How do I recover a failed disk?

Recovering a failed disk can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and knowledge, it is possible to salvage data from a failed drive. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through the steps for recovering a failed disk and answer common questions about the data recovery process.

What causes disk failure?

There are several potential causes of disk failure:

  • Physical damage – Dropping or jarring a disk can damage the platters and heads inside, making data unreadable.
  • Electrical failure – Power surges/spikes, control board issues, or motor problems can prevent a drive from spinning up.
  • Logical corruption – Filesystem errors, viruses, or deletion of critical system files can make data inaccessible.
  • Wear and tear – After years of use, mechanical parts like bearings can fail.

Many disk failures are preceded by warning signs like strange noises, slow performance, and read/write errors. Catching and troubleshooting issues early can potentially prevent catastrophic failure.

How can I recover data from a failed drive?

If the drive is making clicking or beeping noises, you should immediately power it down to prevent further damage from the read/write heads scraping against failed platters. Then follow these general data recovery steps:

  1. Don’t open up the drive or attempt repairs yourself unless you are an expert – this can often cause irreparable damage.
  2. Connect the failed drive to another computer as a secondary drive, not the boot drive.
  3. Use data recovery software to scan the drive and copy recoverable data to another drive.
  4. Bring the failed drive to a professional data recovery service if DIY software cannot recover the data.

The key is avoiding any further damage to the drive through amateur repairs. Let specialized data recovery tools and cleanroom techs handle the delicate process of extracting data from the failed platters.

What data recovery software should I use?

Popular data recovery software options include:

Software Key Features
Recuva Free deep scan capabilities, recovers files of any type
EaseUS Data Recovery Affordable paid option with excellent RAW file recovery
Stellar Data Recovery Recovers from severe corruption, great for pictures and videos
R-Studio Powerful advanced scans, built for IT professionals

The best software depends on your specific needs. For example, Photorec is specially designed to recover photos, while Testdisk can repair corrupted partitions. Ideally you want a tool that can perform a deep scan to recover files when directory damage prevents a simple file copy.

Can I recover data after a format?

Recovering files after a format is possible if you act quickly and no new data has overwritten the formatted drive space. When Windows or a drive is formatted, the directory listing old files is wiped – but the actual 1’s and 0’s containing file data are not immediately erased. File recovery software can scan drive platters and piece the files back together.

However, you have a short window before those sectors get reused for new data. The more you use the drive after a format, the lower your chances of recovery. As soon as new files write over the deleted ones, they are lost forever. Therefore it is critical to recover data immediately after a format, before anything else writes to the drive.

Can data be recovered after full drive encryption?

Recovering data from a fully encrypted drive without the encryption key is essentially impossible with current technology. Encryption like BitLocker scramble files into a hash that cannot be unencrypted without the correct key. That said, there are a few scenarios where encrypted drive data can be recovered:

  • The drive was encrypted after some unencrypted data was already written – unencrypted data before the encryption date can be recovered.
  • The encryption key is known – the key allows decryption of scrambled data.
  • A drive image was made before encryption – the image provides an unencrypted snapshot.
  • Password hints jog your memory – hints like “favorite food” might reveal the password.

So while direct decryption is not possible, keys, drive images, and unencrypted sections can aid recovery of encrypted data. Proper encryption key management is essential for avoiding irrevocable data loss.

How can I avoid drive failure?

You can minimize the risk of catastrophic drive failure by:

  • Handling drives gently and protecting against impacts.
  • Using surge protectors and UPS battery backups.
  • Monitoring drive health with tools like S.M.A.R.T. stats.
  • Backing up data regularly to cloud or external drives.
  • Maintaining stable temperature and humidity in storage areas.
  • Refreshing drives every 3-5 years to reduce wear issues.

No drives last forever, but careful handling, monitoring, and backup practices will mitigate most failure risks and downtime from lost data.

When should I use a professional recovery service?

If DIY software cannot recover your important files, professional data recovery is the last resort option. Professional services are most useful when:

  • The drive has physical damage or mechanical failure.
  • You already attempted repairs and made the problems worse.
  • The drive has very advanced encryption you cannot crack.
  • Critical or large volumes of data are involved.

The benefits of professional recovery include access to specialized tools, cleanroom facilities, and experienced engineers. But costs often start around $500-1000 and can exceed $5000 depending on drive size and damage. Weigh the value of your data vs the cost.

What will a professional service do?

Professional recovery follows a general process:

  1. Evaluation – Engineers will assess the drive failure mode and probability of data recovery.
  2. Imaging – The drive platters are cloned sector-by-sector to preserve the original data.
  3. Analysis – Recovery experts pick through the clone seeking recoverable files.
  4. Extraction – Files found are copied from the imaged drive to a new storage device.
  5. Return – You receive your recovered data on a new healthy drive.

The best services have stringent controls to avoid data loss or leaks during the process. They can recover from catastrophic failures beyond the ability of consumer-grade tools.

How can I choose a reputable recovery company?

Factors to consider when selecting a professional recovery service include:

  • Industry reputation – Check reviews and complaints.
  • Experience – Look for 5+ years working with major brands.
  • Certifications – Companies like Seagate Rescue certify experts.
  • Security – They should use encryption and destroy drives after.
  • Cost – Get quotes but beware very cheap options.
  • Tools – Assess if they have proper equipment for the drive type.

Finding a service with a proven track record handling your specific brand and model of failed drive inspires the most confidence. Price cannot be the only factor since data recovery requires specialized skills.


Recovering failed hard drives and disks is a challenging but possible task if proper precautions are taken. Avoid amateur repairs, seek immediate help before data is overwritten, and use both software and professional services tailored to the failure circumstances. With planning and care, even drives with physical damage can give up their lost files. Just be sure to backup regularly, as an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when avoiding catastrophic data loss.