How to recover data from hard drive with USB?

Losing important files on your computer can be stressful and frustrating. Fortunately, if the hard drive is still functioning, there are ways you can recover deleted files or retrieve data from a damaged hard drive using a USB device.

What You’ll Need

To recover data from a hard drive via USB, you will need the following equipment:

  • The faulty or damaged hard drive you want to recover data from
  • A USB to SATA adapter or cable to connect the hard drive to your new computer
  • A new computer to connect the hard drive to via the USB to SATA adapter. This should be a computer you don’t mind possibly losing data on, as connecting a damaged drive carries some risk.
  • Data recovery software like Recuva or TestDisk to interface with the drive and scan for recoverable data.
  • Patience! Recovering data can be a lengthy process depending on the extent of the damage and how much data you need to recover.

Connecting The Hard Drive via USB

Once you have all the necessary equipment, the next step is to physically connect the hard drive to your new computer using the USB to SATA adapter cable. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Connect the power and data ports of the SATA adapter cable to your damaged hard drive. This provides power and a connection interface for the drive.
  2. Connect the USB end of the cable into an open USB port on your new computer. This allows communication between the computer and hard drive.
  3. If the drive has any external damage, be very careful when handling it. Even small amounts of physical damage can destroy your chances of data recovery.
  4. Most USB to SATA cables don’t require any software or drivers. But if prompted, install any required drivers for the cable or hard drive.
  5. With the USB connection established, the hard drive should appear just like any other external drive connected to your computer.

Choosing Your Data Recovery Software

Once the damaged hard drive is physically connected via the USB cable, the next step is choosing what data recovery software you want to use to interface with the drive and scan for files. Here are some of the best options:


Recuva is free data recovery software from Piriform with an easy-to-use interface. It supports recovery from hard drives, memory cards, and other external drives. Recuva can recover files that have been permanently deleted, damaged, or re-formatted. It scans a connected drive and allows you to preview files it finds before restoring them.


TestDisk is a free, open source data recovery program primarily designed to recover lost partitions and repair non-booting drives. In addition to partition recovery, it can also dig deep to find and restore deleted files. TestDisk runs via command line, so it is more complex but also more customizable than some other recovery software.

Ontrack EasyRecovery

Ontrack EasyRecovery is a paid recovery program with advanced features beyond many free options. It can recover a wide range of file types and formats from hard drives and other media. The user interface makes it easy for non-technical users to scan drives and restore files. Ontrack EasyRecovery is more expensive than other options but may be worth it for advanced recovery needs.

Scanning and Recovering Files

Once you have your hard drive connected via USB and have selected your preferred data recovery software, you’re ready to begin scanning for recoverable files. The specific steps can vary between programs, but the general process includes:

  1. Select the connected hard drive you want to recover files from as the source drive to scan.
  2. Choose a folder on another drive as the destination to save recovered files.
  3. Begin the scan. The software will scan the source drive and catalog all recoverable files.
  4. Preview and select the files you want to restore from the scanned results.
  5. Restore or “recover” the selected files to the designated destination drive.

Scanning and file recovery can take some time depending on the size of the drive and amount of data being recovered. Be patient and don’t interrupt the process. The software may find more recoverable files during additional scan passes.

Once the file recovery process is complete, you should have your lost files restored and backed up to a separate safe location. Always keep backups of important data to avoid needing to go through hard drive recovery in the future.

Tips for Successful Data Recovery

Follow these tips to maximize your chances of successfully recovering lost files:

  • Handle the hard drive as little as possible and never open the actual housing.
  • Connect the hard drive to the computer via USB before booting the computer (hot swapping not recommended).
  • Try multiple recovery software options in case one program locates files another missed.
  • Let scans run multiple passes fully before stopping them.
  • Restore recovered files to a different drive than you scanned, never back to the damaged source drive.

Reasons Data Recovery Might Fail

In some cases, you may go through all the proper steps and still be unable to recover lost data from the hard drive. Potential reasons for failed recovery include:

  • Mechanical failure made the drive platters or head components completely non-functional.
  • The circuit board on the hard drive suffered irreparable damage.
  • Firmware corruption prevents accessing the content stored on platter surfaces.
  • Too much physical damage to the platters destroyed data sectors.
  • Overwritten files lost remnants that recovery software could read.

If you exhausted all options without success, the hard drive likely suffered catastrophic physical/electronic failure. At that point, your only route may be to send it to a disk recovery service, which can involve very high costs and low success rates.

Preventing Data Loss

Recovering lost or deleted files from a damaged hard drive is never a sure thing. That’s why it’s critical to take steps to prevent data loss in the first place:

  • Always maintain backups: Regularly back up important files and folders to a separate drive or cloud service.
  • Handle drives gently: Don’t drop, bang, or shake hard drives that contain important data.
  • Watch for warning signs: Listen for clicking noises, slow performance, or excess heat coming from a hard drive. These can indicate issues.
  • Addresses failures immediately: As soon as you suspect a drive problem, stop using the drive and seek professional data recovery assistance.

Following these best practices helps mitigate the risk of catastrophic drive failures down the road.

Recovering Data via USB: Final Verdict

Recovering lost or deleted data from a damaged hard drive via USB connection can be a viable DIY solution before having to turn to a professional recovery service. With the right data recovery software tools and proper mechanical handling, you have a decent chance of restoring your important files. Just be sure to take steps to regularly back up your data going forward to avoid needing to go through this stressful scenario again in the future.

Recovery Software Price Ease of Use Recovery Success Rate
Recuva Free Easy Moderate
TestDisk Free Difficult High
Ontrack EasyRecovery Paid Easy High