Three Data Recovery Options For When Your Hard Drive Has Crashed

If your hard drive has crashed and you don’t have a recent backup then it’s time to start thinking about what your options are to recover your data.


You’ve already had one critical failure when the drive failed prior to making a backup, and if you need to get your data back then you must take the right approach depending upon what the data is worth to you.  The first think you will need to determine after your hard drive fails and before you attempt any recovery is ‘What is my data worth to me?’.  Once you have determined what the value of it is, you must determine which of the three options is best suited for you.  Choosing the wrong option may end up meaning that you spend far more than your data was worth, or worse yet that you lose your data entirely.

  1. Buy a software program for data recovery or use free software to recover the data.  This option is either free or very inexpensive and accordingly comes with the greatest amount of risk.  If you have already decided that you do not want to risk the permanent loss of your data then skip this step and continue on to #2 or 3.  there are a number of different free data recovery programs on the market and some that can be purchased as well.  If your drive is damaged then there is a good possibility that it’s in a protective mode and shut itself down as it sensed the damage occurring.  Free software such as Knoppix may override that and allow you to access the drive again.  You may end up slowly recovering your data for free but running a damaged drive after it’s shut itself down can also cause the drives “heads” to cause scratches in the surface of the disk as it spins (aka rotational scoring) and make the drive unrecoverable.  This is not always the case though and if you are not able to retrieve your data this way you might end up with only a little extra damage where a clean-room may still be able to recover it.  using software is literally a roll of the dice and you may end up with all your data back for free, you could end up with the drive that’s still recoverable in a clean-room but costs more to recover, or you may end up with a drive that is unrecoverable.
  2. Take the hard drive to a computer service center, your friend who works in the IT department or someone that is a computer expert whom you trust and ask them to recover it.  This is essentially option #1 with a more skilled operator at the wheel.  If the data is recoverable with software then an IT professional should be able to recover it so if you’re not a computer expert then it’s a better bet than option #1.  The problem with gambling though is that there’s no way to know if the drive is recoverable with software without risking the data to find out.  Most IT service providers will try plugging the hard drive into their computer and using software to recover it as well.  Data recovery is a specialization that requires very expensive equipment and it can take years to learn how to correctly program that equipment to prevent further damage to the drive.

    Example of a hard drive with rotational scoring from prior failed software recovery attempts.

    Example of a hard drive with rotational scoring from prior failed software recovery attempts.

  3. Find a data recovery service provider that provides clean-room service and hire them to recover it for you.  A clean-room data recovery lab is the best and usually the most costly option.  A clean-room has special equipment that is used inside a clean-air chamber to prevent contaminating the hard drives magnetic surface when it is opened.  Failing parts can be replaced so that the data can be accessed without risk of further damage. Even if someone else has already tried and failed to recover the data a clean-room data recover lab can most of the time still get the data back from your failing hard drive. It is not unheard of for clean-room jobs to cost thousands of dollars however clean-room work usually starts around $400-600.

With some skill and a little luck you may be able to recover your data for free.  But if your data is something that you don’t want to take chances with then you will need a clean-room data recovery service provider.  There are many to choose from and clean-room prices range from $269 to thousands of dollars depending upon the clean-room, what’s wrong with the drive and how damaged it is.  If there is a data recovery lab in your area then you may be able to take your drive there for a free diagnostic test in order to get a price quote prior to making any decision.


Jason Roskopf.  In co-operation with ITC Data Recovery lab



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