A damaged hard disk drive is one of the most unpleasant types of hardware failure. No, I don’t mean that a burned processor or a damaged memory block are more enjoyable. Not at all – they are also disasters and in terms of money generally it is more expensive to replace a processor than to replace a hard drive but damaged hard drives have one very irritating property – you lose not only your hardware but also all or some of your data. Data is priceless and if you don’t have a backup copy of it, then you are lost.
However, not all hard drive damages are that bad. There are cases when the hard drive is damaged but the data on it is alive. So, if your hard drive crashes, don’t panic but hope for the best – i.e. the drive might have become an obsolete piece of machinery but at least your data is not buried inside. There are different strategies for evacuating data from a damaged hard drive and which one you can use depends on the sort of damage, as we’ll see next.
What Is a Damaged Hard Drive
A damaged hard drive come come in many flavors. In addition to that, there are many cases when the drive is not damaged but due to some reason the data can’t be accessed. For a non-specialist all these cases might look the same – I can’t access my files, so my hard drive must have gone off, while in reality the hard drive is perfectly OK but your data is unaccessible because of some prosaic reason.
Without getting into technical details, the shortest (and hardly most precise) explanation of a completely damaged hard drive is that this hard drive can’t be accessed with any means even by a qualified PC technician. So, unless you are a PC technician yourself, you can’t determine on your own if the hard drive is totally dead or not. However, since there are many cases when a drive is still alive but it can’t be accessed due to a variety of reasons (most frequently software issues) you can try some of the approaches in the next section and see if they work. Even if they don’t work, they will do no harm, but this does not mean you shouldn’t be cautious when applying them.
What You Can Do on Your Own
One of the cases when the hard drive is not physically damaged but is unaccessible due to software reasons is when the partition on which the data resides is inaccessible, or at least not from your operating system. In this case you can use an alternative operating system, for instance a Live CD with a Linux distribution and see if you will have more luck accessing the partition. This will work, if the partition table on your computer is not totally messed up. If you see that the data is still unaccessible, don’t attempt to mess up with the partition table because you can make things worse. Instead, hurry up and find a PC technician and pray that he or she will be able to recover your data for you.
Another case when the data might still be alive is when the drive has been formatted on a high level. If the drive has been formatted on a low level, the extraction techniques will not work because the data has been physically destroyed. There are many tools to unformat a formatted drive and you can have a look at the ones listed here: http://recovery-review.com/unformat-tools/. Most of the tools are paid ones but you can find free as well. Hiren’s Boot CD comes with a bundle of data recovery tools and I generally prefer to use them than any other tools.
Software problems are common but hardware problems – I.e. bad sectors or a damaged controller are also not an exception. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about them. If data is sucked by a bad sector, then in 99% of the cases it is gone for good. The 1% stands for the rare chance that you have made copies of exactly this file and the copy is not on a bad sector but this is really a lucky exception. You can take the hard drive to a service but it is unlikely that they will be able to do much.
Another technique you can try on your own without risk to make the damage more severe is to go to your HDD manufacturer’s site and see if they provide retrieval tools. Usually hard drive manufacturers provide diagnostic tools but if you are lucky, chances are that you will find a data retrieval tool as well. Very often the diagnostic tools themselves not only check for problems but they also can fix some issues, so they could help you save your data as well.
The above mentioned techniques to extract data from a damaged hard drive are only a small fraction of what can be done. However, many of the other techniques are more complicated and they do require some knowledge about a hard drive’s architecture, so I wouldn’t recommend you to apply them because you can make a lot of damage. Some of the techniques that require opening the computer case or messing with the parts of the disk itself are too dangerous to try at home. No, you will hardly destroy your home but you can surely further damage the hard drive, making it impossible even for a technician to help you. Additionally, you can void the warranty for the computer system, which is hardly what you want to achieve.
Take the Hard Drive to a PC Technician
If you have tried to rescue the data from your hard drive on your own to no avail, you have no choice but to take it to a service. A PC service has more equipment than the standard user and there is a chance they will be able to help you but still, don’t expect miracles. In some cases data extraction services could be free of charge, especially if you have bought the hard drive from them and the warranty has not expired yet but in other cases you will have to pay.
As you probably guess, fees vary. As a rule, the cost depends on the volume of data that needs to be extracted but generally it does not cost a fortune – you might be able find somebody to do it for around $ 200. Still, if your drive has serious physical damages, even if you go to a more expensive data rescue lab, there is no guarantee that your data can and will be restored.
Skilled PC technicians have more tools and techniques and their disposal. If you are interested in contacting a reputable company, try the service listed below. If you would like to learn more about hard drive data recovery techniques, here are two good articles: www.wikihow.com/Recover-a-Dead-Hard-Disk and www.networktutorials.info/datarecovery.html. Some of the information in these articles might be useful to diagnose the problem, but don’t even think of applying the techniques on your own. It is really risky!