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Hard Drive Recovery

Updated on January 29, 2016

Of all of the parts in your computer, the hard drive is the only one that is guaranteed to fail. Hard drives are made up of a number of platters that spin at between 5,400 and 15,000 rotations per minute. These platters are spun by a small motor and the data is read off of the platters and written on to the platters with these tiny read/write heads. If the motor starts to fail, the heads impact the platters, or any of the other components fail on the drive, your computer is pretty much dead in the water. After living through a catastrophic drive failure, you need to learn everything that you can about hard drive recovery.

Hard drive recovery just requires the knowledge of a few special tools!

How do you know if your drive is about to fail? Well, there are a couple of tell-tale signs. Noise is a big one; any clicking or grinding noises coming from your drive are always a bad sign. Heat is another indicator. Touch the top of your drive while it is running. They should be warm, but not hot to the touch. Finally, and the most obvious indicator is when your machine takes too long to start, fails at startup or begins showing errors when you run Check Disk. Check Disk is found on Windows-based PCs under My Computer, Right-Click on the hard drive, select Properties, Tools, and then select Error Checking. Select both check boxes and allow Windows to schedule the Check Disk after the next restart. Let it run and pay attention to how many errors it encounters. Check Disk is the best hard drive recovery tools ever built!

If your computer is not booting up properly, boot to your original Windows disk. Select the Repair option to get a command prompt. You will be asked to enter the Administrator account’s password. If there isn’t one, just hit the Enter key. Once you have logged into your Windows installation and have a cursor, type in chkdsk /r and hit the Enter key. This will run Check Disk with all repair options immediately. Check Disk can actually restore damaged system files and can teach your drive to ignore bad sectors. I have used Check Disk to recover hard drives with catastrophic operating system failures many times that have then gone on to operated for years after the initial problem. The trick is to run Check Disk multiple times. If you run it once and find errors, run it until you get no more errors. If you keep getting errors after a few passes with Check Disk, the drive is failing fast and you need to recover the data as quickly as possible. If Check Disk stops before it finishes and does not give you an unexpected error message, run it again. Check Disk can actually run out of memory and will pick up where it left off if you run it a second or third time. If you do not have your original Windows disk, there are many other bootable CDs and DVDs that you can make to run Check Disk. Ultimate Boot Disk for Windows (trust me, Google it) it is a wonderful tool!

Another must have utility for hard drive recovery is the Get Data Back suite by Runtime Software. Get Data Back can recover files from drives that have suffered catastrophic damage and can even restore files after a drive has been mistakenly reformatted or had Windows reinstalled on it. The full software suite also contains RAID Reconstructor, which rebuilds files from damaged RAID arrays. These programs must be installed on a different drive than the one that you are trying to restore. I have an old AMD box that I use solely for the purpose of testing drives and components. It was destined for the trash, so if I blow it up, no real loss. Every IT guy or wannabe IT guy needs a sacrificial test bench like this! Just make sure that it has both SATA and IDE ports on it and get yourself an IDE to 2.5 inch laptop IDE converter. You can pick them up for around $20 on-line. Now, you can test and recover the most common drives for home users and become the hero of your neighborhood! Just understand that using Get Data Back and RAID Reconstructor takes a lot of time. Because they are rebuilding data from the bit level, it can take a few days to recover an entire drive.

If your test bench’s motherboard cannot detect the drive that you are hoping to recover, than Check Disk and Get Data Back will be of no use to you. At this point, the only choice is surface-level data recovery. This requires you to ship the drive to a facility that has the ability to disassemble the drive, read the platters and rebuild the data onto a new drive. This service generally costs over $1,000, but has a very high success rate due to the nature of how they are recovering your data. Even if your read/write heads or controller board are dead, surface-level recovery will have no trouble rebuilding your data. Search the web for the highest rated data recovery companies. I have used two different ones in the past and was happy with the results of both, but not the price.


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