Your hard drive stopped working and you don’t have a backup of your data? Sounds like a nightmare to most people, and can happen to anyone, but there’s a lot that can be done. Follow this advice and recover your data.
The first thing you should do is take out the drive from your computer and plug it in another. To do this in a safe and secure manner it would be great if you had some kind of SATA/IDE to USB cable or an USB enclosure: these will allow you to connect the drive to the other computer quick and easy. If you have a desktop computer there’s always an option of installing that drive the regular way, as an internal drive, but we suggest you connect it externally since it’s faster.
It’s important to be aware that the less you use the drive you’re trying to recover data from, the better. Every time you read the drive, there is a risk of exacerbating any damage it possibly has. Also, writing to the drive is unadvisable, as you can overwrite something you’re actually trying to recover.
Before plugging it in the other computer, examine the drive. Take a closer look and then try answering these questions:
If you don’t notice any physical damage, proceed to the next step.
Install some data recovery software on the other computer and connect the drive. Bear in mind that your antivirus and antimalware software are up to date; you never know that you’ll find on the drive, and you don’t want any unpleasant surprises while recovering your data. When it comes to recovery tools, there’s a whole bunch of them, but here’s a few suggestions.
Made by the same team that made CCleaner, Recuva is a free data recovery tool. Simple and easy, it’s great if you only want to browse and restore certain files off the drive. TestDisk is an open-source software that runs on virtually all platforms or partition type. It’s quick, works Windows, Linux and OSX (Recuva runs only on Windows) and there won’t be unnecessary writing to the drive you’re trying to recover data from. For Mac users we also suggest FileSalvage. Although not free (80$) it can recover data of virtually any type, and it can even recover from damaged drives.
These can recover even from drives which have been formatted, and the recovery operation is highly successful if the data hasn’t been overwritten. Generally speaking, TestDisk may involve some usage of the command line, FileSalvage has several complex, advanced features, and Recuva is truly user friendly if you’re not that well versed in computers.
If the drive is physical damaged, if it’s completely wiped out, or overwritten, we’re afraid there’s not much you can do by yourself. That means it’s time to call some data recovery experts, who have the necessary knowledge and tools to recover data even off formatted, overwritten or damaged drives. Those services usually cost a few hundreds of dollars, but they’re a viable option if the data stored on the drive is extremely important.