What scares you more than losing everything on your computer? If your hard drive died right now, in this second, would your heart sink in your stomach or run straight down your throat?
You made sure that your files are backed up to the cloud service or your favorite photos are backed up to an external hard drive. So it’s okay huh? However, if your drive breaks, you can potentially lose some files.
Don’t panic, we’re here to help. There is a good chance that you will be able to recover files yourself if the hard drive is not physically damaged.
How do I know if my hard drive is physically damaged?
There are some clues if your hard drive is physically damaged. Sound is a great indicator. If you hear a repetitive clicking sound coming from your computer shortly before it crashes or at startup, your drive is likely physically damaged.
This is the sound when the read / write head tries to return to its original position and fails. Turn off your computer immediately. We’ll talk about why in a minute.
If you hear even the quietest scratching or grinding sounds, your drive is physically damaged. This is the sound when the read / write head flows off the surface of the discs in the drive. Turn off your computer now. Right now.
Why do you need to turn off your computer when you hear these sounds? Because every second you hear these sounds, the hard disk drives are beyond repair. Every tiny bit of the disk that gets damaged means that files, folders, images or videos are lost forever.
You can still recover some files, but this will require finding a data recovery specialist and spending at least $ 1000. Data recovery professionals have very expensive equipment, training, and a sterile, dust-free environment.
This allows them to carefully disassemble your hard drive and use their special electronics and tools to slowly and carefully restore as much as possible. But there are no guarantees. They won’t know how damaged the disc is until they disassemble it.
If he has symptoms of internal damage but you just don’t have the money for a professional repair, you can still try. At this point, you already think the files are missing, so roll the dice, play the lottery and try to learn something. Perhaps you are lucky to get back your grandparents’ wedding photo or your nephew’s first birthday
My hard drive looks fine, how do I recover files myself?
If your hard drive shows no signs of damage, the chances of recovering your files are pretty high. Let’s take a look at the options.
Use a LiveCD or LiveUSB and an external hard drive
We have already covered this in detail in the article “How to get Windows files using Linux Live CD”. The idea is to create a bootable USB drive with a Linux distribution, such as a Hiren bootable CD or Ultimate Boot CD.
Use LiveUSB to boot a computer with a broken disk. It will load the operating system on your LiveUSB instead of your computer’s operating system. Connect another USB hard drive so you have a place to save your files.
LiveUSB will have a kind of file explorer like Windows Explorer. Open it up and see if you can access your hard drive with it. If you can find your files, you should be able to copy them to an external hard drive.
Remove the hard drive and connect to another computer
It might sound a little extreme, but it might work well. This is easier to do with desktops than laptops, but if you want to give it a try, you can.
First, make sure your computer is unplugged and not receiving power. If it’s a laptop, you can also remove the battery.
Remove the cover from your computer or laptop case and locate the hard drive. Disconnect all cables attached to it. When pulling on cables, pull on the rigid end of the cable, not on the cables themselves. This could damage them.
You may have to unscrew a few screws to remove the hard drive. Avoid touching any pins or circuits on the hard drive that might be exposed. Also, do not drop the hard drive. Any of these can cause damage that will prevent you from using the hard drive.
Now you can connect it to another computer by installing it on your PC or connecting as an external hard drive. Let’s see how to install it on another computer first.
Install the hard drive on another computer
If you’ve removed the hard drive from your PC, chances are you can install it on another computer. Most PCs are built with the ability to mount two or more hard drives.
Open your computer and see if it has an empty hard drive bay and empty cable connections. If so, install the hard drive, then connect the cables. Turn on this PC and enter Windows Explorer to check if your drive is visible. If so, copy the files you want to keep.
Once you have files from a disk, you can format it and use it as a secondary disk if it is not physically damaged.
Connect the hard drive to another computer via USB
This option is simpler as it does not require another computer to be disassembled. If you’ve removed the hard drive from your laptop, this is probably the way to go. But even with this method, it can be done in several ways.
One way is to purchase an external USB hard drive. You can buy them online for as little as $ 20. You open the case and install the hard drive. Then you plug it into a USB port on your work computer and access your files. Plus, you now have a large capacity external hard drive.
After saving the files, you can perform a full formatting of the external hard drive. This will help mark damaged partitions as unusable on the file system. Since your disk will no longer write to these sectors, you can last for several months or even years.
Another way is to purchase a USB HDD adapter or USB HDD docking station. An adapter is a set of cables that you connect to your hard drive and sometimes to a power source. Then you plug it into a USB port and your computer should treat it like an external USB hard drive.
This is a little sloppy because you will have two or three cables strewn across your desk and the hard drive will just stay open. But it works. These adapters sell for about $ 20.
The HDD docking station is a bit like a toaster. You insert a hard drive into it, then plug it in for power, and plug the USB port into your computer. It should also show up as an external USB hard drive. Docks sell for about $ 40.
With both options, we recommend a hard drive dock, especially if you’re an informal IT professional for friends and family. A good one can even be used to clone hard drives when not connected to any computer.
How about dead solid state drives?
Solid state drives (SSDs) are inherently difficult to recover files. Usually, if an SSD doesn’t work, it will never work. Get ready for this. However, there is one thing you can try that might work. This is a small chance, but still a chance. This method will only work if the failure is due to a power outage in your area or something similar.
Disconnect the data cable from the SSD, but leave the power cable connected. If your SSD cable has power and data integrated, you’ll need a SATA power cable.
An external USB drive could be dispensed with if it has separate power and data cables. Connect the SATA power cable to the appropriate location on the solid state drive and to the power connector on the host computer. Trace the cable that was already connected to the SSD to find it in the right place.
Then turn on the computer and let it sit for 20 minutes. Don’t do anything with the computer, let it be.
Shut down your computer completely and unplug the drive for 30 seconds.
Reconnect the drive, turn on the computer again, and wait another 20 minutes. Shut down your computer and disconnect power from the SSD.
Reconnect the SSD to the power and data cables as it was before we started. Turn on your computer. If everything went well, it should work. If it works, also update the firmware on the SSD to make sure it works and isn’t damaged by a power outage.
If that doesn’t work, the only surefire way to get data from a broken SSD is to contact a data recovery specialist and get your wallet out.
An ounce of prevention
If you’re reading this just to learn a thing or two, you need to learn how to back up, back up, back up. And then back up again. With the ubiquity and relative availability of cloud storage and available external storage, you should have all of your files backed up using at least one, if not two, different storage methods. Then you no longer have to worry about surviving this mess trying to recover data from a dead hard drive.