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4/29/2014 4 Ways to Recover a Dead Hard Disk - wikiHow

How to Recover a Dead Hard Disk

Basic Steps Replace the Drive's Controller Board Using Linux to recover your Data Photorec

Your hard drive just stopped working. It never made any odd sounds like
screeching, popping, or clicking, and it didn't crash. It just quit and it has some
priceless data that isn't backed up to another device. This guide may help you
troubleshoot and correct any problems related to your drive. (Alternatively, read
up on how to recover data from the hard drive of a dead laptop.) Be sure to read
all warnings before proceeding.

Method 1 of 4: Basic Steps

1 Inspect the outside of the hard drive for damage.

Stop using your computer or external hard drive.

Power down the computer or disconnect the external drive.
Remove the hard drive from the computer or device.
Examine it carefully for 'hot spots' or other damage on the external controller board.
Check if there are broken parts.

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2 Replace the cables. Plug the hard drive in with new cables (power and data
connection) that you know works and try again. Note that an IDE drive will need a flat-
ribbon cable.

3 If you have a PATA (IDE/EIDE) drive, switch drive pin settings.

If it was “slave” or “cable select,” set it to “master.”

Plug it in alone without any other device on that port and try again.

4 Try other IDs and/or another PCI controller and try again. If you don't have
another controller, a PCI card that adds ports to your computer, just change the ID.

5 Plug it into an external drive adapter or external drive case (i.e. USB) if you
have one.
If it does not spin up, try connecting it to another power source (include data
connection as some drives don't spin up without). If on both it does not spin up, the
fault is most likely related to the Printed Circuit Board.

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Connect the drive into another computer and try again. If this works, it is

6 possible that the motherboard is at fault and not your hard disk.

Method 2 of 4: Replace the Drive's Controller Board

1 Inspect the drive's controller board carefully to see if it can be removed

without exposing the drive's platters. Most drives will have an externally-mounted
controller board. If not, stop here.

2 Find a sacrificial drive. It is important to match the exact same model number and
stepping (i.e. firmware revision, printed circuit board number). Matching drives can
sometimes be found at places like eBay, inspect the photo in the auction carefully to
determine if the model and firmware match. Contact the seller to be sure the drive being
auctioned matches the picture prior to buying.

3 Remove the controller board of the failing drive.

Remove the screws with the correct screwdrivers. Most drives use Torx (star drive)
head which is available at home repair stores. Be careful, the screws are soft.
Learn everything about how it is connected to the drive. Most drives are connected
via ribbon cables and pin rows. Be gentle. Do not crimp or damage the

4 Remove the controller board from the working drive. Again, be extremely

5 Attach the working board to the failing drive.

6 Connect the drive to your computer or device and test. If it works, immediately
copy your data onto another form of media or a different hard disk drive. If that didn't
work, try to re-assemble the sacrificial drive with the working controller board. It should still

Method 3 of 4: Using Linux to recover your Data

Many times when windows can not see your drive its because the filesystem
itself is damaged. In the case of a damaged filesystem, it would be wise to first
take an image of the hard drive before running any type of "filesystem repair"
utility. The reason for this is if you have a drive that has both filesystem damage
as well as minor physical damage, you may make matters worse. Taking an
image of the drive prior to attempting to fix it will allow you to always revert back

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to the original state. If you are linux savvy you can use DD to image a hard drive.
Be careful with DD as imaging the wrong way will be disastrous.

You can boot up off of a windows XP installation cd and select the recovery
console and once in a dos prompt use chkdsk to repair the file system like you
see below. Replace (DRIVELETTER) with the applicable drive letter.

chkdsk (DRIVELETTER): /f

This will force windows to attempt to repair the file system itself. Newer versions
of Linux may have the ntfs-3g program and ntfsprogs and it includes a program
called ntfsfix which can help repair a windows ntfs file system so it can be
mounted or booted. Linux might have no issues being able to see and actually
access the data even if the drive is not bootable.

While you can try to mount the drive in a computer that is already running Linux
you can also use a Live CD do the same without having to do anything other
than downloading and burning the CD or building a bootable Linux system on a
USB stick. To find out how to build a bootable Linux USB stick you can find
detailed instructions up on the Pendrive Linux Website.

Download a live disk. System Rescue CD is a good one for this application.
Burn the .iso onto a blank CD with an Image Burner.
Boot the computer, don't forget to change the boot order in the BIOS.

Boot up a Linux system or mount the drive using a Linux live disk and begin to
backup your data if Linux can see the filesystem.

Mount the drive by typing this command: mkdir /mnt/disk && mount -t auto
/dev/sda1 /mnt/disk. If the drive is a IDE drive the command would be mount
-t auto /dev/hda1 /mnt/disk assuming you only have one partition on the drive
if in doubt Consult a basic linux guide for specifics.

Mount another drive and backup data. Again, consult a basic linux guide for

Linux has many different utilities specifically designed for doing data recovery. If
the partition table is too damaged Linux can easily fix this with a utility called

Testdisk will help recreate the partition table.

Boot into a Linux live disk. See above instructions

Run the command: testdisk /log. This command is not on every live disk, it is
on System Rescue CD.
Follow find your drive and choose to recreate the partition table. Read the
Documention the Website for Testdisk can be found online here.

For those who have never used Linux the first IDE drive in your system will be
seen as /dev/hda if it is a sata or scsi drive or is connected via USB it will be
seen as /dev/sda.

The first partition on the C drive would be /dev/hda1 the second partition on that
drive would be seen as /dev/hda2 and so on. Whenever running either testdisk
or its companion program photorec always run it with the /log command unless
the system you're attempting to recover data from is very small. What this does
is give you the ability to run the command again if for some reason the program
stops running without having to start all over again.

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There is a second component to Testdisk that is called Photorec which can

recover your data even if the partition table is not able to be recovered. It can
take a long time to run but it does a great job, even with severely damaged Hard

Method 4 of 4: Photorec

Photorec is file/data recovery software originally designed to recover lost

pictures from digital camera memory or even Hard Disks, it ignores the
filesystem and instead is looking for what is known as file headers, this is the
very first part of every file and generally tells the OS what kind of file it is without
the system having to read the file extension. It has been seriously extended to
search also for non audio/video headers. It can now search for over 80 different
types of files. Photorec is part of the Testdisk package. To install the following
package in a Debian based Linux Distro you would as the root user run the
following command.

apt-get install testdisk

If you are not running as root just precede the command with sudo like you see

sudo apt-get install testdisk

There are some basic rules when dealing with Photorec.

Photorec can also be used to recover deleted files as long as they were
RECENTLY deleted.

When running photorec unless the device your running it against is very small
(less than 1 gig)and not severly damaged it is always recommended to use the
\log command function so if for any reason photorec stops its processing it can
be restarted and it will continue from where it stopped as long as its is
recognized as the same drive again

IE, /dev/sda

If you do not know which drive it is open up a console/shell and run the
command dmesg and assuming the drive is connected via usb just plug it in and
after perhaps a minute run dmesg then read the messages you see. After the
drive is plugged in it will show up in the system and you will see this in the
dmesg output.

If you do run photorec and or testdisk without the /log flag you will be forced to
start again from the beginning if for some reason the program closes or does
not complete. I have had seriously damaged drives take over 100 hours to
complete but generally it takes perhaps 5 hours to do a recovery on a 40 gig
drive. Also NEVER write back to the same device even if all other partitions are

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To run Photorec on an image file in Linux, do: sudo photorec /log

imagefilename -d /some/directory/to-store/recovered/items

To recover files directly from a device, run photorec without any arguments and
you will be given a menu of available devices. sudo photorec /log

This utility should only be used if you are unable to mount that partition as your
filenames will be lost but it does a great job of recovering data even if the hard
drive is very damaged, as long as it will spin up you can pretty much expect to
get some stuff back and frequently you can get virtually everything back.

What this program will do is search the HD for readable files by searching for
the magic headers and copy them to where ever you tell it to with the -d flag.
Another rule of thumb is if you are recovering 20 gigs of data in this fashion you
will need a minimum of at least 40 gigs of free space. The resulting files will get
dropped into folders and since your partition table doesn't exist or is not
readable the file names would be lost and will instead be renamed with the
inode number of where they were found on the drive.

In other words you will end up with files with names like f53247.doc or
f21433.jpg that will be in folders named recup_dir.1, recup_dir.2 and so on.

The folders get created dynamically once they reach about 50 megs in size a
new one is automatically created and the found files are copied into each folder
as the program runs across the drive recovering data.

Many types of files actually have some data in the magic header or other
locations that might enable you to recover some part of the original file name or
at least give them more meaningful names. For instance Digital Cameras write
what is known as exif data into the pics. You can use a Linux program called
jhead to read this data and rename all of the files with the date and time the
actual pictures were taken, Mp3's also save the ID3 tags which if they are
correctly set will give you all the info you need when renaming your recovered

See this the Testdisk website for a detailed description of how to use Photorec
and Testdisk. There is also some hints on how to rename and sort the resulting
recovered files once the program is finished.


Heat is the enemy of all electronics.

If data comes in faster than backups, and is precious, consider RAID 1,
RAID 5 or RAID 10 disk configurations. A RAID array will keep running
when one physical drive dies. A good one will even re-write a
replacement drive that's "hot swapped" into it without stopping. External
controllers will do this better than ones integrated into motherboards.
NEVER use RAID 0 for anything but scratch data. It's fast, but has no
redundancy, so it's twice as likely to crash with two drives than a single
drive, and take your data with it. Recovery of these systems often is very
When you are unsure what to do, contact a professional company, repair

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on hard drives without the correct knowledge often results in worse

situations heightening the costs for repair.
Programs like GRC's Spinrite does an excellent job at getting down to
every last bit and ensuring that everything is working on the most basic
of levels, however, if it finds that a sector of a hard drive is corrupted, it
will attempt a recovery of it. It has saved many hard drives from failing,
and has helped recover gigabytes of data. Spinrite is in its 6th version
and has proven very successful. Please note, while Spinrite and other
software hard disk recovery programs work well, they will not
permanently fix a problem every time. Therefore, it is recommended that
software recovery only be used to backup the data.

Take note though that a hard drive containing surface damage can be
irreversibly damaged by trying to read the damaged area over and over thus
damaging the head assembly or worse.
The partition table is located on the first sector (often 512 byte) of a hard
disk. It contains all the information about how the drive is organized.
Without it, a computer will simply think nothing is there.

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Static electricity grounding precautions should be observed.

If you are not good with delicate hardware tinkering, don't follow these
instructions. Find a professional or someone who is experienced with
hardware tinkering to try it for you. Don't hold it against the person if they
fail to recover your data. Most retail outlet technicians are not trained for
component-level repair of this type.
Don't believe you've "never had a problem" with RAID 0 array, or even
"never had a problem" from not backing up your data. Just because the
drive in question was working for a certain period of time before it failed
does not mean it was configured properly.
You will void hard drive warranties. These instructions are for recovering
data that is far more valuable than the drives themselves.
After the a controller board swap, you will certainly have two failing hard
drives, whether you recovered the data or not. Do not re-use these
drives. Consider other identical drives you purchased from the same
batch 'suspect'.
This procedure is not for logically erased data (i.e. 'un-formatting'). This
procedure is for physically inoperable drives with intact data.
If the failing drive was sold with a computer or device, you may void the
manufacturer's warranty if you follow these instructions. Make sure the
data, or your attempt to recover data, is worth voiding that warranty.
Configuring drives in a RAID 1, 5, or 10 is not a substitute for a regular
backup routine. RAID controllers will fail eventually, writing bad data to

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the drives. RAID controller failure is difficult to detect until it's too late. A
RAID controller also does not protect the data from logical issues and
user generated problems.
When all else fails, contact a professional data recovery company, e.g.
Stellar Data Recovery, Drivesavers, DTI Data, Salvagedata.
Do not attempt to open a drive without the correct environment. The
internals of hard drives are very sensitive. Dust and static electricity can
damage your hard drive beyond the repair of professionals often
resulting in very high prices or even the complete loss of the data.
Finding spare parts for older drives is more difficult than newer drives,
though often repair is easier.

Sources and Citations

GRC's Spinrite
Pendrive Linux
DTI Data
Stellar Data Recovery NL
Stellar Data Recovery BE

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