How to Recover Data From an Old Disk Drive

By Shawn M. Tomlinson

  • Overview

    When you get a new computer, any old hard drives---both those inside computers and externals---tend to get forgotten. They're forgotten, that is, until some critical piece of old data is needed. Fortunately, there are ways to extract at least some of the old data.
    How to Recover Data From an Old Disk Drive
    • Step 1

      Determine what version of the system software the old hard drive is formatted to. If you remember, you are way ahead. The system version (whether Macintosh or Windows) determines how the data was stored and what it will take to recover it. If you don't remember, take a guess based on when the hard drive last was used.
    • Step 2

      Try simply plugging external HDs into the new computer. If it's not too old, it simply will register as an external device, and you may be able to move files directly onto the new hard drive on the computer.

    • Step 3

      Take a laptop hard drive and reattach it inside the laptop. Restart the laptop from the old HD. If this works---and it sometimes does---you can offload the data to an external drive, such as a thumbdrive or full HD.
    • Step 4

      Use data-recovery software if you can mount the old HD but cannot extract the information. For the Mac, the premier recovery software is TechTool Pro. For Windows, there are a variety of data recovery programs of varying quality. These include Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery Software, Prosoft (which also offers a Mac product) and Symantec. All of these programs can help recover data, no matter how old. None of them guarantees 100 percent success.
    • Step 5

      Send out the HD when all else fails. If the data is very important but none of the home or business recovery software is successful, there are companies like AeroData and DriveSavers that offer professional data recovery for a fee. You can send the old or damaged HD to these companies---and others---and they will use clean-room standards to extract what they can.
    • Skill: Moderately Challenging
    • Ingredients:
    • Data-recovery software
    • Tip: You can avoid frantically trying to recover data from old hard drives in the future by routinely backing up data on other hard drives, compact discs, digital video discs and Blu-ray discs.

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