Can I still recover files from broken external hard drive?

Losing files from an external hard drive due to it becoming damaged or corrupted can be devastating. Important documents, photos, videos and other irreplaceable data may seem to be gone forever. However, there is still hope for recovering data from a broken external hard drive if the proper steps are taken.

What causes an external hard drive to break?

External hard drives can become damaged and inaccessible for a variety of reasons:

  • Physical damage – Dropping or banging the hard drive can damage internal components and make data retrieval impossible.
  • Water damage – Liquid getting inside the housing can short circuit and corrode the drive’s circuitry.
  • Overheating – Excessive heat can damage the platters and other internal parts over time.
  • Power surges – Unexpected power spikes from the USB port can fry the hard drive’s controller board.
  • File system corruption – Errors or interruption while writing data can corrupt the drive’s file system.
  • Bad sectors – Permanent defects on the platters prevent data from being read.

These types of damage often lead to ominous symptoms like the drive not being recognized by the computer, strange noises coming from the unit, or the dreaded “click of death” when trying to access it.

Can the drive be repaired?

Depending on what exactly has gone wrong inside it, an external hard drive may be repairable but it requires specialized skills and tools. A technician would need to open up the casing, diagnose what components have failed, replace any unsalvageable parts, and reassemble the drive so it can function again.

For more serious physical damage like crashed platters or electrical short circuits, repair is likely to be prohibitively expensive and not worth the cost unless the data is absolutely essential.

Is DIY data recovery possible?

For someone without professional data recovery skills, DIY repair of a broken external drive is not recommended. You could potentially do further damage by tinkering with the drive and make data extraction less likely to succeed.

However, if the damage is relatively minor, some people have had success using DIY recovery software to pull files from an external drive that is not fully recognized or accessible. This software can work around file system issues to find and restore recoverable files.

When should professionals handle it?

For valuable data that cannot be replaced, immediately seek help from a professional data recovery service if an external hard drive fails. Specialists have sophisticated tools and clean room facilities to safely dismantle drives and retrieve data.

Pros can also determine if all hope is lost. Reputable companies will not charge anything if the drive is too far gone to salvage anything. Data recovery services can be expensive but important files are often worth the cost.

Can files be recovered after reformatting?

Reformatting an external hard drive erases all data by recreating the file system. The files themselves are not immediately overwritten, however. Data recovery software looking at the raw sectors can restore previously deleted files.

The sooner an attempt is made, the better. The longer a drive sits after reformatting, the more likely older files will be overwritten by new data written to the disk. The space just needs to remain untouched long enough for a deep scan recovery.

Tips for avoiding data loss

Prevent external hard drive failure from destroying important data by taking proactive steps:

  • Always safely eject the drive before unplugging it.
  • Be gentle and avoid physical shocks or drops.
  • Do not place the drive near sources of extreme heat or moisture.
  • Regularly back up the data to a second location.
  • Consider a cloud storage plan for offsite backups.
  • Replace older external drives after 3-5 years of use.
  • Verify the backup drives contain readable files periodically.

Can lost data be recovered from an SSD?

Recovering lost data from a damaged or failed solid state drive (SSD) presents unique challenges compared to traditional hard disk drives:

  • No mechanical parts – The lack of moving platters and heads removes physical repair options.
  • Built-in encryption – Many SSDs encrypt data using proprietary methods unknown to recovery experts.
  • Rapid data loss – With no mechanical delays, lost files can be instantly overwritten with minimal use after a mishap.

Still, recovery specialists have worked hard to adapt their toolsets for SSDs and can often salvage data despite the difficulties. The chances of success depend heavily on the drive’s condition and speed of action after noticing the failure.

Can files be restored after a system reset?

Performing a factory reset or OS reinstallation on a computer typically wipes the internal drive. However, files stored on an external drive connected at the time should remain intact through this process.

The steps taken during the reset only erase and reformat the system drive. All secondary storage like external hard drives, USB sticks, and media cards remain unchanged unless manually acted upon.

Of course, files stored on the computer itself would be destroyed. But you can reconnect the external drive after the system reset completes and access anything that was saved there previously. Just be sure to safely eject it before performing the reset.

What kinds of files can be recovered?

In theory, any files that were written to the external drive before it stopped working should be recoverable as long as the physical platters remain undamaged:

  • Documents – Word files, PDFs, spreadsheets, etc.
  • Photos – JPG, RAW, PNG, GIF and other image formats.
  • Video and audio – MP4, MOV, MP3, WAV, AVI files.
  • Archives – ZIP, RAR, 7Z, and other compressed containers.
  • Email repositories – Outlook PST, Thunderbird, etc.

Encrypted files may be more difficult or impossible to restore depending on the encryption type and whether decryption keys are still available.

Can data be recovered after a fresh Windows install?

A clean install of Windows erases the primary hard drive, making files stored there seem to vanish. However, any external drives remain untouched throughout this process.

After reinstalling Windows and properly reconnecting the external drive, you can access stored files exactly as before. The fresh Windows install only removes programs and system files from the main internal drive.

Of course, you should always backup important external drive data before a major system overhaul. Hardware failures can happen spontaneously and destroy files without warning.


Never assume lost files are gone forever when an external hard drive fails. Data recovery specialists possess powerful tools and techniques that can salvage data in ways an average user cannot.

Seeking professional help quickly after a failure gives the best chance of restoring files safely. Be sure to remove the drive without doing anything else to avoid further data loss.

Data recovery certainly isn’t cheap or guaranteed, but critical files may be worth the expense. Meanwhile, always be diligent about preventing drive failures and backing up irreplaceable data.

With the right preparation and response to external hard drive problems, you can hopefully avoid ever having to find out if that important data is gone for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the chances my files can be recovered?

The chances of successfully recovering files from an external hard drive depend on the cause and severity of the drive failure. Logical failures like file system corruption provide the best chances for complete data recovery. With physical damage like scratched platters, recovery percentages go down. A professional assessment is recommended.

How much does data recovery cost?

The cost of professional hard drive data recovery varies widely based on the service, drive type and amount of damage. However, expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $3000 or more in many cases. The technicians invest a lot in sophisticated hardware and clean rooms.

Can Best Buy recover data?

Most Best Buy locations offer data recovery services and send damaged drives to their central recovery lab. Prices range from around $200 to over $1000 depending on the drive and type of damage. Success is not guaranteed but they are experienced in recovering data from failed drives.

Can files be recovered after deleting?

As long as new data hasn’t overwritten the space on the drive, professional recovery software can restore deleted files. This is possible because the files are simply marked for deletion rather than immediately erased upon removal. Again, speed is of the essence.

How long does data recovery take?

The data recovery process varies in duration depending on several factors. Initial diagnostic tests take 1-2 days. Actual data extraction can take several more days for extensive recovery. In total, expect professional recovery to take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks in difficult cases.

Recovery Scenario Estimated Duration
Logical failure recovery 3-5 days
Physical failure recovery 5-10 days
Extremely difficult recovery 10-14 days

Related Questions

Can you recover files after formatting a hard drive?

Recovery software can restore files from a formatted hard drive as long as they have not already been overwritten by newly written data. Formatting simply removes the file system structure rather than erasing file data immediately.

Is it worth paying for data recovery?

Paying a professional data recovery service is worth the cost if the missing files are important and irreplaceable. Attempting DIY methods first can be fine for less critical data. But valuable photos, documents and other assets are often worth the high but justified expense.

Can recovered files be trusted?

Recovering files does not modify or corrupt them in any way. Professional recovery experts use read-only methods to prevent altering the data. The only risk is if the original files became corrupted before the failure occurred. Check recovered files closely to ensure proper functioning.

Can liquid-damaged hard drives be fixed?

Hard drives damaged by liquid can potentially be repaired and data recovered. The technique involves thorough cleaning and replacing damaged components before attempting to read data from the platters. Success depends on the liquid and extent of damage. Quick professional help is critical.