The DIY Data Recovery Guide

PC Data Insights - Data Recovery Specialists

If your hard drive is healthy, and the cause of your data loss was an accidental deletion or quick disk format, you can most likely get your files back yourself.

We HIGHLY recommend that you DO NOT remove the cover from your hard drive, or install any data recovery software on it,  before carefully reading the instructions and fully understanding the recovery process. Failure to do so always results in further damage, and may even prevent what otherwise could have been a successful recovery. We also highly recommend that you immediately stop using the affected (data loss) hard drive. Unplug it, (especially if it’s an SSD) and remove it from your computer or device until you are ready to attempt your recovery.

 Don’t take any chances! Keep in mind, overwritten files can NEVER be recovered! Everything you do is at your own risk! Be careful!

Start by downloading the FREE DEMO VERSION of “R-Studio Data Recovery Software” and install it onto a second working PC. Next, connect your healthy ‘data loss’ hard disk drive directly to the motherboard of the working PC. If you see any pop-ups about ‘initializing the disk’ click the ‘CANCEL’ button.  Finally, run the R-Studio program, and select your ‘data loss’ hard drive from the list of available disks shown under ‘Device View’. Make certain you are selecting the correct disk! Now just click on the “SCAN” button and wait for the process to complete.

Once the scan is complete, click the ‘Open Drive Files’ button and you should see a full file tree that includes all your deleted files. Once you’re satisfied that all your deleted files have been found, the last step is to purchase the R-Studio software license and save all your files. 

IMPORTANT: Be careful you do not save your recovered files to the same hard drive you recovered them from! You MUST save them to a different HDD! Any other drive in the working PC will be OK.  e.g. any external or spare hard drive of sufficient capacity.

Going forward, in addition to creating incremental back-ups, it is advisable to periodically check the health status of your drives. There are several free utility programs that will display disk status information (such as the S.M.A.R.T. statistical info) about the health of your drive. It is also best practice for you to know the health status of your drive, prior to sending it anywhere for recovery.

If your storage device is not healthy, or your data loss turns out to be more complicated than a simple file deletion, we can help!

Understanding Data Loss

There are 3 levels of data recovery cases. Typically, after asking a few questions about the nature of your data loss, we can determine what level of service will be required to recover the data from your device. The damage caused to a file system can be unpredictable. The chances of a successful recovery of your files will depend on (among other things) the cause of the data loss, the health condition of the disk, the level of disk fragmentation, and the effect of any DIY actions taken prior to seeking professional service. 

There are three major conditions under which your data CANNOT be recovered: 1) Your lost data has been overwritten.  2) The disk has undergone a ‘FULL FORMAT’  3)  Your disk is an SSD that has been ‘TRIMmed’

What is a Level 1 Recovery Case?

A Level 1 case is when a hard drive test determines that your drive is fully functional (aka Healthy) but there has been some type of data corruption, damage, or deletion that is affecting access to your files. 

All hard drives use a type of ‘file index’ located in the Service Area (SA) of your hard drive. The index contains the ‘file information’ and location, of every file on the disk. This ‘file information’, aka ‘metadata’, contains the filename, location, time/date stamp, and folder structure. When the ‘file index’ or SA is damaged, the disk drive loses it’s ability to locate files, and/or their metadata. These types of problems are referred to as “Logical File Corruption”. In many cases, your files can still be fully recovered, even when their metadata is missing or corrupt. 

In order to provide the most complete recovery, we ‘reconstruct’ lost or corrupt metadata, whenever possible, as we run the data recovery process. Recovered files that no longer include their original metadata, will no longer have their original filename, time/date stamp, or folder path, but are otherwise completely intact. We can recover files even when the file index and/or metadata is missing! For example: We’ve recovered pictures with no names or dates. We recover the actual images …but not the original information about the picture. 

Common Level 1 issues include, accidental deletions, unintentional hard disk re-format, files no longer opening when you click on them, files disappearing, or, your computer no longer starts up. Data loss and corruption can occur accidentally. e.g. due to sudden power loss while your computer is in use. Most Level 1 data loss cases can be resolved successfully.

What is a Level 2 Recovery Case?

A Level 2 case is when a hard drive test determines that your drive is not  fully functional (aka Unhealthy or Failing). Over time, hard drives develop electronic, mechanical, and media breakdowns. Hard drives can also develop firmware failures, that can only be resolved through the use of highly specialized recovery hardware.  Level 2 data loss is the type of case that an end-user cannot resolve without professional help. i.e. Level 2 issues do not have DIY solutions.

At PCDI, all drives that test as ‘UNHEALTHY’ are classified as ‘FAILING’, and are subject to cloning before being processed for data recovery. Drive cloning, through our specialized hardware, greatly reduces stress on the failing drive. The cloning process helps mitigate the possibility of a complete drive failure occurring during the recovery process. (causing a Level 3 event)  ‘Software only’ recovery procedures exert rigorous demands, that cause undue stress on failing hard drives. Cloning eliminates processing stress on the failing hard drive. Once cloning is complete, all data recovery procedures are performed on the new, healthy, cloned drive. This assures the highest level of protection for your data.

All hard drives store data in ‘sectors’. Groups of sectors are then organized into data ‘blocks’. Data loss occurs when one or more of the sectors within a block cannot be read. Data blocks that contain unreadable sectors are known as ‘bad blocks’. Less effective recovery techniques intentionally skip over all the ‘bad blocks’. They skip the entire bad block, even when it is only one sector that cannot be read! Effectively abandoning all the remaining good sectors! Recoveries performed in this manner are far less effective. Our recovery hardware can read all the ‘good’ sectors within ‘bad’ blocks. This means that we don’t skip an entire bad block of data due to just one bad sector!  This capability is ESSENTIAL to recovering the most data possible.

Common Level 2 issues include:  Hard drive not being recognized when connected. Hard drive has become very slow. Circuit board problems caused by power surge. Corruption of the hard drive System Area (SA). Firmware corruption. Read errors, and ‘bad blocks’. Our ‘State of the Art’ recovery hardware is specifically designed to resolve a majority of these types of Level 2 cases.

We enjoy an outstanding success rate! We’ve recovered millions of files for our clients! Everything, from lost wedding pictures, to irreplaceable family photos, documents, business files, even music studio recordings! If your data is trapped inside a FAILING hard drive there’s no time to waste. We can help.

About Level 3 Recovery

The dreaded clicking sound… One sure indication of a Level 3 HDD problem, is a clicking sound in the hard drive.

A Level 3 case is when your hard drive has experienced a major mechanical failure or has sustained serious physical damage. In Level 3 cases the damaged hard drive must be disassembled for repair in a certified clean room environment. Level 3 repairs most often require replacement of internal hard drive components. Common Level 3 problems might include damaged read/write heads, damaged disk surface, seized spindle motor, fire or water damage, or physical damage after being dropped or knocked over.

We do not currently offer Level 3 recovery or repair services. Level 3 cases are usually cost prohibitive for the typical everyday end-user. Most Level 3 cases involve critical business records or other very valuable files that would justify the high cost of a Level 3 recovery.