Broken Hard Drive? How to recover your data files

“Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ” ~C.P. Snow


It’s an accepted fact that hard drives are the weakest link in computer technology. The hard disk is where the operating system and all software applications are stored. Because of this, a properly working drive is essential in the operation of any computer.

But since these drives are basically just an electro-mechanical devices, and like any other machine they will eventually breakdown and fail.

And then oops, without backups, all your family photos, legal documents and important emails are gone!

There are three levels of data or file recovery for a dying or broken hard drive:

1) Basic Level: The drive is working (your can hear it spin up but it will not boot to Windows)
This usually means that some essential Windows files have been comprised or damaged in some way. With the right software you can view your files and even copy them. You have to choices…

Use a Rescue CD: You can grab a bootable CD with hard drive utility software already installed on it. You can then make repairs or copy your files from your bad drive to a replacement. A good name brand rescue CD for Windows is the “Ultimate Boot CD”

Move the Drive: If you don’t have a way of burning a rescue CD and don’t want to wait for a copy to shipped to you; you can always move your bad drive and place it in another working desktop PC. Once installed you should be able to view all your files on the drive from a secondary slot (normally where the CD or DVD drive live.)

2) Intermediate Level: The drive works but you can’t see the files you want using the methods above.
Okay, things are not going good. You at this point have to get out the big guns. You will have to download and run a data recovery program such as “Active UNDELTE”, “Recover My Files”, etc. Both of these programs are powerful, reliable, and easy to use and won’t cost you an arm or a leg to buy.

With Active UNDELETE you can also make a bootable CD to run on a PC if you can’t move the drive to another computer. Both have technical support options if you need further help.

3) Advanced: You have tried everything above but you still can’t find that Last Will from Aunt Sue…
At this point you have probably spent several hours (if not days) without your PC and invested just over a $100 in software if you used all of the above products. Now, is the time for you to decide to either use a professional level recovery application or throw in the towel and take your drive to a recovery specialist.

If you have the time but not a lot of cash (understand that hard drive recovery services can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars) then you can ratchet it up a notch and buy a copy of the home version of EasyRecovery from Ontrack. Ontrack is one of the leading data recovery companies in the world.

But if time is more critical and money is no obstacle then bite the bullet and take your drive to a local computer shop that does recovery work. Or if that is not possible then contact a big service like Ontrack and ship your hard drive to them.

Data recovery can be expensive no matter who does it, so to be on the safe side and make file backups frequently and fully.