What to Know About Recovering Data From Hard Drives

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We live in a culture where when something breaks, we often purchase a new one and move on. However, when it comes to data storage devices, that isn’t always possible. After all, we theoretically would at least like our data back first.

Recovering data from hard drives that seem dead is often possible, although it takes some know-how and a little luck. Join us as we discuss the basic mechanics of data recovery, how to assess your odds and more.

If you’re interested in specific data recovery services, keep reading here for more information.

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How Does a Hard Drive Store Data?

The first thing one should understand in order to grasp hard drive data recovery is how that data gets stored in the first place.

A hard drive stores data using magnetism. Within the device is a platter, coated with magnetic material. This material is magnetized and demagnetized at precise spots to store a given piece of information.

When all is going well, your computer can “talk” to the hard drive, learning what data sits on it and allowing you access. However, this process can go wrong in several ways, some of which are much worse than others.

Why Data Loss isn’t Always Permanent

When data that should be on a hard drive isn’t accessible, that doesn’t mean it can’t be recovered. One can recover data from broken hard drives if the data has not been ruined.

For instance, if you wish to recover data from dead hard drives, often it is possible to make them “alive” again. Many of the ways a hard drive can fail have nothing to do with the actual mechanisms storing your data.

The thing that’s killed your drive could be as simple as a bad power connection. In that case, getting power to the drive makes it right as rain again.

Things are even more simple if you wish to recover hard drive data from dead laptops. In that case, it’s often a simple matter of removing the drive and connecting it to a computer that works.

The real point of concern when it comes to recovering data is whether the platter has been damaged in any way. If the platter is damaged, data can be destroyed or corrupted.

The simple truth of data recovery is that you can only recover what is still there. Even a device that looks fine can have almost all the data on it ruined in certain circumstances (such as if run over strong magnets).

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What Experts Can Do to Help

If you want to recover data from damaged hard drives, it is often best to get an expert’s help. They can’t work miracles but they should be able to recover what data is actually on your drive, even if you cannot.

When a drive starts to go, you’re somewhat on the clock. If data seems lost, the odds the loss is permanent increases the more you fiddle with the drive or continue to use it. An expert will have a gentler hand.

One of the first things many experts can do is use special software to try and force a “conversation” between their computer and your drive, even if it wouldn’t normally be possible. Often this is enough to recover lost data.

If that doesn’t work, they may then try and physically repair the drive, getting it to work again. Often this fix is temporary but that is fine for their purposes; the goal is to recover your data and store it on a working drive again.

There you can read about a number of recovery services to help serve a wide variety of specific recovery needs.

Why Recovering Data from Hard Drives Is Complex

The discussion around data recovery is odd in that sometimes what seems like a small issue can mean recovery is impossible. Other times, serious damage to a drive won’t be enough to stop dedicated data miners.

In the case of extreme damage (such as smashing a drive), large amounts of data loss are inevitable. However, even then, dedicated (and expensive) teams can often still pull data from a drive.

For most home users, data should be thought of as lost if your hard drive’s platter breaks or, intentionally or not, the section of the platter containing a given piece of data has been overwritten.

If this hasn’t happened but the data is still not visible, stop using the drive immediately. Next, take it to an expert as soon as possible. If you do that, full or at least partial recovery is likely.

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Hard Drives are Ticking Time Bombs

A hard drive can be expected to last about 4-6 years. After that time, one can expect their drive to break down in some way. It’s the reality of any object with moving parts; wear is inevitable.

Even this timeline is imperfect. Drives can break much sooner or much later depending on the conditions they’re kept in or pure luck. This is ignoring the risk of something like a fire or electric storm ruining the drive in an instant.

This is why any good computer expert will tell you to regularly store your data on a backup. That way you can never lose more than a few days’ worth of data unless two (or more) drives are ruined at once.

If you’re truly worried about data loss, there are a number of solutions one can look at. Even storing data on an SSD instead of a hard drive can help, as SSDs tend to last much longer.

Data Loss Requires Swift Action

The short of the above is that recovering data from hard drives is often possible but requires speed and care. Data disappearing means something is wrong. The longer you ignore the issue, the higher the chance of permanent loss.

Whether data recovery is possible or not, remember that this is also a sign your drive is more or less garbage (although remember to recycle). It can no longer be relied on to store data and will likely get worse.

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