Of all the myths out there that ostensibly tell computer users how to recover their own data from a damaged hard drive, the most prevalent is probably the “freeze myth,” which purports that a hard drive can be restored by putting it into a freezer for several hours and then rebooting it.
This goes back to the early days of data recovery, and there’s a grain of truth in it; with earlier drives, you occasionally could recover data by drastically lowering the temperature of the hard drive. Here’s how it worked.
A hard drive has a spindle that spins the platters underneath the read/write heads, and occasionally the spindle on older drives would become misaligned and freeze up, failing to spin any longer. By lowering the core temperature of the drive, you were basically shrinking all of its components by a very small degree, which could sometimes realign everything (at least long enough to spin up one more time and copy off all of your data).
But as time has gone on, hard drives have been built to more and more specific standards, eventually getting to the point where incorrect spacing between the heads and the platters, even to a micro-inch, can make a drive unreadable. To these newer, more exact drives, the spacing difference provided by freezing a drive is massive, and usually ends up making the heads even more off-track. This can cause platter damage, data corruption, and other issues.
That’s not even mentioning what freezing a drive can do if it’s done improperly; many users just stick their hard drives in their freezers, which isn’t the best thing to do. Freezers have condensation, and electronics and water don’t exactly go well together. Rusting and electronic damage is common with botched home data recovery attempts.
All in all, it’s not safe or very smart to try the hard drive freezer method when performing data recovery at home–and, to take that a step further, it’s not all that wise to attempt data recovery at home in the first place. Call a professional data recovery company if your hard drive is exhibiting signs of failure, or use data recovery software–very carefully–if you’re absolutely positive that you’re dealing with a logical issue.
On the other hand, if you’re bored and you’re just looking to try to recover data for the fun of it, first of all I’d recommend springing for cable TV (it’s a lot more interesting), but using the freezer technique may work for drives older than 7 years old (specifically the drives that are under about 5 gigabytes of information or so).