Recovering family photos from a fried hard drive

Story time. At some point in 2003 or 2004, my family received a digital camera as a gift. From that moment on, all our family memories were digital. We filled up around 4 gigs of low-res photos over the years, covering my family experiences up until around 2011. Baby photos, different places we lived, animals we had on a farm, etc., were all in this batch.

Well, this batch was stored in one place, on one drive, on one computer. Yeah. One day, evidently, the computer was nudged enough to short the power pins on the hard drive PCB, visibly scorching the board:

Ouch. The drive was removed and the machine was eventually replaced, but the drive was kept in the case that we could find time and money to attempt data recovery on it.

As I tried to come up with gift ideas for my mother, I remembered this issue, and wondered what it would take to pull the data off the drive. The board was completely dead, but the mechanics seemed unharmed. Challenge accepted.

I found the exact same drive on eBay, and seeing that luck, I decided to see if it would continue. $20 for a chance at cheap data recovery? Bargain.

The drives were nearly identical, with only two or three marking numbers different. Firmware and models numbers matched perfectly. Such luck. I swapped out the PCB in about 5 minutes. My desktop computer has no IDE ports, but I got another lucky break and found a PCI adapter lying around. I put that in my machine, hooked up the drive, and powered it up.

The drive was instantly loud, a probably good sign. I booted into Windows, signed in, and sure enough, the drive was fully responsive.

Now all the photos are redundantly backed up, as well as the original drive working. Merry Christmas to my family, and allow the embarrassing childhood photo sending to begin.

tl;dr: While PCB transplants are not normally this easy, I got extremely lucky and managed to recover a fried drive for $20 by simply replacing the board and plugging it in.