Why are you more afraid of losing all of what is on your computer right now? If your hard drive (HDD) died into it, your heart would stick or sink into your stomach
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What scares you more than losing everything that’s on your computer? If your hard drive (HDD) died right now, would your heart sink into your stomach or shoot right down your throat?
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You have ensured that your files are backed up to a cloud service or your treasured photos are backed up to an external hard drive. So it’s not a big deal … is it? Even if your drive crashes, you could potentially lose some files.
Don’t panic, we’re here for you. There is a good chance that you can recover the files yourself if the hard drive is not physically damaged.
How do I know if my hard drive is physically damaged?
There are some clues to help you know if your hard drive is physically damaged. Sound is a great indicator. If you hear a repetitive clicking sound from your computer about to shut down or at startup, your drive is likely physically damaged.
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This is the sound of the read / write head trying to return to its starting position and failing. Turn off your computer immediately. We’ll talk about why in a minute.
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If you hear the slightest scratching or grinding noise, your drive is physically damaged. This is the sound of the read / write head scratching the surface of the platters in the drive. Now turn off your computer. Right now.
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Why do you need to turn off your computer when you hear these noises? Because every second you hear these noises, the hard drives in the hard drive are irreparably damaged. Every tiny bit of the hard drive damaged means the files, folders, pictures or videos will be lost forever.
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You can still recover some of the files, but you need to find a data recovery specialist and spend at least $ 1000. Data recovery specialists have very expensive equipment and training, and a sterile, dust-free environment.
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That way, they can carefully disassemble your hard drive and use their special electronics and tools to slowly and carefully restore as much as possible. However, there are no guarantees. You won’t know how damaged the drive is until you take it apart.
If it is showing symptoms of internal damage but you simply don’t have the money to recover a professional, you can still give it a try. By this point, you’re already counting the files away, so roll the dice, play the lottery, and try to learn something. You might be lucky enough to find your grandparents’ wedding photo or your nephew’s first birthday again
My hard drive sounds good, how can I restore files myself?
If your hard drive is undamaged, the chances of recovering files are pretty good. Let’s look at the options.
Use a LiveCD or LiveUSB and an external hard drive
We already have a detailed guide on how to do this in How to Retrieve Windows Files Using a Linux Live CD. The idea is to create a bootable USB drive using a Linux distribution like Hiren’s Boot CD or Ultimate Boot CD.
Use the LiveUSB to boot the computer with the dead drive. It starts the operating system on your LiveUSB instead of your computer’s operating system. Connect your other USB hard drive so you have a place to save the files.
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The LiveUSB has a kind of file explorer, like Windows Explorer. Open that and see if you can use it to access your hard drive. If you can find your files, you should be able to copy them to your external hard drive.
Remove the hard drive and connect to another computer
This may seem a little extreme, but it can work well. It’s easier to do with desktop computers than laptops, but when you’re ready to give it a try, you can.
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First, make sure that the computer is unplugged and has no power. If it is a laptop, you should also remove the battery.
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Remove the cover from the computer case or laptop and locate the hard drive. Disconnect any cables attached to it. When pulling out the cables, pull the hard end of the cable, not the cables themselves. This can damage them.
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Some screws may need to be loosened before you can remove the hard drive. Try not to touch any of the pins or circuitry that may be exposed on the hard drive. Also, do not drop the hard drive. Either of these could cause damage that would prevent you from using the hard drive.
Now you can either connect it to another computer by installing it in a PC or connect it as an external hard drive. Let’s take a look at the installation on another PC first.
Install the hard drive in another PC
If you’ve taken the hard drive out of one PC, you can likely install it in another PC. Most personal computers come with the ability to have two or more hard drives installed.
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Open the PC and check if it has an empty hard drive bay and empty cable connections. If so, install the hard drive and connect the cables. Turn on this PC and go to Windows Explorer to see if your drive is visible. If so, copy the files that you want to save.
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Once you’ve removed the files from the drive, you may be able to format it and use it as a secondary drive if it’s not physically damaged.
Connect the hard drive to another PC via USB
This option is simpler as there is no need to disassemble another computer. If you’ve removed the hard drive from a laptop, this is probably the way to go. There are a few ways to do this with this method as well.
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One method is to get an external USB HDD enclosure. You can buy these online for just $ 20. You open the case and install your HDD. Then plug it into the USB port on your work computer and you have access to your files. Also, you now have a large capacity external hard drive.
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After rescuing your files, you may want to do a full format on the external hard drive. This will help mark the damaged sections in the file system as unusable. Since your drive no longer writes to these sectors, you can use them for months or even years.
Another method is to get a USB HDD adapter or USB HDD docking station. The adapter is a set of cables that you plug into the hard drive and sometimes to a power source. Then plug it into a USB port and your computer should pick it up as if it were an external USB hard drive.
It’s a bit sloppy because you’ve scattered two or three cables across the desk and the hard drive is just exposed. But it works. These adapters sell for around $ 20.
The HDD docking station looks a bit like a toaster. You plug the hard drive in and then plug it in for power and plug the USB port into your computer. It should also show up as an external USB hard drive. Docks sell for around $ 40.
After using both of them, we recommend the HDD dock especially if you are the unofficial IT rep for friends and family. A good one can even be used to clone hard drives while disconnected from a computer.
What about dead solid state drives?
Solid-state drives (SSD) are inherently difficult to restore files. If the SSD doesn’t seem to be working, it usually won’t work. Be prepared for that. But there is one thing you can try that might work. It’s a small chance, but it’s still a chance. This method only works if the error is due to a power outage caused by a power outage in your area or something similar.
Remove the data transfer cable from the SSD, but leave the power cable connected. If the cable to your SSD has integrated power and data, you need a SATA power cable.
It may be possible to use an external USB drive enclosure if it has separate power and data cables. Connect the SATA power cable to the appropriate location on the SSD and to the power connector on the host PC. Follow the cable that was already connected to the SSD to find it where it belongs.
Next, turn on the computer and let it sit for 20 minutes. Don’t do anything with the computer, just let it be.
Turn off the computer completely and disconnect the drive for 30 seconds.
Reconnect the drive, turn on the computer, and wait another 20 minutes. Turn off the computer and remove power from the SSD.
Reconnect the SSD with both the power and data cables as it was before the start. Turn on your computer. If everything went well, it should work. If it works, also update the firmware on your SSD to make sure it works and won’t be damaged by the power outage.
If that doesn’t work, the only reliable way to get data from a dead SSD is to contact a data recovery specialist and get your wallet out.
An ounce of prevention …
If you are just reading this to learn something, then you absolutely must learn backup, backup, backup. And then secure something. Given the prevalence and relative affordability of cloud storage and affordable external drives, you should back up all of your files to at least one, if not two, different storage methods. Then you don’t have to worry about trying to recover data from a dead hard drive.