[tags]data, recovery, ontrack, norton, vogon, kroll, hard drive[/tags]

I’ve been reading a lot recently and even had an email or two as well as an uncle requesting my personal services with regards to data recovery. So it has caused me to think, can I add my own recipe for data recovery?

The caveats that apply here are:

  • This is all my opinion
  • This is what has worked for me
  • I am not a data recovery expert
  • Your mileage may vary.

That said, I have had a reasonable amount of experience including my own to work on.

The first rule of any data recovery is:

Don’t Panic

quickly followed by

Do nothing until you have properly and
impassionately assessed the situation.

And by nothing I mean nothing. Don’t create any new documents, don’t change anything, in fact it’s probably easiest to just power off the machine right now to save confusion.

The next step is to consider how the data has been lost. Did you erase the data, was it a hardware failure, a corruption of system files, what? If you know it was your fault, i.e. you deleted something then you can continue the trouble shooting in the knowledge that there isn’t a hardware issue at question. If your system blue screened and forced you to reboot then it’s possible you’ve only got corrupt system files stopping you from booting – in this case, booting from a ‘Live CD’ allows you to verify your data is not lost just inaccessible due to a non-booting system.

If this is the case I’d be tempted top attach an external hard drive and copy the data off or burn it to a CD / DVD. One can then set about fixing the OS. Nine times out of 10 the data will still be there but just occasionally the OS will vape your My Docs folder structure when you ‘re-create’ the environment.

The other alternative here is that you may have lost data you were working on. If this is the case, consider the application you were using. For example MS Office products litter temporary files all over the place and you may find that 95% plus of your data is sit in an un-formatted temporary file and all you need to do is re-create the look and feel.

If you have a hardware issue (other than the drive on which the data you want resides) then I’d be tempted to power off and reseat all my cables, etc and then check again. Once we’ve eliminated hardware issues and we are down to just the hardrive that contains the data as being at fault or just empty then there are two basic approaches.

  1. Boot from 3rd party tools like ERD Commander or a Knoppix Live CD.
  2. Attach the drive to a known working PC via an external caddy or even attach internally (watch your HDD jumper settings)

For my part I tend to favour putting it into a caddy but it doesn’t really matter what approach you take and you should always have somewhere else to drag your files off to.

So, we’ve settled on the fact that we have a hard drive issue and hopefully we are only dealing with soft errors such as data corruption, etc and not a problem with the hardware itself. If we’ve gone with option 2 then my tools of choice are “PC Inspector” and “TestDisk” – both are free but have different starting points. PC Inspector is primarily a file recovery tool and I would use this where somebody had accidentally deleted their data. On the other hand TestDisk is aimed more at those who have lost a partition though the newer version of PC Inspector claims to support this as well now. So pick your tool of choice and follow the instructions.

I’m not going to detail the usage of either of these tools as they are fairly obvious to use and also there are lots of others who have probably done this already.

Should any of the above not work or you have determined you have a hardware fault on the drive then you really have little option but to ask an expert and this is likely to cost you a few pennies. Fortunately the cost of data recovery has come down massively over the years. Even 7 years ago when I lost some pictures of my daughter’s birth (even though I had backed up … my mistake was I hadn’t tested that backup) the cost of an attempted recovery started in the 1,000’s of UK pounds. If they deemed they could be successful then the charges started to rack up according to how much data was on the drive and not just the data you wanted back.

Now you just have to go to the website and fill in a form. Another option is that they allow you to download an app for free that will tell you if your data is recoverable. It is only at recovery that you have to pay out – but last I looked Ontrack’s variant started at $50 but they do everything from send it in to remote diagnosis and recovery now including Lie to pro options. They even have a page dedicated to how to pick the right data recovery company.

I don’t have any affiliations to Ontrack, but they’ve been around for years and years in the data recovery business. Professionally I’ve utilised their services a number of times and have no complaints. They are also an iInternational company so will likely have a lab in your country if needed. Of course a google search will always reveal others including Norton, R-Studio, Hard Drive Mechanic, etc …

If you have any questions please do feel free to ask and I’ll answer as best I can.