francisco

Dear Stock,

We’re not going to give you any grief about it; everybody starts learning somewhere and not everyone has been a computer hobbyist for a few decades. We’re going to assume you’re using some version of Windows, likely Windows XP or Windows 7. You can read how to change the wallpaper images for Windows 7 here and Windows XP here.

While you’re at it we’d recommend grabbing some tools to take advantage of having a big wallpaper collection like John’s Wallpaper Switcher featured in one of our previous guides. You’ll go from stock wallpaper to wallpaper switched on the hour in no time!

Send Text Messages via Email

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Dear How-To Geek,

Is there anyway to email a text message? I have an application that can send out an email alert. I want to be able to receive the alert anywhere I am. I order for that to happen it has to be sent to my phone as a text message. Is there anything I can to do bridge that gap between emailing and texting? For what it’s worth my cellphone provider is Sprint. Thanks!

Sincerely,

PC Phone Home

Dear PC,

The majority of US carriers provide an email-to-SMS gateway for text messages. This means that an email address like 12345678901@cellprovider.net sends the email as a text message to the phone number in the user name portion of the email address. In your case you’d want yournumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com in order to reach your phone. Readers with other providers will want to check out our full guide here for more examples.


Have a question you want to put before the How-To Geek staff? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and then keep an eye out for a solution in the Ask How-To Geek column.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/28/11

Comments (17)

  1. Enigma

    Last time I checked the freezer trick does not actually work and was a myth around support offices.

  2. Paul Monaghan

    g’day

    Is there a way to get XPS viewer files converted to Adobe? I do not have Adobe PRo etc.

    cheers

  3. Anonymous

    If he wants, one way to automate the email is to use Tropo.com and a Token URL where you encode the sms body in the url. it’s free of course

  4. Dethtoll

    As far as a hard drive failure goes, I would recommend Steve Gibson’s little program called SpinRite. It’s currently in it’s 6th iteration and works wonders. I’ve saved a few hard drives with it in my time. The only downside is the cost ($89) for a single user license, but IMHO, well worth it. It’s tiny (about a 200kb download), and then make a bootable device from within the program. If it is a hardware problem, I will say your chances of rescuing your data are 99.99%. Be warned though, the program will take a while (up to 6-7 hours) to run as it does low level work on the hard drive.

  5. Gavin

    the freezer trick only work for temporary only . i manage to copy my data and then fail again

  6. Bill Botzong

    SpinRite is absolutely, hands-down the best hard drive data recovery utility in existance IMO. Check them out at grc.com. Steve Gibson hand wrote this in assembler and just scan the testimonial page for what seemingly miracles this program has done.

  7. Slam

    Enigma you don’t know what you’re talking about. The freezer trick absolutely works. Not all the time but it does work and I have gotten data off of 2 or 3 drives that way. I think the actual myth is that you think you know something.

  8. Teckset

    The freezer trick can be useful as a “short term” answer to enable you to get your data off before it fails completely. Depending on what sort of drive failure you are experiencing, you may or may not want to try Steve Gibson’s Spinrite due to the high amount of stress it can put on a failing drive. It may, in fact, cause a semi-working drive to fail completely. There are times that particular program is useful, but it is not useful every single time. Food for thought.

  9. Marc

    Unfortunately freezing didn’t work for a drive I’m recovering from a relative. I believe it had a head crash as the drive makes a clicking sound when plugged in as either USB (it’s an external USB) or when I remove it from the case and try connecting drive as SATA. Is it worth giving SpinRite a try? I assume it would wreck the drive more since it sounds like the head crashed and is stuck on the platter.

  10. Johnno

    The freezer trick does work occasionally. I made the mistake of getting it to work, and now that 400 GB drive is lost in one of my systems somewhere as I lost track of it. Others havent been so succesfull. It makes you wonder what goes on at atomic level when they fail….

  11. Dave

    @Marc and others… I have the same problem with a 1TB external Hitachi crash…a friend at ‘puter store tried the freezer trick which I had not heard of until then and some software (not sure which ones) and was unable to do anything with my clicking HD…Is SpinRite worth a try or some other software/hardware combo? I would like to recover at least some of the full disc…but I’m not “financially equipped” to send it off to a Recovery place where the tally could reach thousands of dollars :(

  12. cisco-red

    Take the circuit board off and clean all the contacts on the underside. I used de-oxit and it worked. I thought i was going to have to send another 7200.11 back to seagate but i thought i would try this first and it worked. My contacts were extremely dirty, pay close attention to the contacts that actually connect the pcb to the hard drive itself it’s just a press connection when you screw the board back down. I’ll bet that’s what was wrong with the other 3 i sent back and losing all my data of course. Good luck.

  13. suzanne

    I have a new laptop computer and I would like to know how to put information from the old computer on the new computer using a memory stick. Please help me.

  14. Xeogin

    I just had to comment, the freezer “trick” only raises the chances of ruining the hard drive more! Any moisture that gets into the drive can freeze to the platters and when the head that’s less than a tenth of a hair length away from it runs by at over 5000 rpm, it’s not going to be like the Titanic & have any survivors when it hits that iceberg! The best, cheaper solutions are TestDisk & PhotoRec (FREE) & Spinrite (Like $60 or something). I’ve had a lowest non-corrupted data recovery rate of 89% and that drive was the nosiest, oldest SOB. You could try Recuva too if you can get the filesystem recovered with TestDisk then slave it, that’s free all-around.

  15. Ray

    First off, get rid of the Maxtor drive. they fail every time. Maxtor, Seagate fail at the drop of a hat. If you have your recovery cd’s, i would advise getting a Western Digital drive and start fresh. use the Maxtor as a slave and pull your stuff off. if it’s a no go, the drive is d.o.a. start over, and count your losses.

  16. Steve

    can anyone get the lifehacker page to load? I’ve tried several times since yesterday, and still no luck.

  17. Brian

    I have actually tried this and was able to recover data. The hard drive had failed for whatever reason and it had a rough draft of a book that my wife had been working on, along with some pictures and other documents. Her brother told me about this and I thought what the hell. The hard drive is junk what more could it hurt? It’s not like we had the money for a cleanroom recovery attempt. I about crapped myself when I was able to copy over select articles, including her rough draft. Now, it was VERY slow and I refroze it two more times to get the data I needed off it, but in this case it worked. I have never tried it since, then again she knows to back up her data now also. I brought tears to her eyes when I told her I saved the draft.

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