Computer hard drives are relatively reliable these days, but they still can crash. While we all know we should be backing everything up all the time, not all of us do. So, there may be times when you need to recover data from a failed hard drive and not know where to start. Here are some tips.
The first thing to do is to make certain you absolutely can’t retrieve anything from the failed drive by normal means. Unplug the hard drive, turn it off and give it a rest for an hour. Sometimes hard drives teetering on the edge of being viable get overheated and simply won’t function while they are that hot. When the drive has sufficiently cooled, plug it back in and turn it on. If it mounts to the computer, copy off all your data as quickly as possible to another hard drive. Don’t try to copy data to a CD or DVD because it will take too long and potentially heat up the bad drive too much. If you have a lot of data on the drive, it may take several sessions in which you copy as much as you can off it, then give it a cooling period, then try again.
The next step, if normal methods fail, is to use data recovery software. Two of the leading software packages to do this are Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery for the Windows-based computer and Tech Tool Pro for the Apple Macintosh. Both software packages have an array of tools to dig into the failed hard drive and “data mine” it. With Tech Tool Pro, for example, the best time to start is before the crash. It allows you to use a data recovery tool that essentially puts tags in all your data files to make it easier to recover that data in the event of a crash. If you didn’t do that, however, the program still can sift through the hard drive and recover files to another drive, although the recovery rate may not be as good.
When all else fails, contact a data recovery service. If you have a lot of vital data on a hard drive and standard recovery software won’t work, there are companies that specialize in data recovery for you. You take the hard drive and mail it to the company. Since professional data recovery teams have more sophisticated tools than you can reasonably have at home, this solution, while more expensive than buying software, may save you from severe data loss.