DIY Data Recovery - Should You Attempt It?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 by Mikey Anderson

With all the devices we own, it’s inevitable that we mightlose data at some point down the line.  Whether it’s years of music and family photos or critical business information, it can be a daunting and stressful time for individuals.  It pays to assess the situation properly before deciding on the best course of action.  Is DIY data recovery a risk or reward?

We’ve seen many different data loss situations over the years, including some where a recovery is no longer possible because DIY efforts by the user have ended up causing more damage. We’ll share some tips on what to do (and not to do) when you suspect you’ve lost data and how to give yourself the best chance of a recovery.

Turn it off and on?

We’ll start with probably one of the greatest IT jokes of the lot. However, the supposedly simple act of turning your system on and off again isn’t as helpful as it seems. In fact, if you suspect you’ve lost data, it’s best to power off your system immediately and refrain from turning it on again – then seek professional help.

Even when your computer seems to be sitting idle, it is continually writing data to your drive and has the potential to overwrite the data that you’ve lost or deleted. Your operating system (OS) and other installed software will write to your drive in different ways, including many ‘behind-the-scenes’ system processes such as driver updates, virus scanning, and OS updates. Even seemingly small tasks such as browsing the internet and checking your emails can make the situation worse and hinder data recovery efforts.

This means you’ll want to refrain from using your system at all if you think you’ve lost data, which leads us to…

DIY recovery software

This is often the quickest and cheapest course of action, but is it advisable? Getting your hands on some reputable do-it-yourself data recovery software is easy and can be a real help in situations where you’ve got external storage (USB hard drive, SD card, etc.) and you have accidentally deleted data or formatted the device. However, do not use data recovery software on the same system that you have lost data. This will write more data to your drive and as we’ve already mentioned – this could quickly destroy lost or deleted files by overwriting them. Actions such as downloading the software files and running a scan can quickly wipe out files that might otherwise have been recoverable.

The safer alternative here is to take the affected drive out and connect it to a separate machine running data recovery software, but this can be challenging if you don’t know how. If you suspect your drive is physically damaged , then you should refrain from any DIY software method, but most importantly you should definitely avoid…

Opening the drive yourself

A quick online search brings up many DIY video guides with a lot of views claiming they can show you how to successfully open your hard drive and fix problems like ‘buzzing’ and ‘clicking’ noises, which are usually signs of physical failures. Warning: opening your hard drive outside of a cleanroom environment can cause irreparable damage to your data and we’d strongly advise against it.

We regularly receive drives that have been opened where small dust particles and even the slightest scratches or dents have caused significant harm and made potentially successful recoveries impossible. Hard drives are delicate, complex devices and having a great deal of precision and experience is a requirement in order to work around a problem to recover the data. There’s so much that can go wrong by trying to do it yourself, therefore, it’s best to let the experts take a look rather than cutting corners and risk losing your data permanently.

It’s quite like dealing with a broken bone; most of us would probably look online first for information about the symptoms, but we wouldn’t take matters into our own hands in terms of treatment as we are not medical professionals! Seeking a thorough, expert analysis should be your first course of action to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis and prevent further damage.

Talking about further damage…

Hard drive in a freezer?  Not a good idea

It’s an old but recurring myth that putting your broken hard drive in a freezer will bring it back to life.  It doesn’t work and is an extremely bad idea!

The reasoning for this is as follows: as soon as you take the drive out of the freezer it will start returning to room temperature and in doing so, condensation will start to appear both inside and outside the drive. This condensation will appear on the platter surface too, which is where your data is. Due to the read/write heads of the drive and the platter surfaces being nanometers apart and spinning at thousands of times every minute, the water will cause significant damage to your drive - and your data - once you try to power it up again.

If your device has suffered water damage then it’s best to avoid using it immediately and consult an expert data recovery company for advice on what you should do next.

The best solution

Get in touch with a professional data recovery company who can help.  They will walk you through all your available options and advise on the best course of action depending on your scenario, while being transparent about cost. Not all data loss cases require a trip to the recovery lab, but in almost all cases this will guarantee a much higher success rate over attempting DIY methods on your own.

You should be confident that your chosen data recovery company operates a ‘no-data, no-fee’ policy and that they have extensive experience working with your type of device and data loss situation. Read the reviews too – find out exactly what their customers have to say and ensure that they are unbiased and unedited, ideally via an independent reviewing platform.

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