The topic I get the most requests for help on, by far, is DIY hard drive data recovery. Now, if the hard drive is physically damaged, there is less chance you will recover data successfully without employing a professional service.
But in most cases only the operating system has crashed; maybe because of a few sectors on the hard drive going bad.
The good news is that in those cases you can normally recover your data easily, made even simpler with a very inexpensive adapter that is very handy to have around.
Vantec USB Hard Drive Adapter
The Vantec USB Hard Drive Adapter is very inexpensive and will allow you to connect an older IDE drive, whether from a laptop or desktop, or any newer SATA hard drive (again, laptop or desktop).
User Saved $299
While I hesitate to call this a testimonial due to FTC rules, that’s basically what it is, I guess.
A Facebook user contacted me through my fanpage and had this to say about her DIY data recovery experience:
Got the kit and am successfully moving data from a drive that [professional service, name removed] said was bad and wanted $299 to retreive data from. Ha!
I love hearing stories like that and I thanked her for getting back to me to let me know how she came out.
My 8 year old laptop hard drive decided it was old and worthy of failure generating a Windows Blue Screen Of Death. Panic, right?
Well, a BSOD is a guaranteed inconvenience at least. Time is valuable.
Knowing, though, that one has backups is always a comfort, one that can prevent panic, pain and suffering.
I needed to both get my laptop up and running AND recover some files that were on the desktop. Note that my REAL data resides on servers, but that doesn’t mean there are items on a laptop or desktop that I don’t want to lose.
So..we back up everything!
Getting The Laptop Running Again
Restoring the laptop to working condition was easy since I had made an image of the hard drive with Acronis True Image when the laptop was setup and working. With a hard drive image, restoring is as easy as installing the new hard drive, booting with the Acronis CD and restoring the image from the USB hard drive.
But.. unless the image was very recently done, there are things you will be missing like programs installed (hope you kept those installation disks or files and registration keys! And.. any data that was created or changed since the hard drive image was made.
And the thing I have found in a couple of decades of computer consulting is that backups that don’t happen automatically seem to just not happen.
Sure, I had some clients who made backup part of their daily schedule and did a great job, but when was the last time you knew someone who made backing up their computer at home part of their daily routine? That’s what I thought.
Enter Mozy Online Backup
That’s why for my laptop I went ahead and installed Mozy Home online backup service so that I wouldn’t have to make computer backup part of my daily schedule; it just happens – every day – for me without my thinking about it.
In the case of my laptop, since most of my data is on my servers, the FREE 2GB Mozy account was all that I needed.
This gave me two options for restoring my data files onto my laptop:
Restore from Mozy’s Website
Recover the files, if possible, using my Vantec USB hard drive adapter (see below)
Note that the minute my laptop BSOD’d I picked up my Android Smartphone (Droid X), opened the Mozy App and restored the most recent file I had worked on to make sure it was there – and it was. The file opened in Quick Office Pro right on my phone. Nice.
Here is the video I did for OnlineBackupSpot:
Data Recovered From Failing Drive With Vantec Adapter
I have several YouTube videos already showing how to recover data files from a hard drive that will not boot Windows or came out of a failed USB external hard drive. I often get questions, though, about getting data off of a DEAD hard drive.
If the drive is dead, you will only get data – maybe – from an expensive data recovery service (hundreds or even thousands of dollars). If the drive spins up and the computer recognizes it, then a Vantec USB hard drive adapter is the easiest, most convenient way to connect it to a PC, explore and retrieve files. You can even do some drive diagnostics and repair.
Here are a couple of photos of the hard drive, one after being removed from the laptop and the other connected to the Vantec adapter. This is an older 2.5″ IDE style drive, but the adapter works with 3.5″ IDE and newer SATA also.
Process For Trouble Shooting Hard Drive
The laptop was running when the Blue Screen Of Death appeared. That could be from a program running and accessing the hard drive (such as the Mozy backup) or the Windows swap file could have become corrupted, maybe a Windows system file.
The result will often be a few scramble files at best.
First, reboot. If you have the option to boot into the recover console (like with XP), do so and run a “ChkDsk /p” to fix any file system errors. Unfortunately when I did this, I received a BSOD, unbootable disk error.
So my next step was to remove the hard drive (see photo above) and connect to my Eee PC with the Vantec USB HDD adapter. Windows XP on the Eee PC recognized the drive, assigned a drive letter and let me explore the hard drive.
If I had not already recovered the files I needed via Mozy restore, the FIRST thing you want to do at this point is grab your most important files FIRST, followed by everything else you want. Do NOT shut it off until this is done! You never know what will happen next time you try to access the drive.
Now, just for a double-to-be-sure, I did copy the desktop files I wanted from the damaged hard drive to the desktop of the Eee PC.
Diagnostic and Repair of Damaged Hard Drive
Naturally the most convenient thing would be to see if I could fix the hard drive and install it back in the laptop. So at this point I was ready to try a chkdsk on the drive. At first ChkDsk reported that it could not perform the operation on the volume with the error message “Cannot open volume for direct access”.
The culprit turned out to be my MS Security Essentials anti-virus, and since that does not have a convenient “unload” option, I did this short video showing how to exclude a drive from scanning in Microsoft Security Essentials. That did the trick and I was able to run ChkDsk.
Unfortunately, the damage on the drive was such that ChkDsk encountered an unexpected error and terminated without fixing anything. Time to replace the drive and trash it.
Since I already had multiple ways of recovering my files, and the drive gave me 8 years of service, things could be worse.