Recovering lost data from an internal hard drive is often possible, but depends on the type of data loss that has occurred. An internal hard drive contains the operating system, programs, and files on a computer. There are various reasons why you may need to recover data from an internal drive:
Common causes of data loss on an internal hard drive
- Accidental deletion – Files may be permanently deleted or erased.
- Hard drive failure – The hard drive has mechanical faults or electronic issues.
- Partition loss – The partitions on the hard drive become corrupted or deleted.
- OS failure – Issues with the operating system prevent access to the drive.
- Malware attack – Viruses or other malware damage files on the hard drive.
- Logical failure – The drive’s file system is corrupted.
- Water/fire damage – Physical damage to the hard drive.
When data loss occurs, the first step is to determine the exact cause and extent of the issue. This will dictate the data recovery options available. The next sections provide an overview of recovering data from an internal hard drive depending on the failure type.
Recovering data from accidental deletion
Accidentally deleted files are often recoverable. When a file is deleted, it isn’t immediately erased from your hard drive. Instead, the reference to the file’s location on the hard drive is removed from the file system index. The actual file contents remain on the hard drive until that section is overwritten with new data.
To recover a deleted file, you need data recovery software that scans the hard drive and looks for file data that is still intact but no longer referenced in the file system table. The software reconstructs the file structure so you can access the data again.
As long as new data hasn’t overwritten the deleted file’s data clusters on the hard drive, recovery is possible. The sooner you act after deletion, the greater the chances of successful data recovery. If the file you need is large, recovery chances are higher since it takes more time to overwrite a large file.
Best data recovery software for recovering deleted files
Here are some top data recovery programs for retrieving accidentally deleted files from internal hard drives:
- Stellar Data Recovery – Has a user-friendly interface and robust scanning to find deleted files.
- EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard – Allows filtering scan results by file type for easy file location.
- Disk Drill – Excellent for recovering data after accidental formatting or partition deletion.
- R-Studio – Good for Advanced users doing complex data recovery tasks.
Recovering data from hard drive mechanical failure
If the internal hard drive has physical damage or mechanical malfunction, a different data recovery approach is required. Common hard drive failure issues include:
- Disk read/write heads are stuck and not working
- Spindle motor failure
- Damaged platters
- Failed PCB board
In cases of physical damage to the hard drive, you should enlist the help of a professional data recovery service. Specialized clean room facilities are required to safely disassemble and access the internal components of a hard drive.
The drive platters need to be removed and placed in a functioning donor drive to be read. Damaged components may need to be replaced. Professional data recovery services are expensive but often the only way to retrieve data from a drive with mechanical issues.
Top hard drive failure recovery services
Here are some reputable professional data recovery labs for hard drives with physical damage:
- Secure Data Recovery – Worldwide service with 90%+ success rate for platter transfer recoveries.
- Ontrack – Over 20 years experience and proprietary data recovery methods.
- Gillware – No-recovery, no-charge policy. Free shipping both ways.
- Ace Data Recovery – Free evaluation and competitive pricing.
Recovering data from partition loss
The partition structure of a hard drive is also vulnerable to file system corruption or unintentional deletion. This can make it seem like partition data is lost when it still resides on the drive. Common partition failure scenarios include:
- Accidental partition deletion
- Partition table corruption
- Partitions marked as inactive
- Partition size shrunk accidentally
Advanced data recovery software is able to locate existing partition data and rebuild corrupt partition tables. This restores access to missing or deleted partitions. Software that can be used includes:
- R-Studio – Has customizable options for locating and rebuilding lost partitions.
- TestDisk – Widely used open source data recovery utility.
- EaseUS Partition Recovery – Fixes corrupted partitions and recovers deleted files.
As long as the partition data still exists and has not been overwritten, the right software makes recovery straightforward in most scenarios.
Recovering data from operating system failure
When the operating system on your computer fails to boot properly, it may seem like your data is inaccessible. However, in most cases, the data will remain intact on the hard drive.
Common OS failure scenarios include:
- Windows system files corrupted
- Computer infected by boot sector virus
- System registry errors prevent booting
- Boot loader damaged
To recover data in these situations, boot the computer from an OS recovery disk or external media, then copy the data files from the hard drive to external storage. Alternatively, remove the hard drive and connect it as a secondary drive to another computer to access the data.
Once the data is safely copied elsewhere, you can perform a system restore or reinstall the operating system to get your computer running again.
Top tools for booting unbootable drives
Helpful tools for booting unbootable drives and recovering data include:
- Hiren’s Boot CD – Provides various system recovery and disk imaging utilities
- Super Grub2 Disk – Specialized boot utility with support for many file systems
- SystemRescueCD – Includes file managers, imaging software, and antivirus tools
- Ubuntu Live CD/USB – The Ubuntu operating system can be run from removable media
Recovering data from malware attack
Viruses, worms, spyware and other malicious software can damage files on a hard drive or encrypt files and hold them for ransom. Recovering damaged files is often impossible, but encrypted files can be decrypted in some cases.
If a virus corrupted your Master Boot Record, partition tables, or file system structures, this needs to be repaired using data recovery software before individual files can be salvaged.
For ransomware infections, preventing the encryption process from completing gives the best chance for recovery. Once files are encrypted, decryption would require paying the ransom or finding a flaw in the encryption algorithm to crack it.
Protecting against future malware attacks
Steps to safeguard your system and data from future malware attacks include:
- Installing antivirus software with real-time scanning
- Keeping all software updated with the latest security patches
- Scanning external devices for malware before connecting them
- Blocking suspicious programs and files with Windows Firewall
- Creating backups of important data to disconnected storage media
Recovering data from logical failure
Logical failure occurs when the hard drive’s file system structure is corrupted. This prevents data from being located by the operating system even though the data remains intact on the drive. Causes can include:
- Accidental file system format
- File system structures overwritten
- File system errors due to incomplete disk operation
- Lost file system superblock
Data recovery software can repair the file system corruption by reconstructing the original file system or converting to a supported file system. This requires locating existing data on the drive and rebuilding the folder structures so the operating system recognizes the files again.
Logical recovery has a high success rate unless data has overwritten critical file system components. Open source tools like TestDisk excel at rebuilding corrupted file systems.
Recovering data from physical hard drive damage
Physical damage to a hard drive from a dropped computer, power surge, fire or other disaster leads to extremely difficult and expensive recovery scenarios. Special methods are required:
- Data center recovery – The drive is repaired and recovered at an advanced data center facility.
- Platters transplanted – The drive plates are moved to an operational drive to read the data.
- Specialized hardware repair – Component replacement and PCB work repairs the drive enough to recover data.
Even professional data recovery labs may not be able to recover data from hard drives with extreme physical damage. The techniques used also tend to be costly with no guarantee of success. Backing up irreplaceable data is the best defense.
Data recovery success rates
The likelihood of recovering lost data depends greatly on the cause of the data loss and how long ago it occurred. In general, here are the average success rates for data recovery:
|Data Loss Type||Average Success Rate|
As you can see, the most effective data recovery occurs when due to accidental deletion, partition issues, or operating system problems. In these cases, users can often recover data successfully themselves using DIY software tools.
For malware infections or physical hard drive damage, professional data recovery services provide the highest chance of salvaging lost data. But there is no guarantee of success.
DIY data recovery cautions
When attempting do-it-yourself data recovery from an internal hard drive, these precautions are advised:
- Don’t open up the hard drive – This exposes it to contamination that makes physical recovery difficult.
- Use read-only recovery tools – Avoid any software that writes data back to the drive.
- Create a clone/image if possible – This preserves the drive state for repeated recovery attempts.
- Recover data to a different drive – Don’t save recovered data back to the problem drive.
If you accidentally made things worse, immediately turn off the computer and take it to a professional. DIY recovery on a drive with hardware issues can convert it from repairable to unrecoverable.
When to avoid DIY recovery
These situations require professional data recovery services rather than DIY efforts:
- Mechanical hard drive failure has occurred
- Extreme physical damage visible – burnt, bent plates, shredded PCB
- Critical OS boot components corrupted
- Specialized clean room facilities needed
- Proprietary tools needed to decrypt encrypted drives
- Time-sensitive recovery scenario with extensive data loss
Being aggressive with DIY recovery on drives with physical issues or extreme file system corruption can make the damage worse. The more your data is worth, the lower your DIY data recovery risk should be.
Best option when DIY recovery fails
If you already attempted DIY recovery without success, a professional hard drive recovery service is your next best option before declaring the data as lost forever. Look for a reputable recovery lab that meets these criteria:
- Offers free evaluation of your drive
- Explains pricing/fees upfront
- Uses state-of-the-art tools and Class 100 clean rooms
- Highly qualified technicians perform recovery
- High recovery success rate for your type of failure
- Provides safe and secure shipping both ways
Professional lab recovery gives you the highest chance of getting back lost data when DIY options have failed.
Preventing data loss
While data recovery allows you to retrieve lost files in many cases, prevention is the best approach. Good data loss prevention practices include:
- Backup important files regularly to a separate device.
- Store backups offline and offsite to protect from disaster.
- Use cloud backup services for convenient automated backups.
- Enable drive mirroring or RAID data protection on critical systems.
- Use an uninterruptable power supply to avoid data loss due to power outage.
- Install security software to block malware infections.
- Handle hard drives carefully and maintain proper operating conditions.
Carefully planning backups and system redundancy provides greater data protection than after-the-fact recovery.
Recovering lost data from an internal hard drive is often possible if you select the correct DIY recovery method based on the cause of data loss. However, for physically damaged drives or cases requiring significant expertise, professional data recovery services give the best chance of success.
Always start by determining the exact failure type and research the options. Then choose the recovery method that avoids further damage and maximizes your chances. With the right approach, you can successfully restore lost files in many data loss situations.