Recovering Lost Data In The Worst Case Scenario
It is the moment most computer users fear: a dreaded blue screen alerting you that a hard disk failure is imminent, or worse, has already occurred.
The first reaction for most of us is sheer panic and the worry that we may have lost all of that precious data residing on our hard drive. Those hundreds of pictures not yet printed, the spreadsheets and reports that took months to complete, those countless important documents that you've been meaning to back up, but just haven't gotten around to yet.
Hard disk failure is one of the most common problems for computer users and is caused by a hard disk drive malfunction, resulting in the loss of data and information. Before you panic, understand that you still may have a chance at recovering lost data after a hard disk failure.
Why Hard Disk Failure Occurs
Hard disk failure is caused by one of four problems: a mechanical failure, an electronic failure, logical errors or firmware corruption. A mechanical failure can be caused by a defect or breakdown in one or more of the internal hard drive's components, while an electronic failure is often due to external issues such as a power spike, electrical surge or a major fluctuation in voltage. Logical errors and firmware corruption can be harder to detect. A logical error occurs when there is a corruption or loss of file system in the drive. A firmware corruption can be triggered when an issue arises in embedded software code, causing it to disrupt other programs on your computer.
To attempt a recovery at home, you will first need to make sure that the hard drive is at fault for your problems. The easiest way to do this is remove the damaged hard drive and connect it to another, healthy, computer through a USB drive adapter. Adapters cost about $40 and are available at most major computer and electronic retailers. If the data is recoverable, then it should show up on the secondary computer. In this case, transfer the data and use an external hard drive to back it up as soon as possible.
Data Not There?
If your lost files do not show up on the second computer, your hard disk drive may have been physically damaged - or has a severe logical error that may be too hard to fix at home. Fortunately, it is almost always possible to recover data. For example, computer forensics experts in court cases have been able to recover data a criminal thought had long been destroyed. The bad news is the process can be difficult and expensive.
If it is determined that your hard disk failure is due to a logical error, the data still exists and may be recovered using a diagnostic software tool. To run a diagnosis, the broken hard drive needs to be connected to a secondary computer via the USB drive adapter and a scan started. Searching online for "data recovery software" will provide you with some diagnostic tools, often with a free scan to assess the software's ability to recover a percentage of your data. You will need to then purchase a downloadable version or buy the software at a computer or electronics retailer.
The software, once installed, will prompt you to select the affected hard disk drive to scan and will transfer them to a specified point on your secondary computer. You will need to make sure that the secondary computer has enough memory to support the contents of your old hard disk. This process can take many hours or even days and may not transfer all data. Data that is transferred may be re-named in a numerical format, requiring that you open and rename all of your files.
It is important to note that, like all mechanical devices, a hard disk will eventually wear down and fail. Even healthy hard disk drives will eventually wear out, making frequent data back-up extremely essential. That's why computer experts can all agree on one thing: the easiest way to avoid losing data due to hard disk failure is to back it up, as often as you can.