How to Recover Data on a Hard Drive

By Ed Oswald

  • Overview

    Nobody likes to lose their precious data, but hard drive failures do happen. Luckily, there are several software-based solutions that allow for the relatively quick and painless recovery of most, if not all, data that could have been potentially lost.
    • Step 1

      Determine if the failure is caused by a mechanical or software issue. If it is a mechanical issue, professional data recovery services will need to be used in order to recover the data. Symptoms of mechanical failures are typically strange sounds emanating from the hard drive, or the failure of the drive to start at all; software issues are typically accompanied by error messages.
    • Step 2

      Start the data recovery software on a working computer (see Resources below for suggestions on possible software solutions). Follow the instructions on how to create a startup disk to use with the malfunctioning PC. In some cases, the software may use some other form of connectivity, such as cabling, to connect to the malfunctioning PC.


    • Step 3

      Attach a compatible storage device to the malfunctioning PC if needed, and begin the recovery process. Most external hard drives will be compatible, although they may vary from solution to solution. The data recovery software will typically have a list of compatible storage devices. Ensure that the data is recoverable. Monitor the progress to spot and correct any potential problems.
    • Step 4

      Complete the data recovery process. It is recommended that several recovered files be tested for integrity, especially those that may have been open close to the time the failure occurred. Open a few files and check to see if they open correctly and without error. If need be, the recovery process may need to be attempted again in order to recover some files properly.
    • Step 5

      Reformat the affected PC's hard drive and reinstall the operating system, if necessary (see Resources below). The recovered data can now be reloaded to the hard drive.
    • Skill: Moderately Easy
    • Tip: Always backup your data in order to prevent data loss. Even with recovery tools, a certain level of data loss should always be anticipated.
    • Warning:
    • Never interrupt the recovery process unless the recovery software says it is safe to do so.

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