Every year, over 30% of consumers will suffer from a hard drive crash: All your files, pictures and music can disappear in an instant. Rather than asking ourselves, "How did this happen," we need to focus on, "What should I do right away when my computer crashes?" A dying computer can be a ticking timebomb; knowing what to do when it explodes can be a life saver.
If you don't have a good backup strategy in place, data recovery can be a tricky situation. The number one thing you should do right away when your computer hard drive crashes is to turn it off and not use it unless absolutely necessary. The general rule of thumb is that the longer you use your computer, the less likely it is that your data can be successfully recovered.
What's a Hard Drive?
A hard drive is the part of your computer that stores everything on your computer. It's actually a scary concept to realize that all your important documents, pictures, music, videos and anything else that you've installed are stored as tiny, invisible magnetic imprints on a metallic moving disc. Hard disk drives are usually the size of a small paperback book or a deck of playing cards, depending on whether you've got a desktop or laptop.
Most hard drives contain extremely small moving parts and typically take up only a small portion of a laptop or desktop's size. However, they can store tremendous amounts of data. Unfortunately, as with all moving mechanical parts, things can break down over time due to wear and tear.
Where it gets tricky is inside a hard drive. Typically, you'll find one or more spinning round disc-shaped platters along with with a needle-like arm pointer (the "read-and-write head"). Since the arm moves back and forth, and the discs spin, you have the possibility of mechanical failure. It's also possible that a portion of the circular disc has a manufacturing defect which won't cause any issues until you try to save a file to that particular part of the hard drive.
The other thing that can frequently cause problems is if a hard drive gets dropped. Since the distance between the mechanical arm and the circular spinning discs is smaller than a dust particle, any significant vibration can cause it to rip and scratch into the surface.
What Causes a Hard Drive to Fail?
There are several culprits that can cause the loss of data to a hard drive. Most often, it will be one of the following:
- The most common cause is when the "arm" comes into contact with the spinning "disc". This is typically known as a head crash and can cause significant data loss.
- The computer (or hard drive) is dropped, causing the "arm" to come in direct contact with the spinning "disc".
- The hard drive "arm" has suffered a mechanical failure.
- The hard drive "disc" has a manufacturing defect, much like a scratch on a DVD.
Regardless of the cause, when you have a hard drive failure, don't delay. When facing the prospect of losing important work, photos or other documents, it's important to act quickly. The more you use the hard drive, the worse it will get (and the more difficult it will be to recover any data). Here are some samples of what you would expect a failing hard drive to sound like:
This is what a damaged hard drive can sound like. You can hear the "arm" clicking back and forth.
This is what a healthy hard drive should sound like. The "disc" is spinning nice and smoothly.
Can I Open Up my Hard Drive?
Absolutely not! Without a clean room to prevent contamination, breaking the seal on a hard drive will make it impossible to recover any data whatsoever. All it takes is a single fingerprint, speck of dust, or other airborne contaminant. Not only will you void your warranty, you'll make it almost impossible to recover your data. In fact, even just a change in the barometric pressure can cause problems in a malfunctioning hard drive; anything that sensitive is dangerous to mess with.
Should I Recover the Data Myself?
- If the drive makes scraping, tapping, clicking, or humming sounds, STOP. Anything you do will increase the odds of permanent data loss. Skip the remaining steps and contact a professional data recovery service immediately.
- Assess the value of your data. How important is it to recover your files? If you don't want to permanently lose your important files, contact us immediately.
- Remember: The use of data recovery software can potentially cause additional data loss. Using a professional data recovery service will maximize the chances of recovering your data.
- Do not attempt to do data recovery yourself on severely traumatized drives (i.e., turning the computer off and on, using over-the-counter diagnostic tools, following the old myth of "putting it in the freezer overnight"), as this frequently creates more problems and can cause permanent data loss.
- Do not power up a device that has obvious physical damage.
- If in doubt, be safe and turn off the computer to avoid further damage to the drive and its data.
Ok, I Want to Recovery my Data — What Should I Do Next?
Our goal is to increase the odds in recovering your lost data. Factors we also need to consider include the age of the computer, the types of files involved and which files were recently saved or changed. Here's what you need to do to move forward:
- If you haven't yet turned off the computer, laptop or unplugged the damaged external hard drive, do this now.
- Review our client testimonials to make sure you're comfortable with us; we feel that this is an important step before dealing with any data recovery company.
- Call us immediately at 541-525-9086 to schedule a data recovery assessment. We'll need to know several things, including the serial number of your computer or external hard drive along with your contact information and a list of the most important types of files (pictures, documents, etc.) that you would like us to prioritize.
- Arrange for service: We'll either have you drop it off (if local) or arrange for a pre-paid overnight shipping label to be sent to you via email.
Once we've had a chance to safely examine the drive, we'll contact you to give you a list of available options. In the case of a mechanical failure, the recovery will occur in an ISO-5 cleanroom where a sector-by-sector copy is extracted from the entire drive. If this first aspect of the recovery is successful, the resulting "image" of the drive is then used to recover and repair critical data files. In the unlikely event that we are unable to recover any important data, there is no charge for the recovery attempt.
Preparing Your Drive
If you will be shipping your drive to us for data recovery, the following steps will help expedite the process:
- Wrap the device needing data recovery in an anti-static bag or standard zip-lock bag.
- Secure the device in a sturdy shipping box right with three inches of packing material firmly placed around all sides to prevent movement. Padded packing boxes for both laptops and hard drives are often available at most shipping centers.
- Do not include data cables, manuals or software unless requested by us.
- Do not send the original product box right to us. We do not save or return packaging materials.
- If you are sending us an external hard drive that has a power adaptor that plugs into the wall, include this in your shipment.
- Use a shipping provider such as UPS or FedEx that can provides a package tracking number.
- Make sure to insure the package for the replacement value of your device.
- If you are also sending us an external hard drive to recover your data to, please label it with the word, "Target Drive".
What to do Once Your Data Has Been Recovered
Please Note: We DO NOT keep permanent archives of your recovered data.
Immediately upon receiving your recovered data, perform the following steps before doing anything else:
- View your recovered data on a computer system that has the necessary operating system, drivers and software.
- Connect the "Target" drive containing your recovered data directly to the computer and not via a hub, keyboard or any other secondary ports.
- MAKE A BACKUP of your recovered data by copying the recovered data to another external drive or onto your computer.
- Verify the recovered data by opening and viewing your most important files from the backup copy that you just made. DO NOT alter the original recovered data files until you have confirmed that all your important data has been recovered.
Your data has been returned on a drive either provided by you or by Oregon Tech Support.The drive was configured to work with the same type of computer that the original storage device came from unless you requested otherwise.
Data Loss Prevention
The best way to recover from a data loss is to have a backup system in place. In fact, the art of having more than one type of backup is rapidly becoming a requirement rather than a simple luxury, due in part to the amount of data we now store electronically: Documents, music, photographs, and so forth. We detail this and additional tips for small businesses in Oregon Business Magazine's article, Prevent a Tech Disaster by Preparing for the Worst. Remember:
- Assume that your hard drive will eventually fail.
- Do not rely on a single method or type of backup strategy. Instead, use a minimum of two.
- Consider possible options such as DVD, external hard drive, or a managed online backup service.
- Create an automated scheduled backup procedure.
- Periodically test and restore your backup to verify that data is being backed up properly.
- Keep at least one verified backup of critical data off-site in a secured and environmentally controlled location.
- Backup your data regularly.
- Never upgrade any system without a verified backup of the data.
- Scan all incoming data, including packaged software, for viruses.
- Use ventilation, fans, and/or air conditioning to keep servers at the proper operating temperature.
- Connect systems to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect against power surges.
- Power down and take extreme caution when moving computers.
- Avoid static electrical charges when touching or handling the media.
- Contact a data recovery specialist immediately if a hard drive makes scraping, tapping, clicking, or humming sounds.
Remember: It is inevitable that every drive will fail. Please back up your important data.