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Help, HN. My hard drive failed.
6 points by arnorhs on June 12, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 16 comments
I have backups of mostly everything I ever do. I use Dropbox lots of things, I regularly back up my whole hard drive where I store most of my data.

However, for some reason I haven't been backing up one of my drives which, coincidentally is the drive where I work on and have been developing a web application (my first start up) for over two months! I have partial backups of old stuff, but not on my main project (hard to believe, I know)

Anyways. Can you guys recommend any great data recovery services online where I can ship my hard drive where I'll get good service? I've tried traditional methods and I'm trying your usual computer repair services tomorrow, but I'm pretty pessimistic and expecting the worst.

Without meaning to bust your chops: this is exactly why the first thing you do for any new project should be creating a repository somewhere other than the machine where you are doing the work (on Github, your VPS, wherever).

Many generic computer repair services will not do data recovery because of the amount of time it takes and the liability of data loss. Dedicated data recovery services are typically expensive, for both reasons. Happily, you can frequently get all or most of it back.

One self-help option, depending on how severe the failure is, is booting from a live CD. If you can successfully mount the drive (i.e. something is preventing it from booting rather than totally making it unreadable), then you can often get all or most of the data off to another drive with just a simple copy.

You're right. I do that for all my most of my other projects, it's a long story why it ended up like this.

Thanks for the live CD tip, but the drive doesn't even show up when I plug it in via USB, so it's a bit worse than that.

I've known people use Vogon International (Now called Kroll Ontrack, I think), and been successful there.

Be careful about giving the drive to a load repair place, unless they've got someone who knows data recovery, then they could well destroy any chance of getting your files.

If the disk seems mechanically ok, then you can try a quick recovery yourself, in my experience the best program for this is RunTime's GetDataBack - it should be able to recover most files, assuming the disk is still working and it's just FS/Software corruption.

That's really helpful. Thanks.

If it is a mechanical failure, you can always try putting it in the freezer for a while.

If it is an electrical failure, you can try replacing the PCB with another drive that has the same model/firmware.

If it is a traditional hard drive, generally failures do not damage the platters. What some recover places do, is remove the platters and put them in a new drive enclosure, it is pretty easy to do actually. You can save some money by finding the same drive on the web, and swapping the platters into a new enclosure.

I've heard about the freezer trick before, not really sure if I want to risk further damage, though.

I think I'm going with ontrack. They seem to have a good reputation.

Define "failed". Some files are inaccessible? The disk works for a while but then stops responding? The disk spins up but the OS doesn't recognize it? The disk doesn't spin up?

Failed as in the hard drive can't be booted and can't be plugged in via USB drive.

I'm not sure if you're running Windows, but I've had good luck recovering data with R-Studio in the past. I think they have a demo/trial you can use to see if it will be able to recover your data before actually buying it.


I've successfully used Knoppix (a Linux live CD) to recover data from drives that Windows (and even BIOS) claimed did not exist. It's worth a shot before trying other services. If lucky, your drive will be mounted after Knoppix starts and you can copy the files off to a safer spot.

Good luck!

Do not try the "usual computer repair services" if you aren't sure they really know what they are doing! There is a high risk they will try a couple of things and ruin the drive completely, if they aren't experienced in data recovery.

Take it slow and find a professional recovery service.

This is why you use (git|mercurial|bazaar|darcs)...

Drivesavers has worked for me.

Sorry, I haven't used a third-party expert recovery service so have no specific recommendation of that kind.

Can you be more specific about the 'traditional methods' you've tried? (Are you able to read anything from the disk? Have you tried the freezer treatment yet?)

Sometimes reimplementing something you've implemented once goes very quickly -- and is better the second time around without the investigational cruft. If some of the web app has been accessed from elsewhere, you might be able to recover some resources (HTML/CSS/JS/images) from browser caches to save time.


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