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I found my assumed long lost “win98” toshiba protege laptop in our wet and moldy storage container. Was there for years, through cold-humid variances.

The files on his computer are extremely important/private, and I need some advice.

I’ve dried out the laptop and removed the hard drive. Although the machine itself appeared soaked and sporadically covered in mold, the drive itself appears to be in great physical shape with almost no corrosion.

I have not plugged it in, I have not opened it.

What is my best route to ensure I safely recover the data?

  1. Send to popular and trusted data recovery service? My data crucial, yes I understand the audit certifications that protect privacy, but I’m still weary, so this is a last resort.

  2. Buy IDE to usb connector and see if it boots? Scared to do this bc I may damage the disc. Do I need to remember my password for win98 if I go this route.

  3. Find an independent that has a air curtain/clean room that will do the work in my presence and use my offline machine? Is this an outlandish request?

Thanks in advance.

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    “Almost no corrosion” implies there’s some — where is it? If there’s any chance that the drive internals aren’t clean, then 2 is not an option. – Stephen Kitt Jun 1 at 18:30
  • Hi, thanks. The corrosion seems to be mainly limited to the metal mounting sheath that sits in the laptop, trace amounts around outside the edges, barley visible. On the board, there are a 2 or 3 small white discolored patches, no larger than a pencil eraser that would probably come right off if I tried. Where the drive sat in the laptop, there seems to be a good deal of corrosion in the cubby area. – Fred Derf Jun 1 at 19:01
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Buy IDE to usb connector and see if it boots?

Close, but not quite. Do not try to boot the drive. That will almost certainly not work. What you want to do is simply read the drive on a new computer.

The act of simply turning on the drive could cause problems. No guarantee. But my hunch is that it will either work OK (in which case, you copy the files as quickly as you can and then turn off the drive because even if it does work, there are problems that can happen the longer it is on, so this gives you the best chance of another try later) or it won't work much at all (e.g., not spin up, or spin up but be unreadable).

If it won't spin up then the only practical choice is a data recovery company.

If it spins up and your new computer recognizes the drive but has trouble reading files, then there is often some hope of recovering the files without sending the drive elsewhere, but that will depend on the specifics.

Unless you had full-drive encryption (very unlikely on a consumer Windows 98 machine), no passwords will be needed.

If you are able to do so, you may want to try first reading the drive on a Linux system (which could be "boot your new Windows computer using a USB with Linux on it") as that will minimize the stuff that operating systems, especially Windows, like to do when connecting to a drive.

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  • Hi, thank you! I have an old HP pavilion 700 donor, but the existing SATA cable connector on that pc does not have one of the pins blocked off, like the ide connector has, it seems to have a connector pin spot where mine has no pin, can I still use it? Is it safe to plug this hard drive in, in place of the existing old PCs hard drive? Power supply won’t cook it? Will the newer processor cause any issues? – Fred Derf Jun 1 at 18:55
  • IDE ~= PATA. SATA is something entirely different (and a much smaller connector). Some IDE drives and connectors can be incorrectly connected backwards/upside down, which is not a good idea. No real concerns as far as power supply - the machine will provide as little or as much power as needed. But I would feel far more comfortable connecting it with a IDE->USB external box. That way you can (among other things) copy files to the main drive right away and use a lot of other software tools on the drive. If you boot with the old drive, you're very limited. Plus it likely won't boot on a – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Jun 1 at 19:00
  • different model of machine anyway due to driver issues. I would try a gadget like this example from Amazon – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Jun 1 at 19:02
  • Would this one be ok, – Fred Derf Jun 1 at 19:06
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If you are mainly concerned about successfully recovering the data, then the safest route is to hand it over to a trustworthy data recovery professional. They will have more knowledge and tools at their disposal to be successful than you will. Alas, you say this is your "last resort"...

Option #2 is not unreasonable. USB-to-IDE adapters are inexpensive and work well on many modern computers when connecting old FAT32 format hard drives, which is what you seem to have.

Also, the data on your FAT32 drive is probably unencrypted. You won't need any passwords to read the entirety of the file system from a modern computer via USB.

If you try this, the first few seconds of powering the HD and listening to it (try to) spin up will tell a lot. If it doesn't spin up normally and quietly, then there is physical damage, and you may have just made it worse. But, you already knew that before you went down this path. On the other hand, maybe the HD is perfectly functional and you can now backup your files.

It is a risk vs. reward quandary, but you already knew this too.

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  • Thank you Brian, do you think any damage I could do while attempting to run it, could be salvaged by a forensic recovery lab? – Fred Derf Jun 1 at 18:47
  • My knowledge of forensic techniques is limited, but I think if you are willing to pay handsomely then there is a high likelihood they can recover the data from all the parts of the HD that were NOT physically damaged. Hitting them up for a price quote first may be helpful. – Brian H Jun 1 at 20:41
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    Bear in mind that a company that gives you a low quote might make its money by taking your minimum payment and declaring the recovery impossible, while a high quote might be from a company that actually recovers data. A local data recovery company (in the UK) charges a £100 non-refundable "analysis fee" for example. The actual cost of recovery is likely to be a lot higher than that, and you won't get a price quote at all unless you pay the £100 up front. – alephzero Jun 1 at 20:51
  • Hi, so I took the trip to micro center and picked up the ide connector. When I connect the drive, it spins and sounds ok most of the time. It sounds like it’s trying to read the disk periodically, but it’s not being recognized my computer. Nothing pops up. I tried a pc using the rear usb as the instructions noted, and I tried a Mac as well. Is there a software I can use that may help? – Fred Derf Jun 4 at 15:11

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