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Friday, December 16, 2005

Hard drive recovery utilities: when you can't afford to lose that data

Hard Drive RecoveryJust imagine this: you've been working on that important paper for the past 2 weeks, and you are just about to finish it. The deadline is in a few days. You save your document, go for a coffee and when you get back, your screen is black. Your computer rebooted itself automatically and is now stuck in the bootup process with a message similar to this: No boot device, please insert a bootable media. You try to restart your computer a few times, but it does not fix your problem. At this point, it's important do stay calm, don't PANIC! There may hope yet!

First, you'll have to make sure that your problem isn't related to something else then the hard drive. The failure of your hard disk controller may also be causing this. You could always try to switch your hard drive from IDE1 to IDE2 and see if it fixes your problem. If it's not, remove the hard drive from your system, and bring it with you to a friend's house. If it still doesn't work over there, then you know what the problem is.

The only solution to your problem now is to use a data recovery software, like PC
Inspector File recovery. This application is completely free, and it works beautifully. It helped me once or twice in the past few years. Don't make yourself any illusion, it's not perfect, and doesn't work all the time (Like any other hard drive recovery utility). Sometimes, data cannot be recovered out of a broken hard drive, unless you are ready to take your disk to a specialized recovery shop and pay 1000's of dollars to have your data recovered.

While being at your friend's house, install your HD as a secondary device and start the computer. Be sure that the drive is seen in the startup process, because PCinspector will not work if you are having mechanical problems with the disk drive or If it is no longer recognized by the BIOS. Head over to pcinspector.de and
download the utility. The software supports the most popular file systems on the market: FAT 12, 16, 32 and NTFS. To be able to use PC INSPECTOR File Recovery you will need a working Windows System. Never install it on the drive from which you intend to recover data! The software must be installed and run on a second, independent drive (Amazon.com has many affordable hard drivesif you need one!). When you are done, the utility is very easy to use. Just let the application extensive HTML tutorial guide you through all the steps. I hope this little hard drive recovery how-to could help you. Hopefully, the application will let you recover your data.

If after trying this, you still are unable to recover your data, you can always ask experts to do the job for you. The folks at DTI Data and at the Hard Drive Repair Group can probably help you get your data back, no matter how damaged your drive is. Here are the specific pages on their sites concerning hard drive data recovery solutions:

Here are 2 great articles about hard drive recovery. Read them!

Beginners Guides: Hard Drive Data Recovery

Data Recovery Myths


Edit: After writing this article, several readers wrote to me about the knoppix Linux distribution CD. This bootable CD has the ability to mount and read FAT, FAT32 and NTFS partitions, even damaged ones. So after your HD crashed, you can always use this to recover your data and back it up on a USB key or second HD.

Knoppix can be downloaded via This location.

This site has some VERY complete instructions about how to use Knoppix to recover your lost data, so I won't have to write about it.

Some people seem to think that if your hard drive has some mechanical problems, you can try putting it in the freezer for a few hours. Check out the discussion here, I'd like to know what you guys think about this. There are already ALOT of comments over there, so if you guys are curious about this solution, check it out!

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  • That app and any other (even comercial ones) works like shit, sorry but when it comes about UTF-8 files it just fails.

    By Blogger Emil Tamas, at 12:03 PM  

  • I try to avoid that scenario in the first place by using a utility that provides continuous backup in the first place. Sorry for the shameless plug, but I work for IBM and we have something called Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files (I'm sure they're are other choices out there), and what it does is very simple, it copies the files you define every time they are saved to a 2nd HDD, and even a 3rd HDD when it's available (like an external USB drive). It also provides versionning. I sleep well at night, knowing I have 2 or 3 copies of every file that matters to me. I've written a short blog entry here: http://arseneault.ca/blog/2005/11/05/happy-user-of-tivoli-continuous-data-protection-for-files/

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:24 PM  

  • I am surprised that your article didn't at least briefly mention the use of bootable Linux distributions such as Knoppix or Ubuntu. These bootable CD-ROM versions of Linux have the ability to mount and read FAT, FAT32, and NTFS partitions with no problem. You can mount and subsequently back up your entire disk using one of these tools!

    By Blogger Scott Wilson, at 12:29 PM  

  • Yeah, Knoppix has excellent tools on it. I was trying to keep the article as simple as possible, so that most folks could understand it. PCinspector is probably alot less frightning for most people then knoppix...

    I use Knoppix especially for the security tools provided on it.. Can't beat 'em :)

    By Blogger Kiltak, at 12:47 PM  

  • The tricky one is Mac OS X's HFS+. I work at a school lab which has a certain amount of people who manage to put their entire set of important files into the trash and press Empty Trash. There are definitely no free tools but maybe if there is a reasonably priced piece I'd be able to convince our admin to pick it up for us.

    Can anyone recommend some data recovery software for HFS+?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:55 PM  

  • the best hdd recovery tool is HDD REGENERATOR,helped me 2 times when hdd go down to the floor from half meter,and haved physical damage

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 PM  

  • I am suprised that the article completetly failed to mention GRC's SpinRite.


    It's been out for decades (and recently updated to v6). It works on NTFS, FAT/FAT32, Linux, BSD, BeOS partitions and more. It's a huge omission not to mention SpinRite when discussing data recovery. SpinRite has gotten data back for me when all the other utilities gave up.

    No, I'm not associated with Gibson in any way - I just think it's important enough to give this software a plug... it's invaluable (and pretty cheap to boot).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:43 PM  

  • Spinrite a great utility, the fact that it omitted in there is because this article is about FREE utilities.. I agree, 89$ is VERY cheap, but alot of people won't pay for it.

    By Blogger Kiltak, at 1:48 PM  

  • I hate to say it, but I have used the freezer trick to save some data off a drive. The thing would not show up at all in any utility or with knoppix unless I left it in the freezer for 30 min (in a ziplock bag) and then it stayed up for about 5-10 min before crashing again.

    I can't say for sure the freezer did it, but it wouldn't work with anything else I tried before it and it was kind of a last ditch effort.

    But it worked!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:51 PM  

  • I have had the old hd in the freezer trick work once. Not sure what the nature of the problem was, but my guess is that it was a chip failing and if the overclockers/modders have taught us anything its that liquid nitrogen will increase the abuse a chip will take. My assumption is that it is the same principle. As long as the chip(s) are cold, the hd is accessible.
    I put the hd in the freezer for a few hours, pulled it out, quickly got the info off, then RMA'd it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:16 PM  

  • Spin Write is the better tool for data recovery. www.grc.com

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:23 PM  

  • PC INSPECTOR also served me well in the past. While it didnt recover all the files, i sure was glad to see the majority of my work files and my pictures back. Now i've got a second (external) HD and use Cobian Backup (it's also free) to keep my important stuff duplicated.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:35 PM  

  • I've had very good results with Getbackdata from www.runtime.org. These aren't free, but very effective. NTFS version for $79, fat for $69. I've loaded the bad drive into an external usb 2.0 enclosure and let the software work away. You can narrow down the restore to a file or folder or restore everything it can find.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:37 PM  

  • I have frozen a few hard drives either because the bearings are going or a heat sensitive component. I can usually work on the drive for around 2 hours. This is a last ditch effort to get the data off the drive before either giving up or sending it to a data recovery company.

    People balk at the $1500 starting price most data recovery companies charge, there data is usually not worth the money. I have sent one drive to a data recovery company for the above price (paid by the client) and had 100% recovery.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:39 PM  

  • I've cooled my drive to get back the data. I put it in the fridge, NOT the freezer! This avoids the condensation problems. It worked for a few minutes before failing again.

    Heat related problems are nothing new for anyone familiar with a modern computer. There's a heat sink on your cpu for a reason!

    It may have been failing silicon or a mechanical problem. There are cases of a circuit board trace that has a hairline crack in it being the problem. When it heats up it expands and the connection is opened, cool it and it's connected again.

    By Blogger Uzik, at 10:09 AM  

  • I once fried a drive very badly using Partition Magic and other powerquest 'fixing' tools. I finally went hardcore and tryed using Knoppix and gpart. It was so messed up, gpart couldn't even guess where the partitions were.

    Long story short, after four hours of crunching on my 250GB drive, Stellar Phoenix had found EVERY one of my files, including ones I had deleted long ago.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 11:14 AM  

  • For Macs, Data Rescue by Prosoft rocks. I accidentally threw 10gigs worth of data away (don't ask), and it brought it back out of the trash alive and well.

    Dead drives are a different problem, but start with DiskWarrior.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:04 PM  

  • I've also had excellent results recovering drives with Winternals ERD Commander (formerly Disk Commander). Especially if you're passing the task off to a newer/non-Linux admin - it seems to be easier for them to work in ERD Commander than Knoppix (Linux skills are surprisingly expensive to hire in California).

    Despite not being a common topic, there are many good utilities for data recovery now. Other than Symantec's utilities (do not use those) I've seen positive results with almost all the software mentioned, including ERD Commander and: SpinRite, Windows Ultimate Boot CD, Knoppix, and just a DOS boot floppy with USB drivers and an NTFS-DOS driver.

    Cooling the drive seems to help most of the time. Freezing is better than refridgeration b/c the temp is lower. Condensation isn't a problem for the platters because most drives are almost completely sealed (I've recovered data off drives that had been through in-building sprinklers) - unless you live in the desert the fridge is cold enough to cause condensation anyway. The only worry for condensation is the PCB on the bottom - so just make sure to keep several layers of dry paper towels under it, instead of resting it on a desk or plastic bag where droplets can pool. Also, keep the PCB side down and not exposed to the air - as the condensation is coming from air in the room and more airflow eq. more condensation.

    Worth nothing: Freezing a drive used to be an almost sure-thing, but some of the newest, high-density/high-RPM drives have been going down and staying down. Also, if it works once - you can usually freeze a drive multiple times to regain access, but each time it's brought back up it's in worse shape.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 PM  

    as the drive freezers or even chills it will turn any and all water particles to ice. All over the inside of your drive will be frosted with a layer of ice that once reached room temp, will turn back into water and likely fry it once turned on! I havnt read the articles on the subject so this may be well recognized already.
    PS...Love your blog

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:40 PM  

  • jmonkey: Don't put it if it works perfectly, but, just take the time to read the comments and you'll see that 10's of people have reported success stories with this technique.. Like I already said, only do this when your drive has some mechanical failure.

    By Blogger Kiltak, at 2:44 PM  

  • I was introduced to Slax Linux by a friend as well; it worked excellently, I just mounted a flash drive onto my laptop and cp'd files from my hard drive to it.

    Hope this helps.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:11 PM  

  • GetDataBack works great

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:00 AM  

  • Things like that I work with slackware distribution, about 12 years ago, in mean time no hard disk failure for me :)
    Before five years restore with mandrake one NTFS (Win2k) partition, witch was unreadable but not for linux, disk was from my friend firm with valuable data

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 AM  

  • what do the pro's use? and also what if the PCB is fried how can we get data off the disk then?? love the blog btw

    By Blogger Unknown, at 6:14 PM  

  • Will these software work on RAID setups?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:01 PM  

  • Thank you so much for this, you've saved my life! The utility was able to recover 99% of my data!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 AM  

  • hi i got an hdd i m techguy i used to recover lost data now i got hdd which doesn't detect though do slave thr s noice from hdd whn pc boots any solutions......

    By Blogger porty, at 6:15 AM  

  • I just tried your hard drive recovery software, and all I can say is thank you so much, like a lot of people that left a comment on here, you saved my life (and my hide!). We got back 5 years worth of pictures and photos, thanks to you!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:41 PM  

  • I've got another one for those scenarios that are a little more specialized. My HD sounded as if the bearing was going bad. The HD is a Hitachi 2.5" laptop drive and I'd only try this if you don't mind losing it all, because I cannot guarantee your results. My results were great and here's what I did.

    I removed the drive from the laptop and removed any carriage it had. Then I proceeded to remove a donut shaped foil sticker around the bottom surrounding the bearing or spindle. (Use caution as there are some flat-cables near this area). Next I removed a small (1/2") metal disk that was covering the actual bearing and center spidle. This exposed the HD bearing and I used a WD-40 "No-Mess Pen" and applied the slightest amount of oil to the bearing. It ran long enough to copy 10+ gb of data from this to my desktop using a Sabrent 5-in-1 USB drive adapter. Give it a try if you have no other choices.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:11 PM  

  • This may sound really simple to most really educated computer people, which I am not. Here's my recent nightmare... my son, 9, must have downloaded a virus or several. My virus software, Verizon, didn't do anything to help things... everyday I thought the computer was back up and running, I'd run updates, power down, and when I came back up, the virus was back. I isolated the hal.dll file for windows, on accident, so when I powered down, and back up, windows wouldn't start. I think I may have a malfunction in my disk drive, it won't read now. A friend, who is supposed to be a "computer genius" comes over and I got a phone call to run on an emergency errand. When I came back, my hard drive on my laptop had been changed, and my computer drive on my PC had been run on system recovery's default mode. haha.. don't even ask... So, surprised as I was, it looked like everything was there. Most of my applications came up. Didn't look closely, the laptop is another issue. I think the same hardware, the creative zen, corrupted it too, and since he changed the hardware, i have no idea what it's doing. My computer pics from Kodak easy share are showing thumbnails with the picture there, then after it loads, the pic gets a zigzag line through the thumbnail, and the computer program says the file exists but has been changed or deleted. Does that mean that those pictures are all gone? I've tried running "recover my files", but it isn't showing the picture files yet. Been 3 hours running the advanced method. If Kodak shows the thumbnail, the picture has to be there somewhere right? Am I missing a driver file? Or a codec? No, I didn't back up the files, too busy, and now 5 years of my sons life are gone, and I feel like someone kicked the wind out of me. If someone has any answers for me, I would so much appreciate it. I don't know what to do, or how to do it, and I'm afraid I'm going to let that virus back on my computer again.

    Any help would be much appreciated.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:15 PM  

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