This phone is DEAD, but they saved the DATA!

by birtanpublished on October 2, 2020

(car engine rumbles) (glass shatters) – Accidents happen. And the team at DriveSavers deals with the fallout of a lot of accidents. So they sponsored this video to tour their sick facility in California to show the process of recovering the data from mobile devices, like iPhones. That have gone through everything from being dropped out of a moving car, to being thrashed by a gorilla at the zoo, to being literally destroyed in a plane crash. This tour is gonna be a little different though because I'm actually in my studio at home due to travel restrictions. But it'll still be really cool. (upbeat music)

Every phone recovery starts with educating the customer. – DriveSavers data recovery, my name is Dylan. How can I help you? – Now the average person might think that data recovery is similar to what the Apple store might do. But in reality it is very unusual for data recovery to be covered by any sort of manufacturer warranty. And the process is totally different. When you send a device in for repair, it's much more economical for a company like Apple to simply replace whatever is broken rather than spending long hours diagnosing and fixing board-level faults. Now this would be fine except that they see components like the main board as one piece. So if there's an issue with it or anything

That's attached to it, it's gone. That means no data. They operate this way because a manufacturer is only concerned with preventing devices from breaking. It's uneconomical to try to fix them once they do. Which is why the most straightforward data recovery operations are often, though not always, the ones where the issue is logical rather than physical and no hardware actually needs to be changed. And in order to make this process as smooth as possible, DriveSavers has actually developed their own in house tools to take out some of the guesswork. Something that they're now also using for T2 Mac recovery. So when a device arrives DriveSavers' first step is to give it a once over.

If it's boot looping, in recovery mode or it powers on but won't actually boot up, there's a good chance that they can connect it with a lightening cable and perform the recovery that way. Very convenient but also dangerous. One of the most important parts of this discovery process is checking the voltage and amperage of the device. Certain readings might point to a particular chip that's failed, which could result in a data loss if a logical recovery is attempted directly. It all comes down to experience. 0.8 amps or higher is typical but other readings can be a strong indicator that it's a physical issue and it's time to crack the casing open. At this stage it's best to start by looking

For simple problems like shorts on the motherboard. This can be done by freezing the logic board with a cold spray and looking for areas that thaw too quickly, indicating excess heat. Or thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it can also be done with a thermal camera. Using this method, even very small shorts can be identified. Although finding the source of the short can be an entirely separate issue. Some simple shorts are fixable. Failed resistors can be replaced and burnt traces can in some cases, be repaired. As long as the technician doesn't drink too much coffee ahead of time. I actually asked DriveSavers

What their most important tool is. And I was surprised to hear them say– – Really good tweezers. – While the particular model comes down to personal preference, everyone there agrees that it is absolutely essential that the ends line up really well. Otherwise you might be transferring a component to a board only to have it go flying out. And good luck holding onto something like a micro jumper if the ends don't match up absolutely perfectly. Those puppies are thinner than a human hair. And even the breeze from someone walking past can blow them away, never to be seen again. Other times the shorts are more complex or harder to get at. If there's liquid damage, you might remove the short

Only to find another one, then corrosion under the chips and so on and so forth. The worst is apparently milk. Now with any corrosion, you start with a toothbrush. If there's gunk under a chip, you remove that chip and replace it. If the board is completely corroded, you need to use an ultrasonic cleaner. Not necessarily a super strong one. You just wanna get off as much of the gunk as you can so that you can start to look for shorts. Sometimes they're so bad though that when you start with a soft toothbrush you will literally have components just crumbling off the board. And in cases like that, you might end up doing

A full chip swap. Where you are basically rebuilding the phone onto a donor device. DriveSavers tries to source individual parts whether new or used. But sometimes there's no other choice but to sacrifice a brand new device. I mean, look, hey. We told you data recovery ain't cheap, right? Unfortunately, yes it gets even worse. Aside from being a time consuming and risky operation on components that are ridiculously fragile. This chip swap method also has some major limitations. Unless they could break Apple's encryption, which DriveSavers wouldn't do even if they could,

Every component with Apple's security measures baked in needs to be restored to at least a basic level of functionality. The NAND Flash is what actually holds the data in an iPhone. So obviously we need that. Then there's the Logic Eeprom which holds the firmware of the device. That thing is super small about the size of a large grain of salt. And if it disappears, your data recovery effort is done. And then finally, there's the CPU. That's tied to the Eeprom and to the NAND Flash. So for any recovery effort to be successful it needs to be working or at least mostly working. A pretty famous internal story at DriveSavers

Is about an iPad that was pulled from a literal plane crash. The board was so destroyed that it's a miracle they didn't just turn it away in the first place. But after a full transplant, as they call it. They were actually able to get the device working enough that with clamps on the device, to apply a little bit of extra pressure on certain components and by emailing the data to themselves, rather than trying to transfer it over a cable. Which appeared to put too much strain on the CPU or something, they were able to recover the needed flight recorder data. One of their methods for these CPU transplants is rather ingenious. I asked them why a CNC machine is part of

Their essential toolkit. And it turns out that iPhone six and six S's have the RAM on top of the CPU with glue surrounding them. So if you use too much heat, the RAM can't breathe and it'll just pop or crack. So get this, depending on the device, they can sometimes use the CNC to go in through the back. Precisely cutting away the logic board leaving only the exact dimensions of the CPU behind. It's slower but it's a really clean way to do it and gives a higher success rate. Which is the most important thing. They often prep their donor boards in the exact same way, using their CNC from the top side to remove the CPU and RAM and expose the pads.

Then it's a matter of aligning the solder pads from the old chip onto the new donor board. That is a tough thing to get just right. I actually tried that once with a Mac book chip set in New York and well, let's just say it's still dead. (Linus laughs) Fortunately DriveSavers is better at this stuff than I am. And this kind of careful methodology has resulted in successful full transplants on even devices that have been driven over multiple times on the highway. There's one that was dropped down a multistory garbage shoot that they pulled off. And yes, what I said before was true. They actually managed to repair one where a gorilla, like a real actual gorilla, got its hands on the device

When it was dropped into a zoo enclosure. Ironically though, after all of this DriveSavers' biggest message in this sponsored video is– – Backup your data so we never have to recover it. – Whether it's on iCloud, a network storage device or a USB hard drive, a second physically isolated copy of your important documents and media is the best insurance policy in the case of an unexpected disaster. Now common failures do come from user error like folks who think their device might be more waterproof than it is. You know, "Hey, maybe if I just dip the camera corner "into the water." DriveSavers has seen plenty of final videos like that. But also don't trick yourself into thinking,

"Well, I'm super careful it couldn't happen to me." Bad luck can happen to anyone. And they've seen everything! From phones that managed to slip through the crack in an elevator and fall all the way down the shaft. To ones that fell out of a pocket and got stuck in the motorized reclining mechanism of a couch. That's one that could easily happen to me. My phone comes out of my pocket all the time. Their second message is to make sure that if you didn't pay attention to message one you're paying extra close attention to message two. Which is to only send your device to a trusted shop. They've seen unrecoverable cases where if it wasn't for the ineptitude of a previous technician,

It would have been fine. A classic example of this is iPhone six screen replacements. They had a case where a shop put a poor quality home button on a six S, plugged it in and shorted a resistor that on one side, went to the home button and on the other side, went to the CPU. They did manage to dig out that trace and replace it. But even though it was such a simple error that story unfortunately ended in heartbreak. DriveSavers' process is to use the device as intended so a dead CPU, that's a no go. There's no substitute for expertise and that's kinda hard to get unless you're dealing with a lot of devices. An example of this one was a weird update in the fall of 2019, where particularly the seven plus

Would get stuck on the Apple logo. Which on the surface smells like a logical problem. But then after seeing a bunch of them DriveSavers figured out that there was a physical fix by shorting the speaker IC that would somehow bypass whatever that logical problem was. So then if they grabbed all the data, unshorted a particular resistor then performed a factory reset and restored the data back onto the phone, it was golden. Logical problem, weird physical workaround. So bottom line, back up your data. And if you didn't, give DriveSavers a call. They're well worth the money and after being the first to recover data from one, they have over a decade

Of experience recovering iPhones. They don't even charge you unless they actually recover your data. The consult and even the shipping to them is free. If you guys enjoyed this video, you might also enjoy a look at DriveSavers' hard drive data recovery process. It's very, very different and equally fascinating. We're gonna have that linked below. And we did that video a long time ago. So I was actually able to physically be there. (Linus laughs)

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