I received an email from a reader asking about recovering files from a damaged hard drive.
It seems he had a laptop that was physically damaged. He asked his computer guy to try to transfer the files to a flash drive, without success. He wanted to know if there were labs that could restore damaged drives.
Like many technical questions, the answer depends on a lot of variables.
A bad hard drive may just be a computer problem. Taking the hard drive out of the computer and trying it in an external enclosure might be all you need.
If the drive itself is damaged, you have to ask yourself a few questions — most of them about how badly you need those files.
Of course, now is the perfect time to remind you to take a few minutes and make a backup copy of your computer’s important files. A backup of the entire drive is not too difficult to do, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Backing up just the important stuff (photos, videos, key documents) is even faster.
Go buy a $40 flash drive, copy those files to it and then toss it in a drawer. Set a reminder in a month to do it again. Hey, it’s better than no backup at all.
Back to the damaged drive.
As I said above, remove the hard drive from the computer and connect it to an external hard drive docking station. These are small boxes that connect bare drives to USB ports on your Windows PC or Mac. Some of them look like small toasters. They start at around $20 on Amazon. As an IT guy, I have one on my desk right now. I use it all the time to help users move files around.
Most of the hard drives I’ve tried to recover are the older-style spinning disks with platters inside to store the data. Newer computers might have solid state drives that have no moving parts. They can fail as well, but troubleshooting their recovery is the same.
If the external dock fails to yield results, it may be time to send the drive off to a recovery company to let the professionals work their magic. The company I’ve been aware of the longest is DriveSavers. I’m happy to say I’ve never had to use its services personally, but it has been around since 1985. OnTrack Data Recovery is another well-known company that can retrieve your data.
Both of these companies will give you a cost estimate before they attempt any recovery. Don’t be surprised if your estimate is more than $1,000. (I told you backing up is cheaper.)
There was a good, in-depth article on hard-drive recovery earlier this year from Popular Mechanics. They sent off two drives to be recovered, and the cost was $1,200 for each drive.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He can be reached at email@example.com.