Despite offering world-class data recovery from our workshop here in Portsmouth, we understand that sometimes, the data just doesn’t justify the cost of getting it recovered. If you’re going to go it alone and attempt a DIY recovery, we’ve got some handy tips to avoid making things worse. It might be a good idea to print this page to use as a reference. Also feel free to comment at the end of the post if you’d like any questions answered.
Stop Using Your Hard Drive
If you want to recover data, you can’t do it from the disk you want to recover from. When you boot up a computer it writes data to the hard drive. Even browsing the web or checking e-mails writes little cache files to the disk, potentially overwriting the files you want to recover.
You ideally want to work from a different and reliable computer, have plenty of storage space for recovered files, and make sure everything is ready before you attach the faulty disk. You don’t always get a second chance with hard disks, so make sure you’re ready to grab the files if they appear.
Now You See Them
If you suddenly gain access to the files, copy them to another drive as soon as you can. The disk is unlikely to have repaired itself, so this might be the last chance to copy the data before if gives up completely. Take the most important files first. If the copy gets stuck, stop it straight away as the disk could be causing damage.
Watch The Clock
If you decide to try DIY recovery, keep a close eye on the time. If the estimated time keeps increasing it could be a sign of disk trouble. Failure to deal with that could cause the drive to fail completely, and beyond repair (even for us). As a guideline, it should take no longer than a few hours to copy a whole 1TB disk over USB 3.0. If your estimate says much more than that, or keeps going up in time, it could be the disk getting worse. Maybe try copying important files in small batches first.
Your priority with a failed drive is either to make a copy of the disk, or copy off the files as soon as possible. Don’t try to scan, repair or fix any errors. A failed repair can completely damage your files beyond recovery. This means don’t ever use spinrite, diskwarrior, techtool, or any other diagnostic tool until after you’ve extracted the data. Some people report success with these tools, but it’s far safer to copy the data first, and run those tools later.
Restore or Reinstall?
Don’t re-install or restore the computer. At best it will overwrite some of the data. At worst it will overwrite all of the data and leave you with a factory-fresh (blank) version of Windows. If you’ve already done this, we can often get data back, but it won’t be as complete as a normal recovery.
Brrrr It’s Cold in Here
Never ever put a hard drive in the freezer. Although this trick is a common part of data recovery folklore, it is likely to do so much more damage than good. We have never used any type of freezing process for data recovery, and neither should you. Leaving your hard disk unplugged for a day is likely to be just as successful, and won’t risk contaminating the delicate disks and heads. Hard disks are not air-sealed so even if you put them in a sealed bag, they already have moist air inside them which can freeze and then cause condensation.
Stop Hitting Yourself
If you saw how delicate the inside of a hard disk was, you’d never consider hitting, tapping or knocking it. Even if you did manage to dislodge some stuck heads, you’ll probably either rip them off, or take a chunk of the disk with it. There are careful ways to remove stuck heads, but they cannot be done at home.
Keep it Together
Never dismantle a hard drive. This is a case when the “no user serviceable parts” label really is true. Not only are disk internals extremely delicate, they have an air filter in the cover to stop particles getting inside the disk. If you remove the cover, all sorts of dust and lint can get in. Dust particles are bigger than the gap between heads & disks, so they can cause the heads to crash into the disks and scrape off the magnetic coating. Once the coating is gone, the data is gone.
If you decide to try DIY data recovery, good luck, and be careful. If you’d rather let us look at the disk instead, get in touch.