How do you recover data from failed storage?

How do you recover data from failed storage?
6 min read
09 June 2020

Picture this, you're firing up your PC for another day of hard work, or slacking off at work, and nothing happens. I mean, the computer turns on, but instead of getting to the operating system, you get some kind of recurring error message about your storage.

Then it hits you, your hard drive or your SSD is dead, and the data is about as accessible as the Ark of the Covenant, but all might not be lost. You can still send your drive off to a data recovery service, so that your tax documents, personal photos or saved games aren't lost to the ether. But how do you even get started with that? Well today we're going to tell you how.

First things first, if you use a professional service, it probably won't take a super long time to get your data back if it is indeed recoverable, but it also won't be a matter of a couple of hours before you can breathe again, either.

If you can afford rush service and your recovery job ends up not being very complicated, it could be turned around in as little as a day, but you may also end up waiting around a week so keep your expectations reasonable.

If you only need logical data recovery, the process tends to be quicker. So this is when a drive is still in good shape physically, but you've lost your data due to something like a problem with the operating system or an accidental format.

However, if you have a physical issue, like a head crash, you may be waiting around for longer since they'll probably have to take your drive apart, possibly in a cleanroom environment, and repair the drive, just enough so that there can be a chance that you can get some of that data back.

But how do these processes work? Let's first talk about logical data recovery, which for example you might need if there's a problem with the master file table, which serves as kind of like an index or a record of the physical locations that each file occupies on your disk. Issues with the MFT can result in your computer simply not knowing where to find the data, even though it's still on the disk. So, that can often still be recovered with tools that use strategies like bypassing corrupted file system infrastructure, or scanning the data manually and then putting it back together using signatures that are common to certain file types.

Physical recovery is obviously more complicated. Of course, if the drive is very badly physically damaged, there might not be anything even the best data recovery companies can do. But if that isn't the case, recovery companies do have a variety of tricks up their sleeves. It could be repairing or replacing the drive's circuit board, you could move the disk platters to a new drive, a tricky proposition because of how close the read and write head has to be the platter surface, and even a drive that suffered a head crash, where the head actually impacts the disk, it can partially be salvaged by physically moving the head out of the way before attempting to read any data on whatever good parts of the platter are left, Though it should be noted that the area directly under the crash is often unrecoverable.

If we're talking about SSDs, the company might actually have to remove the NAND flash that stores the data and transplant it to a new board with the original controller chip. And then for corrupted firmware, which also counts as physical failure by the way, the data recovery company might have to repair or rebuild the firmware to access your data, which can add additional time, and sometimes data can be unrecoverable, even if there's no physical damage, as is the case of a hard drive that's overwritten with zeros, or an SSD where the trim command has been run. 

Now that you have an idea of how it works, how do you go about picking a service provider? Well one thing to keep in mind is that reputable places will often provide some kind of results-based payment structure.

You ever see those lawyer commercials where they say, you don't pay if we don't win. Well, a good data recovery place also shouldn't be billing you if they can't get your data back. So look out if they try to charge you large amounts of money that you'll be on the hook for regardless of whether anything is actually recovered.

And on that note, make sure you get a quote in writing before signing anything. Also make sure that your provider has comprehensive security protocols in place. They should be protecting your data, and getting rid of any copies that they have once the recovery process is complete. And of course, like anything else, read reviews and make sure there aren't an inordinate number of complaints about a particular company because they took two months and all they could recover was a big folder of memes. For example, not that I speak from personal experience.

In case you have found a mistake in the text, please send a message to the author by selecting the mistake and pressing Ctrl-Enter.
Alex 9.9K
Joined: 4 years ago
Comments (3)
You must be logged in to comment.

Sign In / Sign Up

  • How to Recover Photos from an SD Card?

    Data becomes the most precious asset whether we are in student life or working in some professional environment for years. No one wants to compromise the data a...

    Alex · 24 June 2023 · 88