Fear not a dead hard drive happens to us all
Hard drive failure is everyone’s worst nightmare especially if you do not have a backup routine in place. We all rely on our hard drives to store and keep safe our documents and other important files and especially treasured photographs that we don’t tend to have backups of anymore.
The good news is that in all the years I have been working with and repairing computers there have only been a handful of occasions that I have seen a hard drive failure where I have been unable to recover the data from the drive. Don’t get me wrong it does happen but it is worth giving the methods below a try before giving up on your data.
The even better news is that the majority of the tools are free data recovery tools so it’s definitely worth giving them a try. It is also worth mentioning that some of these tools can take hours to run so be prepared for a long haul if you want to recover data after hard drive failure. So lets look at some of the tools I use when trying to recover data.
Important Notes: Some of these methods can cause more damage to the drive in terms of lost partitions and data if not done correctly and we are not responsible for any data loss and you use these tools at your own risk. If your data is absolutely critical and you are prepared to pay a lot of money (100s sometimes 1000s) consider taking the drive to a data recovery specialist and don’t attempt any of these methods All the tools in the first 4 methods are free to use tools. If you would prefer to use a more user-friendly way that requires less technical expertise to try to recover your data scroll to method 5 (These tools are not free)
1. Hard drive failure repair using Windows repair utility
The first and easiest method if you have a hard drive failure and think you have bad sectors or your drive is failing is to use the Windows check disk utility. To do this you will need your original Windows disk. We cover this method in more detail and show you how to do it on both Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 in our article:
The method used here is the same method.
2. Repair the hard drive with HDAT2
Although this is normally something I do 3rd or 4th for the purpose of this guide and because of the fact that the other methods require you to remove the hard drive we will try it second.
If chkdsk fails it is worth running a program called HDAT2. I have found this program a lifesaver on many occasions as it seems to be better at checking and repairing bad sectors on a drive then check disk. HDAT scans and repairs bad sectors on a hard drive along with numerous other options. HDAT2 is also free.
HDAT2 is a boot disk so needs to be downloaded and then burnt to a CD/DVD. Once this is done reboot your computer and boot from the CD. Once HDAT2 has loaded hopefully if your hard drive failure is not too severe it should detect your hard drive. Select your drive and you will then be presented with a variety of options. Select check and repair and let the program run its course. The time it takes will depend on the size of your drive.
HDAT will scan each sector and read and verify it. If the sector is bad it will mark it as bad and try to repair the sector. Once the scan has completed you should see the number of bad sectors and the number it has managed to repair. Remove the disk from the drive and reboot. If you are able to access the drive be sure to back up your data ASAP.
3. Using a USB enclosure to recover data
If Methods 2 and 3 fail it usually means that your hard drive failure is more serious and could be more than just some bad sectors on the hard drive or file corruption. It is worth picking up an external enclosure online so that you can plug your drive into another machine and see if you can recover the data from it this way.
If your drive is a desktop drive (3.5″) then something like the StarTech 3.5in External Hard Drive Enclosure (US)or if you are in the UK the Max Value3.5″ SATA and IDE is perfect as it is for both SATA and IDE drives and allows you to connect via USB to another computer.
If your drive is a laptop try the Vantec NexStar TX 2.5-Inch SATA to USB 2.0 External Hard Drive Enclosure which is dirt cheap at only $8 if you are in the US or something like the Max Value Enclosure if you are in the UK for under a tenner.
Although unlikely this rules out a problem with another part of your computer such as the motherboard. This also enables you to run other recovery tools in the method below to recover the data from the failed hard drive.
4. Using free tools to diagnose and recover hard drive data
After you have your external hard drive enclosure try to download the manufacturer tools for your hard drive. Some of the more common ones can be found below:
It may be also worth trying HDtune to see what results it gives you. You can download HDTune for free from here
The final tool in your arsenal is TestDisk. TestDisk is open source software that is very powerful and extremely effective in my experience when you have suffered a hard drive failure and nothing else appears to work. The only downside is that it can be difficult to use and it is HIGHLY recommended that you read all the instructions and guides on the website to use it effectively.
5. Data Recovery programs (Not Free)
If you have no success with any of the free programs or you are not that comfortable technically there are a couple of programs I have had success with in the past.
Data Rescue 3 (PC)
Data Rescue PC 3 is another program I have had success with in the past and is fairly highly rated in its ability to recover data from damaged and corrupted partitions. At $48.00 it could be a lifesaver.
There is also a version of this available for the Mac just named Data Rescue 3
Spinrite – Visit Website
Spinrite is not cheap at $89.00 but if you look around at reviews for the product it is highly recommended by many. It must be said that purchasing offers no guarantees that it will recover your data but I have had success with it in the past after a hard disk has died on me and everything else has failed. So if you data is that important to you it may be worth giving SpinRite a try before looking at more expensive options like data recovery specialists.
6. Extreme recovery method for a serious failure
Now this final method is only as an absolute last resort but surprisingly it has worked for me in the past 2 or 3 times after a bad hard drive failure where the drive would not even spin. You may have heard the myth about techs throwing the hard drive in a freezer for a few hours and been able to recover data from it. Unfortunately no matter how much people claim this works it unfortunately does not and ANY water on the platter can cause permanent damage and that comes direct from the manufacturer.
Related Post: Inside your computers hard drive
This is not to say that I have not had success with cold temperatures. During the winter when the temperatures hit around about 1 or 2 degrees I had a computer with a hard drive that just failed to spin. I took the hard drive out put it in a anti static bag and then in a freezer bag and put the drive in the boot of my car over night when it was very cold. To my surprise when I stuck the drive in the USB enclosure the next morning the drive worked perfectly!
I can not explain why or how this works as it has no reason to I only know it did on 3 occasions over the past 2-3 years (Although the drives were relatively old so it may be how they were built back then). If you have a hard drive failure that can not be resolved any other way as a last resort this is worth a shot as you never know you may get lucky!
If still no success than your hard drive failure is likely critical and it may be worth looking at our post how to destroy a hard drive to protect your privacy and take out your frustrations!