hard drive recovery ; 4 ways to Recover your data from a Dead Hard Disk

Your hard drive just stopped working. It never made any odd sounds like screeching, popping, or clicking, and it didn't crash. It just quit and it has some priceless data that isn't backed up to another device. This guide may help you troubleshoot and correct any problems related to your drive.  Be sure to read all warnings before proceeding.

hard drive recovery

Method 1 Basic Steps

 Inspect the outside of the hard drive for damage.
  • Stop using your computer or external hard drive.
  • Power down the computer or disconnect the external drive.
  • Remove the hard drive from the computer or device.
  • Examine it carefully for 'hot spots' or other damage on the external controller board.
  • Check if there are broken parts.
Replace the cables. Plug the hard drive in with new cables (power and data connection) that you know works and try again. Note that an IDE drive will need a flat-ribbon cable

If you have a PATA (IDE/EIDE) drive, switch drive pin settings.
  • If it was “slave” or “cable select,” set it to “master.”
  • Plug it in alone without any other device on that port and try again.
Try other IDs and/or another PCI controller and try again. If you don't have another controller, a PCI card that adds ports to your computer, just change the ID.

Plug it into an external drive adapter or external drive case (i.e. USB) if you have one.
  • If it does not spin up, try connecting it to another power source (include data connection as some drives don't spin up without). If on both it does not spin up, the fault is most likely related to the Printed Circuit Board.
Connect the drive into another computer and try again. If this works, it is possible that the motherboard is at fault and not your hard disk.

Method 2 Replace the Drive's Controller Board

Inspect the drive's controller board carefully to see if it can be removed without exposing the drive's platters. Most drives will have an externally-mounted controller board. If not, stop here.

Find a sacrificial drive. It is important to match the exact same model number and stepping (i.e. firmware revision, printed circuit board number). Matching drives can sometimes be found at places like eBay, inspect the photo in the auction carefully to determine if the model and firmware match. Contact the seller to be sure the drive being auctioned matches the picture prior to buying.

Remove the controller board of the failing drive.
  • Remove the screws with the correct screwdrivers. Most drives use Torx (star drive) head which is available at home repair stores. Be careful, the screws are soft.
  • Learn everything about how it is connected to the drive. Most drives are connected via ribbon cables and pin rows. Be gentle. Do not crimp or damage the connectors.
hard drive recoveryAttach the working board to the failing drive.
Connect the drive to your computer or device and test. If it works, immediately copy your data onto another form of media or a different hard disk drive. If that didn't work, try to re-assemble the sacrificial drive with the working controller board. It should still work.

Method 3 Using Linux to recover your Data

Many times when windows can not see your drive its because the filesystem itself is damaged. In the case of a damaged filesystem, it would be wise to first take an image of the hard drive before running any type of "filesystem repair" utility. The reason for this is if you have a drive that has both filesystem damage as well as minor physical damage, you may make matters worse. Taking an image of the drive prior to attempting to fix it will allow you to always revert back to the original state. If you are linux savvy you can use DD to image a hard drive. Be careful with DD as imaging the wrong way will be disastrous.

You can boot up off of a windows XP installation cd and select the recovery console and once in a dos prompt use chkdsk to repair the file system like you see below. Replace (DRIVELETTER) with the applicable drive letter.

chkdsk (DRIVELETTER): /f

This will force windows to attempt to repair the file system itself. Newer versions of Linux may have the ntfs-3g program and ntfsprogs and it includes a program called ntfsfix which can help repair a windows ntfs file system so it can be mounted or booted. Linux might have no issues being able to see and actually access the data even if the drive is not bootable.

While you can try to mount the drive in a computer that is already running Linux you can also use a Live CD do the same without having to do anything other than downloading and burning the CD or building a bootable Linux system on a USB stick. To find out how to build a bootable Linux USB stick you can find detailed instructions up on the Pendrive Linux Website.
  • Download a live disk. System Rescue CD is a good one for this application.
  • Burn the .iso onto a blank CD with an Image Burner.
  • Boot the computer, don't forget to change the boot order in the BIOS.
Boot up a Linux system or mount the drive using a Linux live disk and begin to backup your data if Linux can see the filesystem.
  • Mount the drive by typing this command: mkdir /mnt/disk && mount -t auto /dev/sda1 /mnt/disk. If the drive is a IDE drive the command would be mount -t auto /dev/hda1 /mnt/disk assuming you only have one partition on the drive if in doubt Consult a basic linux guide for specifics.
  • Mount another drive and backup data. Again, consult a basic linux guide for specifics.
Linux has many different utilities specifically designed for doing data recovery. If the partition table is too damaged Linux can easily fix this with a utility called Testdisk.

Testdisk will help recreate the partition table.
  • Boot into a Linux live disk. See above instructions
  • Run the command: testdisk /log. This command is not on every live disk, it is on System Rescue CD.
  • Follow find your drive and choose to recreate the partition table. Read the Documention the Website for Testdisk can be found online here.
For those who have never used Linux the first IDE drive in your system will be seen as /dev/hda if it is a sata or scsi drive or is connected via USB it will be seen as /dev/sda.

The first partition on the C drive would be /dev/hda1 the second partition on that drive would be seen as /dev/hda2 and so on. Whenever running either testdisk or its companion program photorec always run it with the /log command unless the system you're attempting to recover data from is very small. What this does is give you the ability to run the command again if for some reason the program stops running without having to start all over again.

There is a second component to Testdisk that is called Photorec which can recover your data even if the partition table is not able to be recovered. It can take a long time to run but it does a great job, even with severely damaged Hard Drives.

Method 4 using file/data recovery programs.


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