[FIXIT] Hard Drive Data Recovery Services

Category: Hard-Drives

A reader asks: “My hard drive was making a clicking sound, and now it won't start up at all. Should I try to fix it myself, or send it to a hard drive repair service?” Here is my advice...

Time For a Hard Drive Recovery Service?

We tend to assume that our computers are infallible, but it's usually a matter of time before some form of data loss occurs. Just like a car, a computer can break down and parts wear out. Hard drives are no exception. And as much as we know we should back up all our important files, how many of us do that on a regular basis? Fortunately, there are many ways to recover from a hard drive failure.

Of course, if your computer is still under warranty, it's best to contact the company where it was purchased, or if you have a Mac, take it to one of their Apple Stores. No warranty? There are some common hard disk problems that you can fix yourself, with a bit of self-education. For now, let's assume you have hard drive failure with no backups of your files, and focus on what you can do to recover your data.

In some cases, it's not physical damage that makes a hard drive appear to be kaput. Before you pry your drive open with a can opener, consider the do-it-yourself route using a specialized software tool. A free program called TESTDISK is very powerful, with the ability to fix partition tables, recover deleted partitions and boot sectors, rebuild FATs (file access table) and MFTs (master file table). It sounds geeky, but TESTDISK saved my bacon once when I thought my hard drive was completely hosed. It appeared that all my files were gone, but actually just the partition table was mangled. TESTDISK scanned the drive, rebuilt the partitions and all my files reappeared!

Hard drive recovery services

SpinRite is a commercial hard drive utility that can help to maintain hard disk drives, increase drive longevity, and repair many problems. Errors can accumulate over time on a hard drive, as the data naturally degrades. If you have trouble booting up, opening certain files or programs, or if you’re getting random errors, SpinRite may solve the problem.

YouTube also has some instructional videos for repairing specific hard drive brands and models. It can be very helpful to get step-by-step instructions, but unless you're fairly geeky, trying to save the hard drive yourself may cripple it even further.

Using a Hard Drive Recovery Service

If none of these DIY approaches solve the problem, or they just seem too daunting, the next best choice would be to engage an expert. The practice of retrieving data from damaged or inoperable disk drives is known as data recovery. If it's imperative that you retrieve data from a drive that is physically damaged, there is still hope. Data recovery services give you the option of sending your damaged drive to their engineers who will evaluate your hard disk, extract a file listing from it, and will retrieve any data possible. This type of service ain't cheap, though. The standard evaluation cost is usually around $100 (USD). Afterwards, the actual data recovery fee can run anywhere from $500 to $2500, depending on the amount of data and labor involved.

If you want to start local, electronics or office stores such as Best Buy or Staples can do the chore for you. At Best Buy, data recovery services start at $259. They will even send out a member of their Geek Squad if you need service in your home or office. There are also specialized data recovery services such as OnTrack Data Recovery and Salvage Data, which offer multiple solutions. Whether your problem is human or electrical, personal or business oriented in origin, they work on any system, and all types of hard drives. These companies have multiple certifications and security credentials, to give you peace of mind when sending your hard drive out for repair.

DTI is another company that can service your hard drive in a clean room environment, and they are authorized by all major hard drive manufacturers. They even go so far as to answer the question of why you should trust them. "Quote From NASA: 'Lockhead Martin referred us' end quote." Their remote data recovery service usually costs less than $100.00 and if there is no recoverable data, there is no charge.

Why is data recovery so expensive? This type of work requires a first-class "clean room" environment, with anti-static flooring, ventilation systems, temperature and humidity controls, microscopes and other specialized equipment. Clean room engineers should have engineering or electronics degrees, and must also wear hazmat-style suits to prevent any smoke or dust particles, fingerprints, or hair from contaminating the exposed disk surfaces. In cases where the physical media is damaged due to fire or flood, engineers can force the hard drive's read head around the damaged areas areas using specialized electronic devices and software.

After your disk is repaired, I recommend that you purchase an external hard drive and begin a daily regimen of backing up all your important files. The expense will be well worth the security and the costly repairs at another date and time.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[FIXIT] Hard Drive Data Recovery Services"

Posted by:

Gary Bergman
18 Oct 2016

There is no software solution if the drive won't spin. I have had limited success by putting the drive in a freezer for a few minutes (much longer will produce harmful condensation).
Immediately place the drive in a USB adapter and copy as much as you can.

Posted by:

Peter G Skelton
18 Oct 2016

Somewhere hidden in windows and also in some boises is a setting that makes a click on hd usage. I ran into this a few years ago, haven't time to look it up now

Posted by:

18 Oct 2016

I had a hard drive fail a few years ago where it would spin but it wasn't visible at all to the computer. Invisible even to the BIOS. So I couldn't run any recovery software on it because it wasn't visible. Most of the hard drive recovery services I contacted just wanted to run software. They really didn't seem to know what they were doing.

So I took the drive apart and decided it was probably the circuit board. Since I had an identical drive, I took its circuit board and put it in the failing drive. Still didn't work.

After doing some research I discovered that even though the drives were "identical" (manufacturer, model, etc.) they were manufactured at different times with different firmware. So I tried to see if I could get a circuit board with the right firmware but had no luck.

I contacted a friend at Seagate (the drive manufacturer) and it turns out that even if I had gotten the right firmware it wouldn't have fixed it. There is a custom chip on each (!) Seagate drive that is programmed at the factory for that specific drive. You can't read the drive without that chip!

There is a lot more to the story but I never got that drive working. I had a backup (about 6 months old) so I only lost 6 months worth of stuff. That wouldn't have been a problem except this was my wife's drive and she was ANGRY.

Lesson: As Bob has said many times, alway keep current backups. In addition to local backups, use an online backup service so that the most you lose is a few hours.

Posted by:

18 Oct 2016

Clicked on your link "Test Disk" and Norton gave me a "Dangerous Web Site - Blocked". Any idea why they would do that? Thanks

EDITOR'S NOTE: Norton is clearly wrong on this one. TESTDISK is safe and works great!

Posted by:

Steve Millburg
18 Oct 2016

Any reason you didn't mention DriveSavers? They recovered most of my data from a Mac hard drive that had been physically damaged by the failing read head. Not cheap, but they were good to work with.

Posted by:

18 Oct 2016

I've had luck pulling the cover off and manually spinning the disk(s) for stuck drives. As far as mixing components like circuit boards, etc. Never had that work.
Sometimes the oven works to loosen up the sticky grease on teh bearings also.

Posted by:

18 Oct 2016

This is free: IF your drive will boot to at least DOS Command Prompt "C", THEN you can try the old chkdsk (Check Disk) command --relabeled chkntfs for Win 7, 8, 8.1, and 10. Run it like: chkntfs /f /r C: (then press Enter). The extensions /f /r mean "fix" bad sectors and /r for "retrieve" useable data. Note that this will take time. My 500gb took 7 hours, but it runs better than before! (I lost ~15gb of disk space.) For very specific info, goto "How-To-Geek Guide to Using Check Disk in Windows 7, 8, or 10".

Posted by:

20 Oct 2016

What a great article.. my raid1 style double hard drive just failed with 15 years of videos and pics on it of my daighter that died. I have been devastated about this. Your article gives me great info on how to take the next step to getting it fixed. I thought having a double hard drive set up would keep me safe but I guess not.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2016

Having an external HDD is not foolproof either, I have backed up onto an external drive for a year, but a few months ago the drive letter went missing from Windows explorer and now the external drive cannot be found, so for irreplaceable data I would suggest two external HDD's and a memory stick :-/

Posted by:

Jack Johnson
27 Oct 2016

If the hard drive was making clicking sound, no doubt data recovery services are a good option; But, everyone can’t afford to pay for data recovery services. So, an alternative to this, which we can use to recover is the data recovery software. Few of them are listed below:

1) Stellar Phoenix Free Data Recovery.
2) MiniTool Power Data Recovery
3) Orion File Recovery Software
4) LazeSoft Data Recovery – Free

You can try any of these software for complete retrieval of your lost/deleted data.

Posted by:

Jack Epstein
21 Nov 2016

Just clicked on TestDisk out of curiosity. I got a surprise warning from my Symantec overseer that I was on a dangerous web site. Thought you might want to check it out. Since I am in the midst of trying to correct, I reverted to being a natural born coward and quickly left the site.
Thanks for your informative articles!

Posted by:

Wholesale Computers and Technology LLC
29 Jan 2019

We offer computers at wholesale price in a first come first serve Daily Deal Specials! Our clients fill out the email box below,
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