How to Recover Data From a Hard Disk

By Shawn M. Tomlinson

  • Overview

    Computer hard disks store a great deal of information, from photos to movies to novels. The problem is that every once in a while, the data gets snagged or the HD sectors go bad. While most HDs will compensate for these problems, sometimes they can't. That's when it becomes necessary to extract the data and either reformat the HD or, in extreme cases, throw it out.
    • Step 1

      Use file-saving software at all times on all computer hard disks. This will make it much easier to recover data if a problem occurs later, because this type of software encodes and catalogs files and data to help you recover it later.
    • Step 2

      Use the built-in data recovery software first. Most computers come with utilities for minor repairs and extraction. For example, the Apple Macintosh comes with Disk Utility, a program for reformatting and repairing hard drives. It is a very basic program, but in some cases, simply hitting the "repair disk" button will save the disk and the data without further trouble.


    • Step 3

      Move on to better programs such as TechTool Pro if the Disk Utility fails. This and other HD protection software packages have specific tools to fix HDs or, when all else fails, recover the data to another disk.
    • Step 4

      Have another HD ready for data recovery. It is a bad idea to recover data to the same hard disk because the problem that caused you to lose data may still exist. Recovering data to CDs or DVDs also is problematic because they write data slower and interrupt its flow. This can be a problem if files are corrupted. Using a new or at least a separate HD for recovery means that you are writing the recovered files to a clean device.
    • Step 5

      Send the hard disk out to a data recovery service if all else fails. These services can be expensive, but if the data is crucial, they can use much more sophisticated techniques and tools to get it back.
    • Step 6

      Reformat the hard disk after you have recovered all the data you can. If it reformats and shows no problems, it probably is safe to keep using it. If the hard disk cannot be repaired, throw it out.
    • Skill: Moderately Challenging
    • Warning:
    • When you lose data or can't open files on a hard disk, stop using it immediately. The more activity on an HD, the more chance you are making the data unrecoverable.

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