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Ever have a hard drive that refused to spin up? A drive that has critical files with no duplicates anywhere? Shame on you for not having a backup. But seriously, there may be a way to retrieve those files if it’s just a matter of “sticktion.”

Drives can die for a couple of reasons. If it’s a controller module gone bad, putting it in a new enclosure should bring it back to life. If the drive mechanism is frozen, actually freezing it in your freezer may cure it at least long enough to retrieve those files. It’s simple physics. Extreme cold causes the components to contract sometimes causing the parts to unstick. It can work. I’ve done it on more than one occasion over the last couple of decades.

Last week, my ever faithful 10 year old iPod mini decided to die. Now, the battery gave up the ghost a few years back, but I’ve kept it docked in my bedside clock-radio where it has continued to serenade me to sleep. I was prepared to give it a decent burial, but started to think about the 4 GB drive inside that case. I remember reading once that the drive was identical to a small Firewire external drive that was available at the time. I’ve been told that it’s actually a hybrid drive, but I’m guessing that the hybrid part has to do with the controller.

With nothing to lose, I wrapped it in a plastic freezer bag and popped it into my freezer for a couple of hours. After allowing it to warm up some, I connected it to my iMac and… nothing. I thought that it might still be too cold, so I left it connected. An hour or so later, I realized that I could see a ghost of the battery charging icon on the screen. A few minutes after that I could see a ghost of the Apple logo, as if it was starting up. Hmmm. I gave it another half hour, and it briefly showed as connected to iTunes, but quickly disconnected. I gave it a few more minutes, then did a forced restart by holding the Menu and Center buttons for a few seconds. It worked.

I’m happy to report that my aging iPod mini is back in its dock and performing like the champ that it is. If this was a drive being used for backup, I wouldn’t trust it. I would replace it without looking back. Since it serenades me, it will keep going until it dies again. At that point, I’ll gently pack it away (or take it apart to see what made it tick), but until then I’ll just keep enjoying it. It’s not that I don’t have other iPods. (Don’t ask how many!) This was a challenge.

So, the next time you have a drive freeze up on you, try the freezer trick. It might work, at least long enough to retrieve valuable files.

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