How To Recover Data From a Dead Hard Drive
One of the most dreadful feelings that you can have is having a pc computer or laptop die that hadn’t been backed up recently; especially if you have valuable pictures, music, videos, documents or other files on it.
In this Tech Tip we’ll take a look at how to recover your valuable pictures from a dead computer.
Where to start Computers are complex machines and when they work right, they are fun to use – but when something goes drastically wrong, it can feel as if your world crashed down around you. If your hard drive is still in working order, there is a very good chance that you’ll be able to recover your pictures, music, videos and valuable documents (and other data) simply with another computer; a specialized cable, a screwdriver; and a little time. To start off, your best bet it to get a specialized USB cable that can plug directly into your hard drive that you’ll recover from the dead computer.
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Not worth the time it took to read this.
If it’s not drive failure then all you will do is install the drive into a different computer without the expenze associated with cables and other devices.
When computers don’t work, it’s frustrating. Trying to rescue important files (that were not backed up) can be time consuming. Many users give up and just buy a new laptop or desktop. The old unit that doesn’t work, makes it way to the Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift store never to be seen again. Wait! Someone with a USB to IDE/SATA cable might be able to recover your files.
Often I would get dead systems with drives that contained payroll masters, profit and loss statements, customer databases. A wealth of data that “no one could get to because the computer would not start.”
If you donate your dead system to anyone, first remove the hardrive, destroy it with a hammer on the driveway and throw it in electronic recycle. Crude but effective.
Although better than no backup solution, it is probably not wise to rely on external USB hard drive backups.
In the event of power failure events, lightning, flood, sprinkler or theft, your backups can be rendered useless.
For the really important stuff, it needs to be backed up off-site.
Look to Google docs or another off-site backup solution.
If your drive has important files on it you might want to copy or image the entire drive. Save it to another location..in other words first preserve the data that’s on it...you may decide you want to send it to a data recovery place.
IF the drive has mechanical problems it may completely crash and the drive will be damaged even more...so back it up first.
This post has nothing to do with repair of a dead hard drive this is how to transfer files from a working hard drive to another computer ie migration. You should change the u2 title to migration of data to from a working old hard drive to a new computer.
Last time I had a hard drive blow, I troed assorted products to recover the data. After paying money for products offering false hope, I decided to do the following:
1. I put it in my freezer for an hour.
2. I booted my Linux Ubunto off a USB on my spare Windows PC.
3. I moved all the files which no other app I used so far, would let me access to another HD, and Bam issue resolved.
What I learned is that my Linux is free, and is the best way to get files off a dead drive.
I’ve used docking stations and external cases with much success. I have tried the cables (three different ones) and I have NEVER been able to get them to work.
Don’t forget that with some overheating/semi-modern circuitry that you can /PLACE IT IN A BAG FIRST/, chill it to sub-freezing temps and bad solders and sometimes fried controllers will come back well enough to get them to copy all of a user’s ‘really really really need’ documents without spending a few grand replacing the hardware.
Also: Please, remember to cycle your USB keys. I managed to get one working by giving it a boost of power - one time out of 5 years. If it’s over a year old, and you use it every day, you will want to burn it to CD before it starts going bad (newer numbers for RECENT hardware trumph this, but a $5 USB key ain’t gonna be last-gen).
I had a major crash last month and could have benefited from all the info in this article! Now I’m keeping it handy for the future. Thanks!
I have never had any success using a Windows backup.
Would you recommend a 3rd party back program?
I found this article particularly frustrating since it is a fraud. I have 2 hard drives that have died that contain information I desperately need but recovery services want hundreds of dollars to retrieve. A couple of places, the title is correct - from a dead ‘computer’, but most say - from a dead ‘hard drive’. I really was hoping for some miraculous way to get my data back, only to find references to a GOOD hard drive obtained from a dead computer. It serves no purpose but to annoy when a technical person mixes up their terms, changing the entire meaning of their article. I would really hope that the editors would do a better job than allowing this article to be featured using its incorrect title.
I connected one of the specialized SATA / USB cable connectors to the back of the old hard drive, with the power cord also plugged into the old drive, then the ‘E’ drive port on the front of my e-machine T 5082. I could hear the drive ‘whirring’, the ‘power light’ was on, but nothing registered when I went to my computer’s “drives” folder. Does it mean that the old drive is not salvageable, or should I try another method?
The information on recovering data from a dead computer is helpful but, when you have to take a drive out of a desktop, it’s just as easy to plug it into another desktop and transfer the desired information. That’s in lieu of purchasing a transfer cable to do the same job.
The second part, the one where it’s the drive itself that’s bad, is the more interesting problem and the one you didn’t really answer.
I used a Best Buy service to transfer critical info from a dead drive. The cost was nominal, around $70, and well worth it considering what I would have lost.
Otherwise, you need a good amount of luck and lots of patience to extract the data yourself.
I managed to extract data from a ‘dead’ drive by installing it as a slave on another system and transferring data via Cut-and-paste until I got most of the stuff transferred.
It took a few tries as the drive was continually failing after a brief run.
With that said, I rate your article the same as I rate the weather man who tries to make a big thing out of every little cloud. The intro up front doesn’t match the content.
I had two hard drives in my old computer, the second one I had installed for all my documents and pictures. I had someone reformat my old computer’s main hard drive for me and found out afterwards my second drive got formated also at the same time...found out it is now “unallocated” and everything was erased too.
Now I need to try and recover everything and have no idea how to do that...I have not used that hard drive since. Does anyone know how to do that?
HI In this week ,i like use the specialized ubs cable for doing this. But you did say any thing about power the had drive up with a power supply for the had drive ,when use it with a good computer.
Thanks for the great article.
First and foremost, you really need to reconsider your title of the article. How to recover data from a dead hard drive. Even for advanced users, this is not doable. It takes specialized knowledge and equipment to accomplish that task. What your article is really about is retrieving data from a dead computer. Vastly different tasks.
Next, I have been building and repairing computers for nearly 30 years and I have never seen a hard drive secured in the system using screwdrivers. They have ALWAYS been attached with screws.
Third, a simple grammar checker would have caught the problem with this: “ The computer will then set up the drive ad an external storage device...”
Now, you never mentioned the possibility of denial of access due to permissions issues. On any drive using NTFS, the user is highly likely to need to change permissions on user folders in order to even view the files they contain, even if they are logged in as Administrator on the working machine since the SIDs on the foreign drive do not match anything on the local machine.
And lastly, a brute-force method of finding the useful data on a machine is a huge waste of time unless you are specifically on a pick-and-choose mission to just grab certain files and don’t care at all about the others. The fastest way to deal with this is with freeware utilities that will look for common data file extensions and copy them from the foreign drive to the local machine. In this way, you are much less likely to overlook anything, especially data files for Outlook and other applications that use the AppData directory (and others) to store data and not just the standard My Documents, My Pictures, etc.
Great article ... but mis-titled ...... since the hard drive is still OK ... it is the computer that’s dead ... title should be “Recover data from a working hard drove on a dead computer” .... in any case, your technical tips are excellent.
I clicked on “User Friendly” and it still printed pages of aadvertisements. I don’t understand why you can’t set it up to print only the article and not all this additional garbage which is a waste of paper.
Sorry about the title - it got changed in the editorial process (not be me) and I have put in a request for it to be switched back to the original title.
@ Bruce Adams
“If you donate your dead system to anyone, first remove the hardrive, destroy it with a hammer on the driveway and throw it in electronic recycle. Crude but effective.”
Point well taken. Even of a drive is “reformatted” the information is still there and can be easily recovered. I simply pull the drive and keep it in a bin in the garage. I will also run a 30-cycle DOD wipe over the drive before I get rid of it or simply destroy the drive (many laptop drives are easy to destroy since they use glass platters and not metal).
@ John Smigle (and others)
There are people who swear by the freezer method of trying to revive a drive long enough to pull the information off; but I have never been a strong advocate of that particular method. That being said, it may be a viable last ditch method that can be used to try to recover data.
Please check previous Tech Tip blog posts for other recommended back up programs. We have had some that dealt with specific recommendations.
Sometimes Windows (particularly older versions of it) gives an external drive the same drive letter as an existing drive (you can check for that in (you can check for this under the Computer Management>Storage>Disk Management tool in the control panel). The drive could also be protected as well.
Try the free program from Piriform called Recuva (referenced in the article). Do a “deep scan” to have it look for data still on the reformatted drive. Don’t write anything to that drive in the meantime.
@ roger atkisson
Those specialized USB cables will also come with cables that will power the hard drive as well.
you can transfer data into another hard drive ,pen drive through the USB port.then former the old hard drive then return data old hard drive.
The lesson here is always backup your computer to an external hard-drive. They are so cheap that everyone should have one now.
Great article. I’ll be using these tips next time i have a hard drive failure. Thanks
I am really happy after reading this blog. All the information is systematically described and the tips given are marvelous.
Bryan, thanks for responding to my post. I almost forgot I posted it, as your response of 6/14 is just appearing, today on 7/5 ! Anyway, I failed to mention that I am running Windows 7, but will try your suggestion in searching it. I had it patched through the “E” USB, external port that I use for CD/DVD drives, but no ‘recognition’. I’ll try another USB port.
knowledgeable enough for those who want to restore their data after all but then I guess it’s really time consuming.
This site deserves an excellent compliment indeed. Nice article, it’s helpful for all computer users.
Data recovery is very very expensive. Yes, regular back up should be practiced.
I had a customer with a raid 0 configured hard drive this week with tons of business documents.
One of the harddrives failed now we are sending in to get recovered. Minimum cost $800 Always remember to backup.
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