Recover Lost Data

by Rod Dunne on June 16, 2010

in Articles, Data Recovery

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It can be a daunting task for anybody to recover lost data. Here, we’ll look at a logical sequence of actions to attempt in order to recover lost data, even when your computer freezes and fails to boot up properly.

Recommended Software

Remo Undelete: FAT/NTFS support, All Windows OS; Free trial scan.

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Recovering Deleted Files

If you wish to recover deleted files then the first place to check is the Recycle Bin. If the files are present then you can simply right click the files and choose ‘Restore‘ to restore deleted files. The files will be returned to the last folder location they were in.

If you deleted the file from within DOS then the files will not appear in the Recycle Bin (they have bypassed it – one of the setbacks of using DOS).

To recover deleted data that does not appear in the bin will require data recovery software. This software operates by scanning the FAT drives for specific flags. When data has been deleted, it is not wiped off the disk. Instead, the data has its location set/flagged as deleted and marked as suitable for being over-written. The software can recover hard drive data by merely looking for these files on the hard drive using these attribute flags. Note that hard drive and USB data recovery should be possible using the same recovery software as both are simply FAT based storage devices for the application to scan.

If you need to install software to retrieve deleted files then make sure to install it in a different directory to the one where your deleted documents are. This is necessary so that you do not overwrite the deleted files with your application installation.

Recovering Lost Data When Windows Will Not Start

In this scenario, you should first try booting the computer in safe-mode. If this works then do a PC/laptop backup of all your data after Windows starts.

If you are technically proficient with DOS then you could start up Windows in DOS mode. Lost files recovery using this approach allows you to browse through any working drives on your PC and copy/recover lost data to a floppy disk. Copying files to external drives requires you having DOS drivers for these drives. Most external drive manufacturers, except Iomega Zip, do not provide Dos drivers (see also our post on Zip disk data recovery options). To speed up the copying process the DOS Navigator application could be used.

If Windows will not boot due to a corrupt drive (you should see BIOS exceptions stating this at boot up) then you can still resort to using boot disks. The suggested sequence would be:

  • Windows Emergency Boot Disk: Attempt to boot off of the disk, check disk partitions for any faults and if you manage to start Windows then recover lost data *before* attempting any PC repairs.
  • Anti-Virus Software Boot Disk: It is possible that a virus has corrupted the operating system. Most good anti-virus tools can also provide boot disks to get Windows started and allow you to scan the drives. Once Windows is started, be sure to scan all external drives (including thumb drives) as these could be infected.

Our article on how to recover data from crashed hard drive partitions details 5 approaches for recovering lost files after a crash.

Best Data Recovery Software

If lost/deleted data is not visible in the recycle bin then your main option is using software to recover lost data. These tools simply scan the drive for files flagged for deletion and allow you to pick and choose which files to restore. It should also be possible with these tools to run a data recovery after format depending on the level of cluster rewrites that the formatting process does.

Some recommendations are:

  • Norton Utilities: This is a widely used and well liked tool. It has been around for years and has always had plenty of updates, is well tested and should be able to recover lost data for you.
  • Easy Recovery: Created by the data recovery services firm Ontrack, this software is at the more specialized end of the data recovery spectrum and able to recover formatted data when the file allocation table has been wiped clear of document indexes.
  • More free and commercial options, such as Remo Undelete are covered in our post on low cost data recovery. The applications can work on different types of Windows computers (desktop, laptop or notebook data recovery).

Remo Undelete: FAT/NTFS support, All Windows OS; Free trial scan.

Remo Undelete | PC Maintenance Software | Click Here For A Free Scan

The same tools can be used whether you are recovering deleted data or salvaging files from a formatted disk drive.

Our article on how to recover overwritten file contents goes into more details about the nuances of retrieving lost or overwritten files.

Data Recovery Services

Finally, if the other attempts have failed then it will be necessary to look into using data recovery experts. Choose a specialist firm or computer doctor service that has a good track record (plenty of customer reviews online), is local to you (to reduce transport costs of your computer) and always establish the costs and turnaround time for recovering lost data from your PC.

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