Free Data Recovery

Hard Drive Data Recovery

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.

Set Up

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. Data Recovery Time Remaining

Priorities

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.

Good Luck

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.

Flood and Water Damaged Hard Drives

Flood Damage Data Recovery

With the recent floods in the United Kingdom, it is important to know that time can be a critical factor when trying to recover data from mechanical hard drives that have been submerged or damaged by water. Most mechanical hard drives have breather holes that may allow water to enter the hard drive enclosure if submerged. If this is the case then the longer the hard drive is left in this condition the worse the internal damage. Even if the hard drive is left to dry out, internally the damage has already been done. Our advice is not to try this if the data is critical to you or your business.

Any water damage hard drives that we receive go straight into our clean room environment to be dismantled and dried out internally. The hard drives external electronics would also require a cleaning process to prevent any electrical shorting caused by the water residue.

Although Solid Sate Hard Drives ( SSD ) do not have any mechanical moving parts, they are still prone to damage to the data chips and electronics by residue left by the water. Very much as mechanical hard drives they would require dismantling and specialist cleaning to ensure no electrical shorting of components.

What To Do With A Dropped Hard Drive

If there is data on the drive that you cannot afford to lose, then do not try to fix the drive yourself. I would also suggest that you do not even try to power it back on after it has been dropped, as this is what usually causes the most damage. Whether your drive is an external desktop drive or a small portable one, they all work in the same way. Broadly speaking the inside of a hard drive is a bit like a record player with a mechanical moving needle reading the vinyl record. I can remember the times when playing old vinyl records, once you got scratches on them they never really worked the same again.

So I recommend not to panic, decide on what the value of the lost data is to you. Sometimes it may not be money value but a sentimental one. Once you have decided, then carry out some research online and look at data recovery company reviews. From our experience with dropped drives, the amount of work involved in overcoming the problem would not be covered by the low initial cost that some data recovery companies advertise and therefore the cost would soon escalate.

There is always hope of recovering data from a dropped drive but as you have read, it depends on your actions as to the eventual outcome.

What To Do When You Run Out Of Space

It’s a common problem that as we generate more data each year we start running out of space to put it. This is now even more of an issue in the smartphone market, where built-in cameras are generating increasingly large photos and videos, without providing much in the way of additional storage. The most common iPhones are still 16 & 32GB but the photos they now produce can be megabytes in size, with videos easily reaching 1GB.

What To Do When You Run Out Of Space
What To Do When You Run Out Of Space

It’s tempting to take that data and put it somewhere else, so either a laptop or external hard drive. Then once you’ve copied it all you delete it from the phone and gain back all that space. Problem solved.

Not So Fast…
If that copy on your laptop is now the only copy, then you could be one spilt coffee from disaster. If the laptop goes up in smoke, gets stolen, dropped or any of the myriad other ways of failing then it’s bye bye data.

The Fix

The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy. The key to making backups is redundancy.

You need to make extra copies of your data to different types of storage. This could be an external hard drive, NAS, USB Pen, SD card, anything. But don’t just pick one of those. Make a few backups. Put one in a locked safe somewhere. Send photos off to the cloud. Store a copy of your music at your nan’s house. If any of those copies gets lost or broken you can just replace it with another copy.

So let’s run through an example. All those photos on your iPhone have filled it up. Here’s what I would do:

  1. Copy the photos to my computer. Check them.
  2. Backup the computer as usual. (You’re already doing that, right?)
  3. Make another backup, or copy the photos to an online storage service like Dropbox.
  4. Now it is safe to delete the photos from the iPhone and revel in all that fresh space.

Note: Deleted photo recovery is virtually impossible for all modern iPhone versions due to encryption. 

Here’s another example for when your computer runs out of space instead:

  1. Is it possible to upgrade the internal storage? If it is then you should do that.
  2. If this is not possible, or too expensive then you will have to get creative. It will be more fiddly but copy all data to two external hard drives.
  3. You always want to avoid just leaving your data in one place. All electronic devices can (and will) fail, and they have a terrible habit of doing so at the worst possible moment.

So, just remember that no single copy of your files are safe. Making extra copies is cheaper and easier than waiting until something fails.

Thanks to Alexander Armstrong for inspiring this post.

iPhone Restore After Data Recovery

iPhone Data Recovery
iPhone Data Recovery

When we recover iPhones, although we can usually provide the data in a computer-readable format, it is often easier to just load the data back onto another iPhone. Fortunately, as long as you restore the data in the correct order, you should get your iPhone up and running with your restored data.

Preparation

Before you attach the iPhone you need to make sure iTunes is ready for it. You need to put the recovered iPhone backup into the correct place for iTunes to find. Quit iTunes first.
The iPhone backups go into:

On a Mac:

Users/username/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

Note: Since 10.7(Lion) this folder is hidden. Click here for more info.

On Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8:

 C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\

On Windows XP:

 C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Apple Computer\Mobile Sync\Backup

Now copy your iPhone backup folder from the recovered data to the backup folder on the computer. If you’ve ever made any iPhone backups they will be in this folder with long unreadable names of random numbers and letters. It doesn’t matter that you can’t read it, iTunes can. Don’t rename it!

So now your /MobileSync/Backup folder should look something like:

iPhone Backup Folder
iPhone Backup Folder

Remember that the string of numbers will not be the same.

Next you can launch iTunes and see if the iPhone backup is seen in the list. Within iTunes select Preferences and then the Devices tab (Image Below). If your backup file has been recognised then you should see the iPhone name in the list and the date of the backup. If not, go back and check that everything is in the right place.

iPhone Backup Preferences
iPhone Backup Preferences

Sign In

Next, it’s a good idea to sign in to the iTunes Store. If you’ve not used this computer with this iPhone before you may also need to authorise the computer to access your purchased apps and media. Once signed-in to the store you should choose the Store menu and select “Authorise This Computer…” Be aware that you can only authorise a set number of computers. (The limit can be reset if needed.)

Media

Now you can import the Music and apps into iTunes. Don’t worry if some of the apps don’t have icons yet.

Lets Go

Once all that is finished you are ready to connect the new iPhone. You will need to follow some on-screen prompts and settings, and then it will ask if you want to set it up as a new device, or restore it from a backup. This is where all that hard work pays off. Choose the backup, and let iTunes work its magic. It can take a while if you have lots to restore but when it’s finished your phone should boot into a familiar screen. Your Contacts, Messages, Calendars, Notes and lots of other data will be back in their respective apps.

If none of the other apps got transferred you can choose the Apps tab within iTunes and tick “Sync Apps.” You can then tick whichever apps you want to send to the iPhone.

Where Has My Library Folder Gone?

Starting with Mac OS X Lion (10.7) Apple decided to hide the Library folder within the User folder. It’s not gone, just hidden. Some crucial files like Mail accounts and iPhone backups get stored there, so there is a handy way to find the folder again.

To find the hidden library folder, go to Finder and click the Go menu at the top of the screen. You will see a list of folders. Now if you press the alt / option key on your keyboard you will see the hidden library folder appear. This is only a temporary way in, and you will have to press the key again next time. The folder remains hidden the rest of the time.

HTS5450 Second Generation

Now in a new 7mm slimline form factor, and Advanced Format specification, the HTS5450 hard drive is proving a popular choice for vendors with limited space. The drives are especially popular in Ultra thin laptops and slim portable external cases. Now being manufactured by Western Digital under the brand name of HGST, the 500GB boasts just a single media platter to store all that data. Part of the redesign also brings Advanced Format to these drives. Certain older operating systems such as Windows XP require the use of the HGST Align Tool provided by Western Digital. Users of the latest OS X systems and Windows 7+ do not require the use of this Tool.

Advanced Format has been introduced to cram more data on a single platter. To do this the manufacturer has increased the standard 512 byte sector size to a 4096 byte sector. This format design also incorporates better data integrity, hopefully giving the customer all round better performance and reliability.

If you’ve lost data from a HTS5450 drive, try our Hitachi Data Recovery Services to get your data back.

Remember, electronic devices can malfunction at any time, so make sure you always backup your precious data.

Format Your Drive For A Mac

Plenty of shops will sell you a “Mac Hard Drive” but there is no reason why you cannot use a windows format drive on a Mac. You just need to format it first. There was once a time when a drive was specially formatted by Apple to use on their Macs, but these days Apple use the same hard drives as everyone else. To use with the latest versions of OS X I would recommend following the steps below.

NOTE: Formatting your drive will destroy all the data. Make sure there’s nothing on there you need.

1. First attach the drive to your Mac. The Mac will notify you with a small finder window to initialise the drive. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Initialize Your Drive For A Mac

2. Once you have clicked initialize you will see the Disk Utility Application window. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Mac Disk Utility

3. You need to select the drive you want to format in the left hand window of the utility as highlighted in blue. Internal drives show as grey and external drives show as yellow. At this point make sure you choose the correct drive, the utility will not allow you to format the internal boot drive. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Drive selected

4. Now choose the Partition Tab. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Partition Tab

5. Now click on the Partition Layout drop down bar and choose the first option “1 Partition”. Also to the right under Partition Information give your drive a name and below that choose the partition type you want which will be Mac OS Extended ( journaled ). We are nearly there. You now need to click on the options tab in the bottom left of the utility window and choose GUID Partition Table and click okay. As you will read in the text information, this allows the drive to be used with all current OS X Macs. See Below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Options Tab

7. Now all you need to do is click the apply button as shown in red below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Apply

8. Another window will appear asking for confirmation to partition the drive. Click partition. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Partition Drive

9. A formatting window with a progress bar will now appear and then disappear when done. You will now see your named drive in the left window, which means that your drive is now formatted. Close the disk utility and the hard drive is ready to use. See below.

Format Your Drive For a Mac
Hard Drive Formatted

 

Where Does My Computer Store My Files ?

When you boot up your computer, you expect to see all your familiar files on the desktop, or maybe in the documents folder. What you may not realise is that those folders are actually a bit harder to find if you look at the disk externally. It depends what operating system you use so below is a general guide of locations for Mac & PC users.

Windows Operating System

All user data should be stored within the user profile folder, which is created when the PCs is first used. This is usually located in the following locations depending on the version of Windows:

Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000 & XP

Local Disk C:\Documents and Settings\User ( for example C:\Documents and Settings\John )

Windows 7+

C:\Users\User ( For example C:\Users\John )

In systems earlier than Windows 7, some software may be stored in the “Program Files” folder in the root of the drive. This was considered bad practice so in Windows 7 any Program Data should be found in the “Program Data” folder on the root of the drive and not in “Program Files.” Sage Accounts can often be found within the C:\Program Files\Sage\ folder.

Macintosh Operating System

All user data should be stored within the user folder, which is created when the Mac is first used. This is located in the following location:

Macintosh HD/Users/user ( for example Macintosh HD/Users/john )

Burning Linux ISO to USB Using a Mac

My main computer is an old MacBook Pro. I often download Linux ISOs to install on other computers. In recent Debian-esque releases this is actually really simple.

1. I find it quicker and easier to install from USB so first insert a USB pen / stick of some sort.

Note: This USB stick will be erased, so don’t use one with data that you need to keep!

2. Next we need to find out which number has been assigned to the USB stick. If you only have one disk in your Mac then the USB will usually be disk1, but always check first. (Note: Disks are numbered from zero, so your internal drive should be disk0) On your Mac open Disk Utility, which is located within Applications / Utilities. (See Image)

Disk Utility
Disk Utility

Select the USB stick from the lefthand window and then click the Info button which is on the toolbar. (See Image)

USB Info
USB Info

You will get a pop up window with loads of information about the device. We only need the Disk Identifier. Make a note of this for later.

Disk Identifier
Disk Identifier

3. To allow us to write data to the USB stick we need to unmount any volumes currently on there. (see image)

Unmount USB
Unmount USB

4. Now comes the actual writing. First locate the Terminal application, again within Applications / Utilities. (see image)

Mac Terminal
Mac Terminal

5. Remember to change the code to match your Disk Identifier from earlier. There are a few things to note about the following command.

  • sudo – allows you to run dangerous commands, so will require an administrator password
  • Instead of typing the location of the ISO file you can just drag the ISO onto the terminal when required.
  • “if” means input file (in this case the ISO file), “of” means output file (the USB stick)
  • When we found out the Disk Identifier, it was disk1. That will work in the command, but we use rdisk1 instead, which gives us raw access to the disk. This may not be necessary, but it works for me.

There is a lot of discussion about block sizes, but I find 4MB is reasonable for writing ISOs to USB. In Linux we often type bs=4M, however the Mac prefers it like bs=4096 instead. It’s the same thing, just expressed differently.

The command:

sudo dd if=[drag iso here] of=/dev/r[disk number] bs=4096; sync

Example:

sudo dd if=/Users/dan/Desktop/linux.iso of=/dev/rdisk1 bs=4096; sync

If you’ve got it right, you shouldn’t get any feedback until it finishes. Your USB stick may have a blinking LED whilst the data is being written. For reference the 200MB debian-netinst ISO took just over a minute to write.

Once complete you should get something like:

48896+0 records in
48896+0 records out
200278016 bytes transferred in 95.151719 secs (2104828 bytes/sec)

This means you’re finished. Now eject the USB and try to boot your PC with it. The Mac may complain that the disk is not readable but just ignore that and try it on a PC.

Debian Boot
Debian Boot