Review Index:
Feedback

RapidSpar Data Recovery Instrument Review - Trickle Down Data Recovery

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: DeepSpar

Introduction, Packaging, and Internals

Introduction

Being a bit of a storage nut, I have run into my share of failed and/or corrupted hard drives over the years. I have therefore used many different data recovery tools to try to get that data back when needed. Thankfully, I now employ a backup strategy that should minimize the need for such a tool, but there will always be instances of fresh data on a drive that went down before a recent backup took place or a neighbor or friend that did not have a backup.

I’ve got a few data recovery pieces in the cooker, but this one will be focusing on ‘physical data recovery’ from drives with physically damaged or degraded sectors and/or heads. I’m not talking about so-called ‘logical data recovery’, where the drive is physically fine but has suffered some corruption that makes the data inaccessible by normal means (undelete programs also fall into this category). There are plenty of ‘hard drive recovery’ apps out there, and most if not all of them claim seemingly miraculous results on your physically failing hard drive. While there are absolutely success stories out there (most plastered all over testimonial pages at those respective sites), one must take those with an appropriate grain of salt. Someone who just got their data back with a <$100 program is going to be very vocal about it, while those who had their drive permanently fail during the process are likely to go cry quietly in a corner while saving up for a clean-room capable service to repair their drive and attempt to get their stuff back. I'll focus more on the exact issues with using software tools for hardware problems later in this article, but for now, surely there has to be some way to attempt these first few steps of data recovery without resorting to software tools that can potentially cause more damage?

View Full Size

Well now there is. Enter the RapidSpar, made by DeepSpar, who hope this little box can bridge the gap between dedicated data recovery operations and home users risking software-based hardware recoveries. DeepSpar is best known for making advanced tools used by big data recovery operations, so they know a thing or two about this stuff. I could go on and on here, but I’m going to save that for after the intro page. For now let’s get into what comes in the box.

Note: In this video, I read the MFT prior to performing RapidNebula Analysis. It's optimal to reverse those steps. More on that later in this article.

Read on for our full review of the RapidSpar!

Packaging / Contents

The RapidSpar is a tool, and as appropriate, comes in a proper tool case:

View Full Size

View Full Size

View Full Size

The base unit comes with everything on the left half of the picture. International power adapter set, USB 3.0 cable, a pair of short SATA+power cables, a serial cable (for troubleshooting specific older drives), and a pair of adapters for connecting 3.5” and 2.5” IDE HDDs.

For those wanting a swiss army knife of SATA device connectivity, an additional $300 gets you the adapter set on the right half of the photo. Those are: 1.8” IDE, ZIF, LIF, mSATA, Micro SATA, CF card, SD card, M.2, Macbook 12+6 pin, Macbook 17+7 pin. I tried pricing a few of these separately and rather quickly went over the price of this bundle, so the kit is a deal. Note that the RapidSpar is limited to ATA command set devices (meaning SATA/M.2 SATA or IDE/CF/SD). PCIe devices (M.2 PCI or HHHL PCI) are not supported by the RapidSpar.

View Full Size

If you’re creative with the adapter PCB stacking, the additional set does fit in a compartment beneath the RapidSpar’s spot in the center of the case, so even with all of the bells and whistles, everything still fits neatly in that single package.

Internals

You know I wasn't going to let this one slip by without cracking it open!

View Full Size

There's not a lot to dive into, as the device itself is a nice compact design. It's good to see a real SSD in there. The SSD is only to hold firmware and project files, but it does mount to the connected host, so files could be copied off to it in a pinch. I found it handy for storing updated copies of DeepSpar's recovery-related app installers, as well as a PDF copy of the RapidSpar user guide.


July 27, 2016 | 05:35 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I kind of wonder how this is different from a software solution if it's just interfacing with the drive through ATA commands. For all I know, it could just be running a standard PC OS with some software on top of it.

I could see the benefit of something like this out in the field where you might not have a proper PC with you, but since it's just ATA, I doubt there's anything this can do that software couldn't. If anything it's more of a hardware dongle to make it so you can't pirate their software. The one thing that one could maybe argue is that its SATA controller and drivers may be more consistent so you can maybe rule out any poor behavior there. If you're that worried, though, you're going to be using a service.

So overall, a useful tool to have if you're out a lot and you need something in your toolbox to allow you to recover hard drives, but I wouldn't treat it as something magically better.

July 27, 2016 | 05:43 PM - Posted by serpico (not verified)

I'm not familiar with hard drive interfacing, but this part of the article suggests that a software solution won't do what a hardware solution can do.
"Since mechanical devices tend to degrade further after the first few signs of trouble, realize that with many data recovery efforts, you may be operating on borrowed time (one such case here). Software-based imaging tools are unable to perform a critical function for speeding up the dealing with those bad or slow sectors, as they cannot issue the hardware-based Reset command. Only dedicated recovery hardware can do this, which means all software tools must rely on the drives’ own timeout to occur for every single read attempt, a process that can take longer than 20 seconds *per sector*. Multiply that out and some drives would take weeks or months to image. One of my previous software image attempts took a week to reach 1%, and that was only a 400GB drive! That same drive later failed completely. If I had access to a better tool at that time, I would have recovered far more of that drive before it failed, easing my recovery efforts."

July 27, 2016 | 06:13 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

(The anon OP here apparently didn't read the article).

That said, I have yet to see any software recovery app that can instruct the SATA controller to issue a hardware reset to the drive. In fact, SATA controllers will typically hang until they get a response from the drive, meaning that even if a piece of software was able to direct a reset if the drive was taking too long to respond, that command would be ignored until the controller hit an internal timeout or received a timeout-related (read error) reply from the failing drive.

If you've tried working with unreadable sectors you've likely seen this in action. All other drive activity halts and the system hardware drive access light remains lit solid. With some controllers, even activity to *other* drives on other SATA channels halts until the outstanding IO has been serviced in some way (successful read or read error reply received). This is mainly because PC hardware is simply not purpose built for data recovery. It just gives the drive as long as it needs to provide an answer to the request, since it assumes that it needs *all* data to be successfully read. In that respect, data recovery is the art of quickly working around the bad parts within a reasonable amount of time.

August 3, 2017 | 10:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous-blah (not verified)

The Rapidspar has a highly specialized and advanced ATA controller that has many features and abilities a standard ATA controller does not have. It can rewrite firmware on the drive, selectively turn off and on heads, reset the drive on the fly, and a host of other critical commands that are far beyond the ATA controller in a PC.

July 27, 2016 | 06:20 PM - Posted by Lance Ripplinger (not verified)

Fantastic article and review Allyn. Data recovery is a complex operation, and having the proper tools is critical. This tool you reviewed is amazing. I am partners with an data recovery firm for my consulting business, but this is an intriguing option for shops and medium to large IT departments within companies. I often wonder what drive recovery percentages involve actually needing a clean room environment, compared to this level you talk about here.

July 27, 2016 | 06:41 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Thanks. I don't know the percentages, but this sort of device certainly helps pull files or images from drives that wouldn't cooperate even with a standard write-blocking hardware imager. That has to increase your odds, perhaps by more than the larger data recovery places would be happy about, as it might steal away some of their easier work.

It's certainly not going to make the big operations disappear. Clean rooms aside, there are a lot of logical-only recoveries out there that need the 'big guns' brainpower and experience of the large recovery firms. There are plenty of ways to corrupt the contents of a mechanically sound drive in a way that makes recovering the files extremely tedious and time-consuming, and not all logical recovery software can handle all situations. As an example, I recently recovered an SD card with a corrupted partition table. It imaged just fine, but it could not be mounted and no logical recovery apps were able to lock onto the correct partition offset. The answer ended up being to quick format (!!!) the SD card and re-running a logical recovery on *that* image. All files were recovered, but it was knowledge of that particular trick that made the magic happen. Knowledge and experience typically trump the tools when things get squirrely.

I won't even get into RAID recoveries (saving that for the next article), but that takes an even higher level of experience and know-how. I've done such recoveries myself, and it was an extremely complex operation that required the coding of my own tools to automate some of the work.

July 28, 2016 | 07:43 PM - Posted by Lance Ripplinger (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. There is no substitute for experience. Also there is the business side, and many small IT service firms just won't have the capacity that a larger outfit does that does nothing but data recovery.

July 27, 2016 | 08:28 PM - Posted by Alan McConnaughey (not verified)

how does this differ from an $80 copy of spinrite? I don't see how this would work any different except for being more expensive and coming with adapters.

July 27, 2016 | 09:53 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano
  • SpinRite can't issue hardware resets to the drive, so it must rely on the drives own timeout, meaning recoveries take *much* longer.
  • SpinRite reads the whole drive front to back and is not file system aware, meaning no targeted recovery (again meaning longer recovery time).
  • SpinRite writes to the disk (never write to a failing disk with vital data!). Any data saved is stored on the very disk that may be failing. Also, writes to bad sectors / remapping potentially cause other firmware issues since the associated G-list updates are also writes, and heads already in bad shape can corrupt those other writes to that list, leading to other issues. G-lists can also be grown to the point where some drives read *everything* slowly (due to a bug generally in WD units).
  • SpinRite can't access drives that can't be seen by the host system during boot (I have three cases on my desk alone that fall into that category).
  • SpinRite can't repair corrupted firmware.
  • SpinRite DynaStat may possibly be writing back incorrect data to modern drives that do not correctly handle read-ignoring-ECC commands. I have a query in with Steve Gibson on this one. *EDIT* I've confirmed with Steve that SpinRite does some pre-run checks to only use DynaStat when it is safe to do so.
  • All of these points apply to all other software tools performing similar functionality.

All points brought up in this article. It may be helpful to read it prior to commenting.

Further, if an $80 item was the solution to all problems, data recovery would not be such a large business. I realize that it works for a lot of folks, but people should be aware that there are risks involved, especially if the drive is about to fail completely. A drive that I was repeatedly imaging (at high speed, with the RapidSpar), completely failed after about 20 hours of work. That very drive would not have made it through a single SpinRite level 4 pass and would have died long before any data could be recovered. With the RapidSpar, I had a complete copy of that 6TB drive (minus 1024 bytes) overnight.

August 7, 2016 | 07:36 AM - Posted by Pete665 (not verified)

I whould be happy if we could target a drive in SR! :)
For what it is, is a good tool.

August 7, 2016 | 07:37 AM - Posted by Pete665 (not verified)

its*

October 11, 2016 | 08:40 AM - Posted by Luke Coughey (not verified)

SpinRite is NOT a data recovery program. At no point does the program prompt to copy a single sector from the failing hard drive to a healthy drive. It doesn't even take the time, that I have ever been able to see, to test and confirm that each read/write head is actually properly reading and writing. I've seen thousands of drives that are falsely showing bad sectors because of weak PCBs, weak heads and even firmware issues which, when corrected, read 100%. If you don't fix those issues first and then try to remap the sectors, you are just going to make things worse, without a way to undo the changes.

If you insist running SpinRite on a drive, at least follow the advice given in the manual and make sure that all the data on the drive is first backed up.

July 28, 2016 | 08:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Starting the article I was expecting "it's just a little Linux PC in a box running dd with a write-blocker on one end", but pleasantly surprised to see this is a remarkably well thought-out device with actual advantages over a roll-your-own software solution.

July 28, 2016 | 11:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Dat price tho.

July 28, 2016 | 08:27 PM - Posted by Ken Pennington (not verified)

We purchased one of these in March of 2016. We've been able to recover many hard drives that no other process would touch. Yes, the price is steep, but we were able to recoup our investment in less than 60 days!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <blockquote><p><br>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.