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RapidSpar Data Recovery Instrument Review - Trickle Down Data Recovery

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: DeepSpar

RapidSpar Capabilities, RapidNebula, and Targeted Recovery

RapidSpar Capabilities

Being a hardware-based recovery device, the RapidSpar has complete control over the commands being sent to the drive being recovered, and it employs a real-time OS that is purpose built for these types of tasks.

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Screen shot of the DeepSpar Disk Imager imaging settings.

DeepSpar’s more expensive recovery devices allow for the manual adjustment of all sorts of parameters, such as read mode (PIO / DMA / UDMA), hardware and software read resets, read block size, etc. Special read commands can be issued to request data while disregarding the drives own internal error correction (ECC) data. The RapidSpar can do these same types of things, but the turning of the various knobs and switches is handled by the DeepSpar folks via their new RapidNebula service.

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DeepSpar maintains a database of various drive types and thanks to their experience, they know the best settings to use for each. With a source drive connected to the RapidSpar, and with an internet connected computer running RapidSpar Assistant, the source drive is analyzed and a metadata exchange takes place with RapidNebula. Optimal settings are downloaded and incorporated into the recovery project files saved on the RapidSpar, meaning the new settings will continue to help the RapidSpar deal with slow or bad sectors in the fastest way possible moving forward (even if the PC is no longer connected.

While ‘dumb’ front-to-back imaging is handy for recovery of disks that were part of a RAID, most disks in need of data recovery were primary drives with a file system in place, and that is where another strength of the RapidSpar comes into play:

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Targeted Recovery

RapidSpar, in coordination with RapidSpar Assistant (RSA) running on a host, can recover data in the most surgical manner possible. RSA is able to parse NTFS, HFS+, EXT 2/3/4, FAT32, exFAT, and XFS file systems. I tested using both MBR and UEFI partitioning schemes on drives up to 8TB in capacity. When employing Targeted Recovery, RSA requests only the minimum number of sectors required to recognize the partition location and type, and then to parse its file structure. Every successfully read sector is duplicated and subsequent reads come from the target image drive, meaning that the source drive only sees each unique read *once*. With the file system virtually mounted within RSA, the user can then search for / filter results based on what is the highest priority for that recovery. The RapidSpar can then be directed to image only those files or to save them to the host system directly (they are still imaged if the latter choice is made). This is extremely effective for failing drives that have limited time and/or read attempts left in them before a hard failure occurs. Files with bad blocks can be skipped so that they can be re-tried later with more aggressive recovery settings.

While RSA does its best to get all necessary file system metadata, it can and does work with partial results (bad sectors in the MFT, for example). In the worst cases where RSA can’t get a lock on the file system due to pre-existing errors or data corruption, the whole drive can be imaged and then other logical tools can be run on that resulting image to try and carve out any vital files or data. For those with less patience that would like to point their logical data recovery tools directly at a source image mounted via the RapidSpar, there is a Data Acquisition add-on feature that can be unlocked for an additional cost. We'll touch on that later.

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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!

October 6, 2017 | 08:38 AM - Posted by Mahesh (not verified)

We purchased Rapid spar tool in 2 months back. Presently I am using. I am in this field since 10 years. This tool is not worth to purchase for the price.My suggestion is not to purchase this tool. Reviews available in the site also fake.

March 12, 2019 | 09:19 PM - Posted by CSL PC (not verified)

It's very hard to find reliable reviews in the DR industry.

Thx for sharing

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