Recover Data From Hard Drive - Beginner's Data Recovery Tips in 2020

Data corruption is a disaster especially when you're about to finish your work. Luckily, we are here to discuss the first aid you can do!

Hard drive failure is never a laughing matter, but after the initial scare of losing your files, there’s no need to panic. It’s almost always possible to recover data from a hard drive, and in this handy guide we will go over the best methods to do it at home.

The first step on your journey to hard drive recovery should be to immediately stop using the ailing drive, says Popular Mechanics magazine. Continued read/write activity on an already failing hard disk can exacerbate the problems and lead to complete data loss.

The easiest way to ensure that your hard drive is not being used is to unplug it from your computer. With external hard drives, this is no issue. With internal drives – and especially laptop computers – removing the drive might be a bit trickier, but still doable.

However, you will need to eventually plug the HDD back into your computer to be able to recover lost data. Again, this is simple with an external hard drive, but an internal HDD will require a USB adapter. These are readily available for purchase online for all hard drive connector types.

The next step you need to take before starting data recovery is to determine what kind of failure your drive has experienced. If you’re not sure how to identify your hard drive failure type, you can look at any one of our many online guides.

Once you have a better idea what you’re dealing with, you can start considering how to best recover files and lost data from your hard drive.

Manual Recovery of Hard Drive Files

Manual Recovery Of Hard Drive Files
When talking about manual hard drive data recovery methods, we’re talking about things you can do without third-party programs, using only the tools included in your operating system. They also include any DIY physical repairs to hard drives.

Let’s begin with the easiest case. If you know your hard drive has encountered a firmware error, simply download and install the latest firmware update from your HDD manufacturer’s website.

Mechanical failures involve the hard drive’s physical parts. While you can try to repair them yourself, with instructions from the manufacturer or websites like iFixIt, you should heed our word of warning before attempting it.

Hard drives are extremely sensitive devices, and without expert knowledge and tools opening them can be a death sentence for the drive. It is easy to break the HDD completely and make it impossible to recover files from it. Repairing and recovering lost files from mechanically failed drives is best left for professional data recovery experts.

Logical failures, on the other hand, are often quite accommodating for manual hard drive recovery methods. A logical error usually occurs when a bunch of data on the drive gets jumbled. This can be caused by user error, power surge, a virus, or any number of other reasons.

Modern computer operating systems come packed with plenty of tools that you can use to attempt and recover your hard drive data. This is assuming that your hard drive is not so broken that it doesn’t show up on your computer at all.

The names of the tools and their locations are, of course, different for each operating system. Here, we will take a look at three simple manual data recovery methods for Windows 10.

So, plug your misbehaving hard drive into your computer’s USB port and let’s begin.

Method 1 – Windows 10 Error Checking

This is one the simplest ways to fix your hard drive if you can’t access it or encounter a system error when trying to get into the files. Once you have connected your hard drive to the computer, follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – Open the Windows File Explorer.
  • Step 2 – Click on “This PC” in the left side panel.
  • Step 3 – Right click on the icon of the hard drive experiencing issues.
  • Step 4 – Click “Properties”.
  • Step 5 – Click on the “Tools” tab.
  • Step 6 – Click on the “Check” button in the Error Checking section.

If Windows finds any errors on your hard drive, it will prompt you to restart your computer and attempt to fix them.

If you’re more computer-savvy and would like more options and information, you can also run an advanced version of the Error Checking tool through the Command Prompt with the CHKDSK command. Here’s how:

  • Step 1 – Press the Windows + S keys on your keyboard and type cmd.
  • Step 2 – Right click on the Command Prompt icon and select “Run as Administrator”.
  • Step 3 – Type in the following command. Replace C: in the command with the drive letter of your hard drive.

chkdsk C: /f /r /x

  • Step 4 – Hit Enter.

The computer will then run the CHKDSK utility and prompt you for further action as necessary. One positive aspect of the Error Checking tool is that it will not leave your hard drive any more corrupted than it already is, according to Microsoft.

Method 2 – Update Hard Disk Drivers

If you hear the “device plugged in” chime when you connect your hard drive to a USB slot, but it doesn’t show up in the File Explorer, it could indicate that your HDD’s drivers are not in order. You can use the Windows Device Manager to attempt to automatically install the latest drivers.

  • Step 1 – Press the Windows + S keys and type in Device Manager. Click on the utility’s icon.
  • Step 2 – Click the arrow next to Disk Drives to expand the list.
  • Step 3 – Identify which of the listed drives is the failing one. Right click on it.
  • Step 4 – Select “Update Driver”.
  • Step 5 – Select “Search automatically for updated driver software”.

Windows will then attempt to locate the latest drivers for your hard drive from the Internet. In the best case scenario, after the drivers are installed your hard drive will begin to function correctly.

However, if you can’t see your hard drive in the Device Manager menu, that indicates that there is something else wrong with your drive.

Method 3 – Reformat HDD to NTFS

First, a warning. Do not reformat a hard drive unless you have a backup copy of all of its data, or you’re certain you will not need any of the files.

Reformatting a hard drive erases all data and rewrites the file system. This can be useful when extreme corruption has completely broken the drive’s file system. It might not save your files, but it should get the drive itself functioning again.

To reformat your HDD, follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – Press the Windows + S keys and type Disk Management.
  • Step 2 – Click on “Create and format hard disk partitions”.
  • Step 3 – Locate your hard drive volume in the list, right click on it, and select “Format…”
  • Step 4 – Set the File System to NTFS and tick the Quick Format box.
  • Step 5 – Click “Start”. The formatting can take a long time, depending on drive size and the amount of data.

Recover Hard Drive Files Using a Data Recovery Software

Corrupted Hard Drive
If the manual methods didn’t work, you can try to save your lost files using data recovery software. This is often the most powerful DIY option available, and in many cases will get your files back.

First, you need to decide how much money you would like to spend on recovery software. There are completely free options available, such as Recuva. Many commercial programs also offer a free limited trial version, with the full user rights reserved for a paid option.

Data recovery software can be used to recover not only broken hard drives, but also accidentally deleted files. As such, it is often good to be aware of at least one of these programs.

Each of them has its own functionalities, so it would be impossible to give full instructions on how to use them here. You should check your chosen program’s website for a user’s guide.

Recover Hard Drive Files Using a Data Recovery Service Company

Technician Fixing Hard Drive
Hard drive recovery can be complicated, especially if you’re not sure how or why your drive has broken. DIY methods and programs also only go so far, and it could very well be commercially available software can’t recover data and files from your HDD.

Additionally, there is a significant danger of total data loss in carrying out DIY HDD repairs. As we mentioned earlier, they can be fickle devices, and not everyone can or wants to risk losing all their data.

In these cases, it is best to hire a professional data recovery company. While data recovery is a niche market, there are dozens and dozens of firms providing recovery services.

It can be hard to pick the right company for you, but there are a couple of immediate red flags that you should look out for. If a recovery company gives you an immediate quote on your hard drive, especially one based on a per-gigabyte or a flat rate, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Any professional and reliable data recovery company understands that each case of hard drive failure is unique, and therefore giving a straight quote is in most cases not possible. That’s why trustworthy data recovery experts often provide a free diagnostics service to analyze the issue and give an accurate cost estimate.

Why Choose TTR to Recover Your HDD Files

TTR Data Recovery provides 100% cost free diagnostics as part of its hard drive recovery services. To build further trust, receiving the diagnosis and quote does not obligate you to buy a service package; if you change your mind, your HDD will be shipped back to you. No charge, no explanation needed.

Should TTR’s certified engineers deem that it’s not possible to recover your data, TTR’s “No Data, No Charge” policy ensures that you will again receive your hard drive back at no cost.

However, it is a rare case when TTR has to throw its hands up. All of TTR engineers have full ISO:9001 and SOC Type II certification, so you can trust that they will employ the best practices and tools to get your data back to you.

If you are experiencing hard drive issues that the tips in this guide couldn’t solve, request help from TTR experts today.

Tommy Khamoushi - Data Recovery Expert for TTR Data Recovery

About the Author
Tommy Khamoushi, Data Recovery Expert

Tommy Khamoushi is an IACRB-certified Data Recovery Engineer and a Certified Forensic Computer Investigator. He has more than 20 years of experience in data recovery including providing technical support for the House of Representatives.

Tommy leads a team of data recovery engineers and experts at TTR Data Recovery to recover highly sensitive data for government agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and enterprise businesses using advanced and proprietary techniques and processes.

Connect with Tommy on LinkedIn.