Hard Disk Failure - Data Recovery is Possible if the Right Steps are Taken

Hard disk failure and potential data loss is a very sticky topic for both business and home computer users

No matter what type of computer user you are, the thing you probably dread most is a hard disk failure. This cataclysmic event can result in data loss that can lead to productivity issues in the workplace or at home, many, many hours reconstructing things like contact lists, photo libraries and the like that have been built up over a long period of time.

Typical hard disk drive for a PC
Typical hard disk drive - in most cases of failure, data can be recovered

Data is Mostly Recoverable After a Hard Disk Failure

The first thing to know is that in most circumstances, data from a failed hard disk is normally recoverable, provided you don't do too much to aggravate the problem. Always remember that the first recovery attempt is usually the most successful, so if you suspect a disk failure and you're not a techno-wiz, always consult an expert. They have the experience and the equipment to quickly assess your problem and work out the most effective recovery action.

How Do You Know if a Hard Disk has Failed

A hard drive drive can usually be considered to have failed if it is not accessible by the operating system or by the system BIOS, Windows Disk Management or Mac utilities. A dead drive will often also display some physical symptoms comprising mostly strange clicking, clunking and screeching sounds as the drive attempts to do it's stuff. If you get system messages alerting you to potential disk failure or experience what you consider to be the signs of disk failure, stop right there and consult an expert.

Typical hard disk drive for a PC
When a hard disk fails, the success of data recovery can be significantly improved by immediately calling a data recovery expert

What a Data Recovery Expert Will Do

When you get in touch with a data recovery expert, the first thing they will do is provide you with invaluable advice to maximise the recovery potential in any given circumstance. They will then probably require access to the failed disk so they can run diagnostic tests and then perform relevant recovery processes. The hard disk in a PC can usually be disconnected from the system and taken (or mailed in some cases) to your data recovery technician. Removing a drive from a laptop computer is not as easy and may require the entire device to be sent to the recovery technician.

Diagnostic Tests

Hard drive diagnostic tests are run using sophisticated testing equipment that should pinpoint the problem with the failed hard disk. The disk damage will either be physical where there is something wrong mechanically or lectronically with the disk itself that prevents it from operating as required, or logical damage where the structure of the data storage system is damaged, often by a computer virus, accidental hard drive formatting other such external intervention.

Typical hard disk drive for a PC
Data recovery after hard disk failure may require both physical and logical repairs

Data Recovery

In cases where hard drives have been physically damaged, they may be repaired by replacing the damaged electronic board, disk read heads, motor or magnetic storage media. Such repair may make the disk usable again in which case data loss is avoided, however a physical repair will often also require a "logical repair" to reconstruct the data storage system.

Data recovery experts have the equipment required to scan your drive or make an image of your drive and then attempt to reconstruct all damaged files in the file storage system. This can often be a highly successful operation even if certain key file system structures such as partition tables or boot records are missing.

The success of a data recovery process probably comes down to the expertise of the technician to whom you entrust the responsibility of getting your data back. It is probably best to always check in advance if the data recovery company you intend to use has experience in the type of computer you have, that is PC or Mac, the type of drive used in the computer and the suspected damage (for example, you may have split split water or some other fluid over the computer which has resulted in the occurrence of the hard drive problem).

Strategies to Cope With Hard Disk Failure

Computer hard disks are always going to fail and sometimes data recovery is just not possible. So it is always worthwhile to have a strategy in place to deal with any loss of data due to a hard disk failure. The most effective strategy is to conduct regular backups such that any loss of data is minimised to the time between backups. There are a number of backup utilities available and external hard drives are now relatively cheap, so there really is no excuse for massive data loss when a hard disk fails. Some tips to help avoid computer data loss are as follows:

  1. Ensure data is backed up regularly
  2. Run up-to-date anti-virus software regularly
  3. Use an uninterruptible power supply (UPS)
  4. Make sure your computer is positioned in a safe operating environment
  5. Be wary of strange noises such as clicking, grinding and screeching that emanate from your computer
  6. If you suspect hard disk failure, contact a data recovery expert immediately

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