Q: Why is data recovery on a hard drive so expensive? — Norman

A: Few things in the computing world are as gut wrenching as the loss of data and it’s often made worse when you learn how expensive it can be to retrieve your precious files.

The process for recovering lost files from a failed hard drive can be quite extensive and time consuming, which generally causes the cost of recovery to be expensive.

Hard drives are fairly complex mechanical devices that operate at very precise tolerances and any failure in any of the mechanical or electronic devices will render your data inaccessible.

Many people assume that the amount of data they want retrieved is the basis for what the recovery should cost.

Whether you need 1 file or 10,000 files has no real bearing on the cost of the recovery, because the real work (and expense) is resurrecting the hard drive in order to get any data at all.

The act of copying files from a recovered drive (once it has been rebuilt) requires very little time and requires no human interaction once the process is started.

In general, there are two very common data recovery scenarios: logical and physical.

A logical recovery is performed on a hard drive that is mechanically and electronically functioning properly but the data has become unusable due to corruption or file damage from user error, external hardware failure or virus attack.

Hard drives have a ‘table of contents’ that guide the computer to the location of the stored files. If the table of contents becomes corrupted, locating the desired files becomes impossible for the operating system (Windows, MacOS, etc.)

Logical recoveries can be performed by technicians that have the knowledge and tools to work with data at the binary level to reconstruct the lost files and tend to be less costly.

Physical recoveries are necessary when a hard drive has experienced a mechanical or electronic failure. Physical recoveries require substantially more resources, tools and experience and must be performed in climate and dust controlled environments.

To add to the cost, often times a ‘donor’ hard drive must be located that can be used for spare parts. Locating a donor that is an exact match is critical or the recovery attempt will be unsuccessful.

Locating a donor requires far more than just finding another hard drive of the same size from the same manufacturer. For example, if you have a Seagate 80 GB hard drive that was manufactured in Malaysia, the donor can’t be a drive that was manufactured from the Thailand plant because it won’t have the exact same version of the firmware or supporting electronics.

The secondary market for used hard drives that are cataloged at this level is substantially more expensive than going to a used computer store and grabbing whatever they have lying around, so paying $200 – $300 for a donor once it’s located is not out of the ordinary.

The worst case scenario is a hard drive that requires both a physical and a logical recovery as the cost goes up even further since two separate recoveries are required in order to recover the data.

Of course the best way to avoid ever having to pay an expensive data recovery bill is to keep your pictures, music and data files backed up regularly!

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show