How to Recover Data on a Hard Drive


According to research conducted by Backblaze, less than 80% of hard drives survive four or more years. While 80 percent might sound like good odds to some, the flip side of this statistic is that 20%, or 1 out of every 5 hard drives, will malfunction before its fourth year of use.

This means that there is a very good chance your hard drive will eventually fail. If you frequently backup your data, either to an external hard drive or in the cloud, recovering your data is fairly easy. Just download your saved data to a new computer with a working hard drive.

Unfortunately, a lot of people forget to regularly backup their data, and face a real crisis when the hard drive crashes. The following are a few tips on how to recover your lost data on a hard drive.

Does Your Hard Drive Have a Recovery Feature?

Most hard drives are partitioned and come with an auto-recovery feature. This means that your computer automatically backs up your data to a special location on your hard drive.

If your hard drive is still working, and, as long as the recovery portion of your hard drive is not corrupted, or stored in a bad sector, you can use your computer’s recovery feature to complete a “non-destructive” recovery and reclaim your data.

Recovery Options

To “roll back” your computer, choose the non-destructive recovery option and choose a restore point to return your system to. Returning your system’s configuration to an earlier date when everything was working can help you recover any documents or pictures you may have accidentally deleted.

If this doesn’t work, you might want to choose a full recovery to restore your computer to its original factory settings. You will lose all of your saved files, but this may be a good choice if your computer is still booting up, but the operating system itself has become corrupted due to missing files or other software issues.

Use CHKDSK to Find and Fix Simple Hard Drive Errors

Windows based operating systems allow you to check the hard drive for bad sectors and other issues by scanning the drive at startup with the CHKDSK command. If any bad sectors or issues are located, Windows will attempt to repair these minor problems automatically.

Scanning the disk, periodically defragging it and running the disk cleanup tool will fix minor software problems and other issues with your hard drive. This will improve your hard drive’s performance.

Many times, however, recovering your data isn’t quite so simple. Whether or not you are able to recover your data will depend on the exact reason why your hard drive has failed.

Why Hard Drives Fail

Most hard drive failures fall into one of two groups: logical failures and mechanical ones involving components of the drive’s physical hardware.

Retrieving data due to software issues can sometimes be accomplished on your own. If, however, you’ve suffered a mechanical failure, it’s almost impossible to recover data from the drive without professional assistance.

Using a professional recovery company to retrieve your data is very expensive. It can range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Recovery efforts are often incomplete. Files might not be returned to you in the same format as the one you originally used to create and save them.

Recovering Data When Your Hard Drive Will Not Boot or Appears “Dead”

CHKDSK and recovery modes will only work if your hard drive is still functioning at least somewhat. If your hard drive is not running at all, or, if your hard drive is recognized by the BIOS system, but your computer cannot access it, you will need to do some additional troubleshooting.

Signs of a Logical Failure

If your hard drive spins up, but isn’t recognized by BIOS, a logical failure may have occurred. Other times the BIOS will “see” the hard drive, but isn’t able to access it. This is another logical failure and typically occurs when it cannot scan the partition due to corruption of essential data, like missing file tables, errors in the operating system or other issues with the files system.

Data Recovery When a Logical Failure Has Occurred

If you are certain that a logical failure has occurred, you can simply use one of the free, or low cost, software recovery programs to help you locate and recover the data. Seagate and Prosoft Data Rescue are two of the many software providers that offer data recovery options for hard drives running a Windows or Mac OS.

Regardless of which recovery software that you choose, just follow the provider’s instructions to install and use it. Keep in mind that if the attempt is successful, your data will not be organized and labeled in the same manner that it is now.

Data recovery is also a lengthy process. For hard drives that can hold up to 1 terabyte of data, the recovery process can take several days to complete.

If, however, your drive has not failed due to a logical error, a mechanical error has likely occurred.

Mechanical Failures

For all practical purposes, your hard drive is essentially “dead” to you if it has experienced a genuine mechanical failure. This is true even if your hard drive still makes a few sounds before shutting off.

To assist our readers in the troubleshooting process, we’ve provided a list of the most common symptoms of mechanical failures.

Is your Hard Drive Making Any Sounds or Clicks?

If your hard drive makes strange clicking sounds when you turn it on, or just prior to failing to boot, you’ve likely heard your hard drive’s “death rattle.” This sound is usually created by the disk head’s inability to correctly “track” the disk’s surface.

Turn the computer off immediately to protect the data from further damage. To be able to recover the data, the hard drive will need to be opened in a clean room environment to prevent dust and electrostatic discharge from further corrupting the data.

Once the chassis is opened, the disk’s magnetic heads can be replaced. If any damage has occurred to the disk’s platters, however, you might not be able to recover any, or all, of the data from the disk.

Does the Hard Drive Sound Like its Spinning Only to Quickly Shut Off?

This scenario usually indicates that the spindle motor is seizing, and drawing too much power, or, the controller board itself has gone bad. The only way to recover data with this type of failure is to open the drive in a clean room, and try to locate and repair the specific component that has gone bad.

Does the Hard Drive Sound Like its Grinding or Doesn’t Spin at Start Up?

In this instance, the sound is typically caused by the spindle motor bearings, or the spindle motor itself. The heads and disk platter will need to be removed to replace and lubricate the bearings. The drive will then need to be reassembled before an attempt can be made to recover the data.

The Best Solution for Data Recovery

Recovering your data after your hard drive has failed is costly, and time-consuming, even when it’s failed due to a logical error. Frequently backing up your data saves users a lot of hassle, but external hard drives can fail just as easily as the ones in your computer.

Loss can also occur if they fall victim to malware and theft. Backing up your data often, and storing it offsite in the cloud, is the best option to protect against data loss the need to use expensive professional recovery services.



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