How To Recover Hard Disk Files: Top 3 Blockers And Solutions

by Rod Dunne on July 28, 2010

in Articles, Data Recovery

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It should still be possible to recover hard disk files even after mechanical damage, software issues or file deletion/formatting. In some cases, data recovery experts will be needed but there are still some manual PC repairs you can attempt, especially when trying to recover deleted data. This article looks at these three blockers and ways to fix them.

Disk Failures

We’ll start with the worst-case scenario. Hard disk recovery is at its most difficult if your hard drive develops a mechanical fault. Components can come loose, bearings can seize up and read/write heads can become misaligned.

You can check that the IDE ribbon/power cable has not come loose. However, aside from this you are better advised to let a computer doctor or data recovery experts examine the disk to establish if a disk repair is possible and/or if they can recover hard disk files (which can be costly if the drive is damaged). Note though that hard drive failure recovery costs for mechanically damaged drives can cost hundreds of dollars to complete as specialist disk readers may be required.

Our post on external hard drive repair goes into the details of fixing faults specifically on external drives.

Software Failures

If you are attempting to recover hard disk files when the drive is mechanically sound (i.e. Windows recognizes it when booting up), but the system will not start up properly for you then, then this is more likely a software or operating system fault that has caused missing or corrupt files.

Before you can start into any kind of hard disk recovery you will need to get the computer up and running. Your options are:

  • Start in Safe-Mode. Hit F8 as the computer boots and Windows will run with a reduced number of running services (hopefully excluding the one that is causing a fault).
  • Boot using the Last Known Good Configuration. This will roll back several system files to a previous healthy checkpoint. Some applications (updated/installed after the checkpoint) may become unusable and need to be re-installed.
  • Boot using the Windows Emergency Boot disk. Run the Check Disk scan for sector faults.
  • Our post on bad sector repair covers how to fix disk sector issues.

If this succeeds then at least you can now log in and back up your data (use a tool like Final Sync to schedule backups for you onto an external hard disk) and then troubleshoot the issue. For additional backup options, our post on how to choose the best backup solution differentiates between HDD/DVD/online options in more detail.

Lost/Deleted/Formatted Data

Knowing how to recover data from hard disk partitions that have been formatted, or finding deleted files, is almost trivial to complete in comparison with the first two hard drive rescue scenarios.

It is possible to recover formatted hard drive data because files are not wiped from a disk at the time of deletion. The data clusters (the disk’s representation of a file) will still remain, but be flagged to the operating system as free to reuse/overwrite with new data. The longer you leave it before trying to find deleted files, the greater the chance your files will have been overwritten.

If a disk sector becomes damaged (e.g. scratched/corrupted) then these tools are rarely able to read the bad sectors and recover corrupted files. The cost of a disk repair may prove too costly for all but the most precious of data.

Data recovery software like Remo Undelete work by scanning a drive of your choice and finding data clusters that represent your files. You simply review the found documents and recover hard disk files by copying them back to a folder (e.g. My Documents).

Our post on how to recover files after format details additional factors which can impede data recovery software in relation to formatted disks.

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