[HOWTO] Hard Drive Data Recovery Services

Category: Hard-Drives

An AskBob reader asks: “My hard drive was making a clicking sound, and now it won't boot up correctly. 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 "[HOWTO] Hard Drive Data Recovery Services"

Posted by:

30 Aug 2022

If the drive is a usb drive 1st check with another cable. Or check cable to usb port!

Posted by:

30 Aug 2022

As an additional note consumers should not open the case cover of a hard drive if they value their data. Most data recovery services will add an initial fee to work on a hard drive that has been opened by a consumer. The quoted maximum fee for a data recovery of $2500 does not include more complicated failures.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
30 Aug 2022

In order NOT to need a data recovery service:
- Invest in two disk drives of the same capacity, and install them in your machine.
- Configure them as a RAID-1 array
- Copy your data from its present location onto the RAID array, and configure the array as your data location.
- You can then,from time to time and for more data security, back it up on your original drive.

Posted by:

30 Aug 2022

Hi Bob! Will this work on an external non-bootable drive? I have one I use for backups and it doesn't want to give back the data, lol.

Posted by:

30 Aug 2022

With a good backup, you'll never, ever, need a data recovery service.

I'm tempted to say, it's your own fault.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
31 Aug 2022

I have a back-up regimen that works well. I generate a full system image on the first day of the month and a differential system image daily. I keep 2 full system images and 30 differential images (using Macrium Reflect Free). I also sync my files with OneDrive, so I have an always up to date off-site backup. Between these two measures, I'm pretty much protected from nearly anything that can happen (and I survive). At the start of each month, I go through my folders to move anything I no longer need to an external 2TB USB drive as a compressed archive to save space. I have one archive for each month in the year, and a folder for each year - up to the past eleven years. After an archive is 11 years old, I delete it (well, it's folder - done annually).

This is how I manage my data, and control how much is stored on my computer.

I hope this helps others,


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
31 Aug 2022

I almost forgot; I do have test disk as part of the System Rescue drive (https://www.system-rescue.org/). I've not needed to use it yet, but it is good to know it's there :)


Posted by:

Dana Lynch
31 Aug 2022

My solution is that I keep nothing on my computer except programs. Everything is backed up on 2 hard drives and one usb flash drive. I keep my app downloads, files, videos and pictures on them. If one gets corrupted I format the drive and put everything back on it. I also use AOMEI Pro and backup regularly on all three.

Posted by:

01 Sep 2022

Bob says that our thoughts are welcome

Well mine are as follows - both the article and
the contributions of contributors.........

Thank you to both and I have no doubt that copious notes have been made on this frightening subject and most have bookmarked this page.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2022

My external hard drive died. Took to well known big box retailer and they examined the hard drive and told me I need outside data recovery support. Tech was hesitant to have me do with them which leads me to believe he felt they charge too much! Any suggestions on where to go?

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are several suggestions in the article.

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