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Hard Disk Dead? The Data Can Be Saved!

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 8/6/2011

Once a hard drive begins to fail it is very important to immediately back up all of its contents and place them on an external drive. The image retrieval can be done several ways.

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    Unless your hard drive looks like this you should be able to recover the data. 

    When dealing with a failed hard drive, image retrieval is the best way to save your data from being further corrupted. If you already know your drive is failing the very first thing to do is shut it down to prevent further damage. There are several things you may need to get a hold of to make your data retrieval run smoothly, these include; a new IDE or SATA drive, image retrieval software like DriveImage XML or EaseUS, a USB shell and a USB connector. You may also need a Ziploc bag and access to a freezer.

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    SATA Drives

    Retrieving an image from a SATA drive involves a simple download and then following some instructions. The download comes from EaseUS with no strings attached (only 1 GB may be recovered at a time with the free version). Once you have downloaded the software, partitions can be recovered directly from the disk while it is running.

    Follow these steps:

    • Go to the EaseUS website and download the SATA recovery program.
    • Launch the Data Recovery Wizard.
    • Choose the “Partition Recovery" option from the GUI menu.
    • Select all of the file types to be recovered.
    • Choose the SATA disk drive and click “next."
    • Choose a partition that may have missing data.
    • Choose and preview the files on the SATA drive and click “next."
    • Choose a directory to save to and click the “next" button.

    To retrieve the entire drive you can use any of the options that follow because SATA drives run on the same physical concept (spinning drives).

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    IDE Recovery Using an External Drive

    If an IDE drive is still spinning then the data can most likely be retrieved from the drive. There are several programs that can be used to make a complete image of a failing drive including; Prosoft's Data Rescue PC, Data Recovery and Recover My Files from GetData.com and Easy Recovery from OnTrack. There are also a few freeware programs that can clone drives but they are either not very thorough or simply won’t recover damaged files (making them no different than simple file transfer programs). I prefer using DriveImage XML, a free program that images a drive without needing to reboot.

    Instructions:

    • Attach an external hard drive at least as large as the drive you want to copy via USB or internal connection.
    • Run your chosen imaging software using the damaged drive as the drive to image and the new drive as the destination drive.
    • Run disk repair on the new drive to fix any internal errors from the corrupt drive.
    • Remove the corrupt drive and replace it with the new drive.
    • Reboot the system.

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    Direct Data Transfer

    A direct transfer works by replacing the failing hard drive with a new drive before transferring the data. The failing drive is connected as a slave drive.

    Step by Step Instructions:

    • Download and install a disk imaging program.
    • Remove the failing drive from the primary position on the IDE cable and place it in the slave position.
    • Place the new drive in the primary position.
    • Reboot the computer and tap the F2 key to enter the BIOS set-up.
    • Change the boot order so that the slave drive is the first option.
    • Reboot the computer.
    • Run the disk imaging program and choose the primary drive as the location for the image.
    • When the image is finished being created run disk repair to fix problems on the drive.

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    Put Your Hard Drive in a Freezer

    If you can hear your hard drive spinning then this method is not the right one to use. Freezing a hard drive only works on drives that are physically damaged to the point that the disk is caught on an internal component and will not move. Freezing the drive can cause the disk to shrink enough to free it from the obstruction.

    This is a temporary fix that will only last until the drive warms up again so it is best to place the drive in a USB shell and freeze it this way. Then once the drive has cooled plug it in to a USB port and copy the data from the drive to another hard drive.

    Step by Step Instructions

    • Remove the failing drive from the computer.
    • Place a new hard drive in the computer.
    • Place the drive in a USB shell.
    • Place the shell in a Ziploc bag.
    • Place the Shell in the freezer for two hours.
    • Remove the drive from the freezer and hook it into a USB port on the computer.
    • Copy the contents of the USB drive to the new hard drive.

    If all of the files can’t be copied from one disk to the other before the USB drive fails you can refreeze the drive again. If the drive doesn’t respond after 2 hours of freezing you can try freezing it for 24 hours. If the 24 hours freeze doesn’t work then you will have to take the drive to a professional retrieval service.

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    Final Considerations

    After retrieving the data from your failed hard drive it is a good idea to purchase another hard drive to make a second image so you won’t have to attempt a repair again. Some imaging programs offer incremental image updates. Update the image periodically to keep your data safe. You’ll never have to worry about a failed hard drive or image retrieval again.

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