Recover Hard Drive Data – The 3 Main Ways

by Rod Dunne on July 29, 2010

in Data Recovery

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It can be a worrying situation to find yourself needing to recover hard drive data after accidental file deletion, formatting a drive or computer damage. Here, we’ll look at the three main options to help you recover lost data, each of which can have varying success rates.

Manual Data Recovery

This relates to the simple scenario where files have been deleted from the folder structure. Recovering hard drive data involves opening the Recycle Bin, selecting the files you want to recover and choosing the ‘Restore’ option.

Each internal hard drive has its own recycle bin so you will need to check the correct bin for the drive from which the file was deleted. This applies to external drives too which also have their own recycle bins.  Recover deleted files by right clicking on the document in the recycle bin and select and restore from the context menu.

Success Rate: Good.

Data Recovery Software

To recover data on hard drive partitions that have been formatted or data from an emptied recycle bin requires the use of data recovery software.

The lost data should still reside on the hard drive as data clusters. Each lost document is associated with several data clusters in the File Allocation Table (FAT). All that deleting a document does is reset the document’s directory location (in the FAT) and flag the associated data clusters as available for reuse; the data is not immediately overwritten or wiped.

When you recover lost files, using applications like Remo Undelete can help find deleted files by scanning the hard drive for data clusters that it identifies as representing a document/file type. The FAT is also read to identify documents for which the directory location attribute was reset. These tools can also be used for hard drive failure recovery.

The important point is that the applications recover data on hard drive partitions by *copying* it to a location of your choice – they do not extract/cut out the data clusters as this could harm data integrity if done incorrectly. Any application that supports the FAT32 file system format will also work for compact flash data recovery. See also, our post on data recovery freeware if considering free software options and our post on how to recover files after format for details of factors which can impede a successful data recovery.

Success Rate: Dependent on the level of computer usage following deletion as ongoing computer use overwrites data clusters. Formatted hard drive recovery is made more difficult if the formatting process used evidence cleaning/wiping (see our post on how to wipe a computer for more details).

Data Recovery Experts

Calling upon data recovery experts or a computer service technician may be the only option open to you if you need to recover hard drive data from a faulty or damaged computer (e.g. flooded, fire damaged, dropped PC).

The costs of recovering hard drive data from a physically broken PC can escalate if the experts need to manually extract the drive and use specialist reading devices to identify healthy partitions/sectors of the drive.

Success Rate: Dependent on the levels of physical damage to the computer’s hard disks.

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