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So lets say you've failed at preventing a drive failure, and also, you've failed to make a backup of said drive. Push has come to shove and now you need a way to recover you're precious data. Has anybody out there run into this situation? And if so could you please provide any suggestions on how to recover the data based on your experiences? For example have you used any data recovery services that you could either recommend, or that you would definitely avoid if you had a do-over? Thanks in advance

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For your sake, I really, really hope that is is a theoretical question... –  Dentrasi Jun 28 '09 at 20:24
    
well.... the bad news is that this is NOT a theoretical question. The "good" news is that the data in question is not of critical importance. It's important, but not like company-breakingly important. The truth is, a friend brought me a portable drive that didnt seem to be working with windows anymore, and asked me to check it for viruses. Unfortunately it appears to not work anymore because I'm guessing its reached the end of its lifespan. It seemed like googling for a good solution would be less trustworthy than the advice / experience from the serverfault community –  Jurassic_C Jun 29 '09 at 4:29

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your best bet would be taking the drive to a data recovery company who would, in most cases, be able to remove the disk's platters and extract the remaining data from them. However, this process is quite risky and there are no guarantees that your data can be recovered either partially (as a result of a head crash) or at all (as a result of having taken an axe to the drive).

Unfortunately for you, I cannot recommend a specific company to do this, because I almost always have a working backup on hand. If, however, there is no physical damage to the disk (maybe it has just been overwritten or deleted), you might be able to use forensic software to recover the data.

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+1 - I recommend the strategy, but I'll add a negative testimonial for Kroll OnTrack. I sent them a drive last year, received a quote and report of what was recovered, and then got stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare when I asked if to pay MORE than the quote to get a copy of the bit-for-bit image they extracted from the drive (since "signature recovery" couldn't find any of the ASCII text files that I really needed, and I knew I'd at least have a shot using "strings" on the bitstream image what w/ my knowledge of what the files contained). (Cont'd in next comment) –  Evan Anderson Jun 28 '09 at 20:52
    
After repeated emails and calls I was promised a call back I never received, and ended up paying (more than their quote) to have the data manually recreated. The OnTrack tech support rep. actually said I was their first Customer to ever request a copy of the recovered bitstream image, which I find astoundingly hard to believe! I was very disappointed that, even after I offered to pay more, they still couldn't get it together enough to help me. Knowing they had an image of some portion of my failed drive and being unable to get them to let me pay them for it was very, very frustrating. –  Evan Anderson Jun 28 '09 at 20:57
    
(All in all, I learned a valuable lesson about treating data from my personal projects with the same care as I would data for my Customers. You know what they say, though-- the cobbler's children always go barefoot... smile) –  Evan Anderson Jun 28 '09 at 20:58
    
+1 likewise here. If you need that data now is not the time to start playing around with various tools and/or tricks that promise to do it. These people are pros (hopefully!) so get it done right. –  Darth Satan Jun 28 '09 at 21:08

How brave are you? And do you know where the fault lies?

I had an electronics failure in a drive once, and it was just a matter of un-screwing the PCB on the bottom of the drive and replacing it with another one from an IDENTICAL drive (different revisions = usually no good). On the Seagate's it's very easy, because they have little contact points that you just need to line up and then screw it in place.

If it's making a tick-tick-tick noise, the freezer trick is always a good place to start.

I had another disk that had a siezed head and (now I must warn you, this failed for me because of my impatience, but it technically might work) I was able to open the disk using special screwdrivers, and just nudged the head a bit to get it un-stuck, screwed it all back together and then realised I put a bit fat thumbprint on the platter which ruined the data (but the head was moving again).

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+1 for freezer trick. worked for me once. –  SqlACID Jun 28 '09 at 23:55

If the hard drive is even recognized by a computer, I've had a lot of luck using EasyRecovery Professional. I was able to recover 100% of the data on two of those horrible IBM Deskstars that had failed a few years back.

I once had a case where I was able to use the freezer trick to get the drive to be recognized, used SpinRite to fix the data, and EasyRecovery Professional to copy it. It took a long time to recover because once the drive reached room temperature, it would stop showing up to the computer. I considered running it while in the freezer but never got that desperate since the data wasn't a high priority.

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Well, the drive is recognizable by the computer. I can mount it, but it immediately gets set to read-only and causes a kernel panic. I've tried both dd-ing and using ddrescue, but those only work for a few minutes before the drive stops being readable –  Jurassic_C Jun 29 '09 at 4:37
    
Try the freezer trick. It may allow it to be read for longer. –  Joseph Jun 29 '09 at 13:31

I suppose you would need to go some to computer lab that can recover your data. It will probably be very slow and expensive.

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I've never used them, but all the accounts I've read say that lab recovery services are horrifically expensive. It may well work if you're totally out of other options, but a good backup strategy (or, failing that, a backup strategy) really is your best bet.

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Won't do you any good if the disk failure is mechanical, but for PCB/electronics mishaps I've sometimes had luck sticking the disk to a Digitus IDE/SATA to USB adapter and plugging it into a running PC. The adapter semms to be somewhat more error tolerant than a HD controller. Your mileage may vary, of course.

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