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Hard Drive Damage and Deciding on a Data Recovery Method April 11, 2013

Posted by Greg Johnson in Uncategorized.
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There are many possible causes of drive errors and data inaccessibility. These are reviewed in the document Data Recovery Scenarios Causes, Solutions, and Cost Estimates. In general, the following is true:

  • Low cost data recovery approaches ($200-$500) are adequate for many data recovery scenarios. However, in some cases these have less success and in some rare cases (explained below) could lead to further damage of the drive.
  • Expensive data recovery methods ($800-$1500) can reduce possible damage to the drive (when applicable) and result in more thorough data recovery. This is explained in more detail below.

For the person who feels their data isn’t worth $1500 to them, and they aren’t worried about possibly losing a few additional files in the process of recovering everything else, the low-cost solution is okay.

Further Reading

Corrupted Data. Generally speaking, when drives have file corruption (logical errors), but no mechanical/physical damage, recovery is possible using a purely software-based recovery method. File corruption often impacts only a few files. Deleted files are also recoverable using software. These methods can be time consuming due to lengthy scan times, but they are relatively inexpensive.

Physical Damage. When drives have mechanical/physical damage, it’s usually necessary to resolve/repair circuitry problems and/or replace drive components. There are four general categories of physical drive damage:

  1. Heads Damaged. The heads in a hard drive float on top of high-speed spinning metal platters to read data. If any of these heads are broken, turning the drive on may cause further scratching of the plater surface resulting in permanent data loss and/or corruption. In these cases, the best choice is having the drive physically repaired first, then recover the remaining readable data. This is a very expensive approach and can cost up to $1200-1500.
  2. Drive Not Spinning. Drives can stop spinning for a variety of reasons. When this happens, the only choice is to have the drive physically repaired first, then recover the remaining readable data. This is a very expensive approach and can cost up to $700-1500.
  3. Circuit Board Failure. The electrical components in a hard drive can fail due to excess use, poor quality, or overheating. When this happens, it may be that the rest of the drive is mechanically okay and the data is not harmed. When this happens, only choice is to have the drive circuitry repaired first, then recover the remaining readable data. This is a very expensive approach and can cost $700-$1500.
  4. Damaged Sectors. If a drive is bumped or dropped while powered on and spinning, damage to the inside spinning metal platers can occur. This usually is in the form of heads scratching or skipping across the surface of the drive platters and damaging the surface, thus harming the data. If the other drive components mentioned above are still working, and only a small area of the hard drive surface is damaged, it is possible to avoid the excessive cost of data recovery mentioned above. Software can thoroughly scan the drive to recover all readable files and skip over (or partially recover) files harmed from hard drive damage.

Deciding on a Data Recovery Method. There are basically two choices for data recovery from drives with hardware issues:

  1. Keep Costs Down. If a drive has one or more damaged heads, but is still working and mostly readable (despite some errors and corrupted files), it may be possible to continue with file and data recovery using software. However, there is a risk that this may cause further damage and file loss. If a person knows their budget is limited to $200 to $300 (for example), and they can’t spend anything more, then their only choice is this time consuming but less expensive software scan and recovery. However,
  2. Maximize Data Recovery Results. To maximize data recovery results, if a person is willing to spend $1500 for their data recovery, then the best choice is to have the drive hardware thoroughly examined in a clean room, perhaps at a microscopic level, and refurbished if needed. Then, any further recovery will likely be more successful and less likely to cause further damage.

The data owner needs to make a decision based on their budget and the value of the data to them.

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