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When Hard Drives Go Down: DIY Data Recovery Hints

As a society, we’re becoming more and more reliant on our computers. So much so, that to some people it’s downright scary. While the threat of computers becoming self-aware and enslaving the human race hopefully exists only in the minds of movie-makers, the fact is – we are becoming computer reliant.

So when you switch on your computer and it doesn’t boot up, or maybe you accidentally delete some files, it can feel like the end of the world. The good news is that all may not be lost. There are a few DIY data recovery tricks you can try.

Cautionary Note: If you have noticed your drive making strange noises or your computer boots slowly and displays signs of a problem, but you have not actually lost any data – Do not attempt a DIY fix. The following hints apply only if you have already lost data and wish to try and recover it. Also, if your lost data is seriously important, leave data recovery to the experts. Shut down your computer immediately and contact a computer repair professional.

Shut Down Your Computer

The first thing to do, if your computer is still running, is to shut it down. At this point we’re assuming you’ve just accidentally deleted some data. The reason for shutting your computer down is to stop it from using the space that was occupied by your data. If your computer writes any new data into that free space on the drive, your deleted data is toast and no amount of data recovery attempts will get it back.

Create a Clone of Your Affected Hard Drive

Using another computer, download a cloning application and install it on a USB stick or CD. There are a number of cloning and data recovery tools on the internet which you can download. Connect the USB device to your affected computer, or insert the CD and boot up the computer. The cloning software will get to work and create an exact copy of your affected drive. Don’t worry, it won’t write anything over the data you deleted.

Scan the Clone with Data Recovery Tools

Again you will need to use another computer to download some data recovery programs. Some of these are free and some may cost a few dollars. Then use these tools to scan the clone of your drive and perform the data recovery. You should find one of the tools will get your lost data back for you.

If your lost data is the result of something more serious, you’re getting closer to the point where you’ll need a data recovery or computer repair pro to help you out. Before that though, if you don’t mind a bit of DIY tinkering, there are some things you can try.

Determine If It Really Is A Drive Problem

To find out if your hard drive really has gone to hardware heaven, you will need to take it out of the computer. Then you can hook it up to another PC or laptop with a USB adapter, available from computer shops. If you’re a Mac owner, you’re in luck, because you can test the drive in situ.

To connect your suspect Mac drive to another Mac, you will just need a FireWire cable. Connect the two computers with the cable. You then need to “target boot” the faulty machine by pressing and holding down the T key while powering up the Mac. The second machine will then be able to access your first machine’s drive.

Now comes the moment of truth. Having connected your suspect drive to a second computer, if you’re lucky you will be able to access the drive and its files to complete your data recovery. If the good computer can’t recognize or read from the drive though, it’s starting to look a bit more serious.

Last Ditch DIY Data Recovery

Hard drives fail in one of two ways; either by way of a logical failure or mechanical failure. If you didn’t hear any clicking or grinding noises while you were testing your drive, it could just be a logical failure. In this case, you do have a chance of data recovery without the expense of taking it to a computer repair shop. You will need to spend some money though, because you’ll need to purchase some data recovery software.

Before you spend between $60 and $200 for a data recovery application, you should be able to download a free diagnostic tool to scan your drive. This will indicate if your data recovery attempts are likely to be successful. If the results are promising, go ahead and purchase the full data rescue package. If not, it’s going to be time to call in the pros.

Be prepared to wait a while if you do use DIY data recovery software to scan your faulty drive. It can literally take days to do a full drive scan and perform the data recovery. Also, when your data has been rescued you’ll have a lot to do. Your files will all be renamed with series’ of letters and numbers and they will be sorted in a completely different way to how you had them; but at least you will have them back.

Worst Case Scenario

If your free diagnostic scan indicates that there is little or no recoverable data on your drive or, if you heard the telltale clicking and grinding of a hard drive mechanical problem, DIY data recovery is not going to be an option. To get your data back, you will need to call in a computer repair or data recovery expert. The decision to do so will obviously depend on how much you value those lost files, but there is a good chance of an expert successfully recovering them for you.

If you’re located in New Jersey, Dave’s Computers have all the facilities and expertise to perform data recovery and computer repair. Dave’s friendly staff are available 365 days a year and ready to help you on 908-428-9558.

by David Molnar