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Sorry if this is not the right place to ask this - if anyone knows a better place kindly direct me.

My external hard drive is already failed: it spins up, my machine tries for 20-30 seconds to recognize it, then it clicks and the light goes out.

Past what period of time from initial failure would you guess that my chances of recovering my data (however good or slim to begin with) will drop significantly?

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closed as off topic by Skyhawk, Ward, Shane Madden, Iain, RobM Dec 11 '11 at 11:15

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Years. No further harm will be done to your data unless you do one of the following:

  1. Connect power to the hard drive.
  2. Subject it to shock or vibration, e.g. in transport.
  3. Expose the drive to harmful environmental conditions such as extreme heat, moisture, humidity, electromagnetic fields.
  4. Disclose the drive's location to a hungry Seinfeld.

If the drive is stored safely, your data will deteriorate no more rapidly on a malfunctioning drive's platters than it would on an intact drive stored in the same way.

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The second law of thermodynamics indicates that if you leave the drive sitting and do absolutely nothing with it, the signal on the platter will eventually degrade as the magnetic forces fade toward equilibrium. That process takes an unknown amount of time, but experience suggests that the longevity of the data tends to outlast its relevance.

That said, non-passive environmental factors such as heat and vibration can have a devastating effect on data recoverability, particularly in the drive's current state where something may already be physically wrong with the drive, the situation tends to deteriorate more quickly. And more importantly, the data will not become easier to recover on its own than it is right now.

If the data is important enough to warrant the cost, then I would recommend sending the drive to a center where they can work around broken components to recover the data.

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