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How To Extract Files From A Dead Hard Drive

How To Extract Files From A Dead Hard Drive

What scares you more than losing everything on your
computer now? If your hard drive (HDD) died right now, this second,
would your heart sink in your stomach or start it right up in your
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You have been sure that your files will be backed up to a cloud
service or that your cherished photos are backed up to an external HDD. So
it’s not a big deal … right? Even still, if the hard drive crashed, you would possibly
lose some files.

Don’t panic, we’re here to help. There’s a good chance that you
can get the files back even if the hard drive isn’t physically damaged.

How do I know if my hard drive is physically damaged?

There are a few pointers to help you know when your hard drive is physically damaged. Sound is a great indicator. If you hear a repetitive clicking sound coming from your computer before it dies, or on startup, your drive is likely to be physically damaged.
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That is the sound of the read / write head trying to get back to its home position and failing. Turn off your computer immediately. We’ll talk about why in a minute.
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If you hear even the mildest scraping or grinding sounds,
your hard drive is physically damaged. That is the sound of the read / write head
shaving the surface of the disk in the drive. Turn off your computer now.

Why do you have to turn off your computer when you hear
these sounds? Because every second that you hear these tones, the hard drives
in the HDD are damaged beyond repair. Every bit of the hard drives that are
damaged means that the files, folders, pictures or videos are lost forever.

You can still recover some of the files but it needs finding a data recovery specialist and spending at least $ 1000 dollars. Data recovery specialists have very expensive equipment and training and sterile, dust-free environments.

This will allow you to delicately, take apart your hard drive and use your special electronics and tools to slowly, carefully, restore as much as you can. There are no guarantees, however. You won’t know how damaged the drive is until you take it apart.
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If you don’t have the symptoms of internal damage but you just
don’t have the money for a professional recovery, you could still give it a shot.
At this point, you’re counting the files gone, so roll the dice,
play the lottery, and try to learn something. You can get lucky and recover
your grandparents wedding photo, or nephew his first birthday

My HDD Sounds Good, How Can I Recover Files By Myself?

If your hard drive has no signs of damage,
the disparity of file recovery are pretty good. Let’s look at the options.

With a LiveCD or LiveUSB and an external hard drive

We already have a detailed how-to about this in How to Retrieve Windows Files Using a Linux Live CD. The idea is to get a bootable USB drive with a Linux distribution on it, like on the Hiren’s Boot CD or Ultimate Boot CD.

Use the LiveUSB to boot the computer with the dead drive. It
boots into the operating system on your LiveUSB instead of your computer
operating system. Connect your other USB HDD so that you have a place to store the

The LiveUSB have some kind of file explorer, like
Windows Explorer. Open it up and see if you can access your hard drive with it. When you
can find your files, you should be able to copy them to your external hard

Remove the hard drive and connect to another computer

This may seem a little extreme, but it can work well. It’s
easier to do with desktop computers over laptops, but when you’re ready to try
you can do this.

First, make sure that the computer is not plugged in and has no power to
it. If it’s a laptop, you’ll want to remove the battery as well.

Remove the cover from the PC case or laptop and find
the hard drive. Disconnect any cables attached to it. When you pull
out the cable, pull through the hard end of the cable, not by pulling on the
cable itself. This can harm you.

It may undo some screws to allow you to remove the
hard drive. Try not to touch the contact pins or circuitry that may be exposed
to the hard drive. Also, don’t erase the hard drive. Either this could lead to damage
that would prevent you from being able to use the hard drive.

Now you can either connect it to another computer
installing it in a PC or attach it as an external hard drive. Let’s see
install it in another PC first.

Install the hard drive in another PC

If you took the hard drive out of one PC, you can probably install it
in another PC. Most personal computers are built with the ability to have two or more HDDs

Open the PC and see if there is an empty HDD bay and empty
cable connections to use. If it works, install the hard drive, then connect the cables.
Turn on PC and go into Windows Explorer to see if your drive is visible.
If so, copy the files that you want to save.

Once you have the files off the drive, you may be able to
format it and use it as a secondary drive if there is no physical damage to it.

Connect the hard drive to another PC via USB

This option is easier as it doesn’t require taking other
computers apart. If you’ve removed the HDD from a laptop, this is probably the way
to go. Even with this method, there are a couple of ways you can do this.

One method is to use an external USB HDD enclosure. You can
buy these online for as little as $ 20 US dollars. Open the case and
install your hard drive. Then you plug it into the USB port on your work computer
and you have access to your files. Plus, you now have a
large capacity external HDD .

Once you salvage your files, you may want to put a full
format on the external HDD. This will help mark the damaged areas as
unusable in the file system. Because the drive will then no longer write to these
branches, you may get several months, even years, of service.

Another method is to use a USB hard drive adapter or USB HDD
docking station. The adapter is a set of cables that clear the hard drive and
sometimes is a power supply. Then plug it into a USB port and your computer
should pick it up as it is, an external USB hard drive.

It’s a bit sloppy because you have two or three cables
strewn across the desk and the HDD just sits exposed. But it doesn’t work. These
adapters sell for around $ 20.

The HDD docking station looks a bit like a toaster. You put
the HDD in you and then you plug it in for the wall socket and plug the USB connector into
your computer. It should show up as an external USB hard drive as well. Docks sell for
around $ 40.

After both, we recommend the HDD dock, especially if
you are the unofficial IT person for friends and family. A good one can also be
used to clone hard drives while not using a computer.

What About Dead Solid State Drives?

Solid state drives (SSD) are inherently not easy to recover
files from. Usually when the SSD doesn’t seem to work, it won’t always
work. Be prepared for this. Yet there is one thing you can try that might work.
It’s a slim chance, but still a chance. This method only works if the
fail is due to the power dissipation from a power outage in your area or something like

Remove the data transfer cable from the SSD, but leave the
power cable connected. When you connect the cable to the SSD which has power and data
integrated, you need a SATA power cable.

It might be possible to do with an external USB drive
enclosure when it has separate power and data cables. Connect the SATA power
cable to the corresponding point on the SSD and the host PC’s power connector. Follow
the cable was already connected to find the SSD where it should go.

Next, turn on the computer and let it sit for 20
minutes. Don’t do anything to the computer, just let it be.

Turn off the computer completely and disconnect the drive
for 30 seconds.

Reconnect the drive, turn on the computer, and
wait another 20 minutes. Turn off the computer and disconnect the power adapter from
the SSD.

Connect the SSD to the two power and data cables just
as it was before we started. Turn on your computer. If everything went well,
it should work. If it works, also do a firmware update for your SSD to
make sure that it works and not damaged by the power outage.

If that doesn’t work, the only reliable way to get data out of
a dead SSD is to contact a data recovery specialist and get your wallet.

An ounce of prevention …

If one reads to learn something, the thing to
learn is backup, backup, backup. And then back up a few more. With the proliferation
and relative affordability of cloud storage and cheap external hard drives,
you should all of your files be backed up using at least one, if not two, different
storage methods. Then you never have to worry about going through this mess
of trying to recover data from a dead hard drive.
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