How to recover data from a damaged Hard Drive.

It has happened to all of us at one point or another. You turn your computer on just to find out a message that your system does not detect the Hard Disk Drive, you received all blue screen of death, or you can’t access a data drive\partition on your computer.

Whatever the message is, as soon as you realize your system can’t access the drive a cold jitter runs through your spine and the first thing that comes to mind is “do I have a backup?”. We will not be taking about backups but rather some steps you can take to recover data from a drive that experiences some type of failures. I will show what you can do to access the drive and potentially copy the data from it before the damage worsens. It has been my experience that with most simple so called “drive failure” situations I’ve been able to recover data from the drive following simple steps, in occasions when the drive is physically damaged the only hope is to send the drive to a Data Recovery Facility. They have special labs and equipment they use to access the drives in a way the average user can’t.

Let’s take a quick look at how Magnetic Media, in this case HDD work.

Regular magnetic Hard Disk Drives, meaning not SSD, use various components to store and retrieve data. Among the main components we can mention the disk platters, the magnetic heads, and the moving arm. Data is recorded or saved onto the disk by magnetizing a film made of ferromagnetic material to convert that are into a binary value, either a 1 or 0, that binary code represents data and it’s stored on the disk unless that specific area of the disk is re-written.

With that very basic overview in mind it may be easier to grasp the concept of HDD damage. Sections of the drive can be damaged and become inaccessible for various reasons: improper shutdowns, sudden moves to the drive while it’s operating, regular “wear and tear”, etc. Even the entire HDD can be “damaged” for those same reason making the problem even worst. So let’s go over a couple of example of inaccessible media and what to do to recover the data.

1. You get one of the following messages or something similar:

  • Windows was not properly shut down. One or more of your disk drives may have errors on it. Press any key to run ScanDisk on these drives...

  • One or more of your disk drives may have developed bad sectors. Press any key to run ScanDisk with surface analysis on these drives...

  • Improper shutdown detected. Checking drives for errors.

Windows usually generates this message during a boot up after an improper shutdown, in this case you haven’t lost any data (except in extreme cases) and is more a cautionary measure the Operating System takes to ensure the HDD media is intact. Windows proceeds to checking the file system and the disk’s itself (sectors) to repair any potential damage.

You can run the check disk utility manually by, select tools, option.

  • right clicking on the desired partition

  • Select tools

  • Click Check now under the Error-checking

From here you can also select the Scan for attempt recovery of bad sectors, sectors are the smallest sections of the drives where information can be saved to. If Windows detects a bad sector it attempts to repair the bad section of the drive, it the sector can’t be repaired Windows marks it as bad and attempt to move the information to another sector, if the date can’t be moved then you lose data. One of two sectors is not really an issue when looking into the grand scheme of things as you may not even notice what information got corrupted but if it turns into consistent bad sectors then you have to look into replacing the drive.

2. Can’t access a data partition. Every now and then you’re surprised by such message, you see the drive\partition in Windows explorer, double click on it to open the files and boom!! You can’t access the partition any more. The reasons why did happen are hard to point exactly as it may vary from user to user but the most common are the usual power failures and improper system shutdown.

You find yourself in a catch 22 type of situation, you want to access the drive to recovery data but you need to format before you can access and by doing so the data is deleted.

As bad as it may seem there are a few things you can try to work around it:

A. Remove the HDD and install it on another PC running the same OS: Be careful when you do this and take notice of the connections the HDD is plugged in to. If you don’t feel comfortable with it there’s another step you can try or simple call a professional.

When you remove the drive you can try connecting it to another PC running the same or a different Operating System. An easy way to do is using a SATA USB adapter, you connect the HDD to the SATA connection on the adapter then connect the USB connection to the computer.

If you are using Windows OS it will recognize the drive on the USB port as a new hardware and load the appropriate drives. After that you can use explorer to browse the drive, it may take a few minutes for Windows to access the drive as it may have to rescan the drive and take ownership of it.

During this process two things may happen: you are able to access the drive as you would any other external drive or you will not and receive a message that the drive was inaccessible and it needs to be formatted.

B. Remove the HDD and install it on another running a different OS: Let’s say your original compute was running Windows OS, you can pull the drive and perform the previous process but this time connect to a computer running a different Operating System, it prefer using Ubuntu,

Debian, or Fedora. What happens sometimes is that Windows OS may have issues reading the File allocation table from the drive causing it to believe that it’s corrupted or that the drive is new and needs to be formatted before use. Linux has a different way to read the same area of the disk and may be able to display the information for you to access.

C. Don’t worry if you don’t have computer running a Linux based OS, you can burn the OS image on a USB drive and boot your existing computer from it, and in this case you don’t even have to remove the HDD from the computer. For instructions in installing Ubuntu on USB drive Click Here.

Depending on the OS and the version you choose the steps to access the drive may differ but most Linux flavors have an intuitive a graphical unit interface that will allow you to easy locate the drive. When you do this, as in the previous case, you will need to be familiar with Windows’ folder structure because depending on where you save the information you may have to navigate the directories to get to it. For instance, Windows 7 Documents directory for the Administrator account is located under: System Drive\UserName\ directory. Where the system drive is usually C: and UserName is the user account name you use to log in.

D. Call a professional: If you have exhausted your DIY options don’t comfortable dealing with it then it’s time to call in the pros. When contacting professional services you have to keep in mind that our ability to recover data depends on the extend damage of disk. For most scenarios like

the ones I just mentioned earlier the pro should be able to handle but when the issue goes beyond it and the HDD is physically damaged you need to rely on companies that specialized in data recovery services. As I mentioned earlier they work in a special lab with special equipment that is able to access the drive in special ways, that type of service cost more. We deal with a lot of customers in need of data recovery services, we provide the steps I just mentioned plus we have a special commercial software of one of our servers that’s able to scan faulty HDD and pull information out of it when possible but even then we can do so much. When the problem goes beyond our expertise we rely on a company that specializes in data recovery services, she ship the drive over to them and after a diagnostics they’ll give us a report of the damage and price estimate on the data recovery.

After all of this keep in mind that as you attempt to recover data you may be damage the drive even further, that is why you should contact a professional (like us :-)) to assist you in the data recovery process. Whether you’ll be able to recovery data or how much data you’ll be able to recover depends on every situation, nobody can guarantee you anything and that is something you need to be aware of. We have helped many businesses and home user recover lost data from HDD, we believe we can also help you, either with our services or through our partner. Contact us for more detail about our services and solutions.

JDTech is an IT service provider company in Northern NJ servicing Hudson, Bergen, and Sussex County. We specialized in desktop support, network administration services, information security, and cloud services solutions. We have been in business for over 5 years and have earned the trust and confidence of many small businesses, we have become their Trusted Technical Adviser.

Contact us 888-580-4450 or by visiting our website at www.jdtechsolutions.net for more details about our services.

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