Storage

Poll: Do self-service hard drive recovery tools do more harm than good?

Self-service data recovery tools offer the chance to recover data from a failed hard drive, but also the possibility of further damaging the drive and losing the data forever. Have you ever used a self-service hard drive recovery tool and was your experience positive?

Self-service data recovery tools are both a benefit and a hazard. Many power users and IT pros alike have used them to successfully retrieved data from failed hard drives. Yet there is always a chance that a self-service tool will further damage a failed drive, making data retrieval impossible.

In a recent IT Dojo video and blog post, I demonstrate how the Zero Assumption Recovery (ZAR) tool can be used to find and retrieve data from a failed drive. During the video, I warn everyone about the potential dangers of using self-service data recovery tools and recommend that viewers contact a qualified data recovery company if the data is critical or the drive has physical damage.

Despite my admonitions, I'll no doubt receive a few complaints once this piece is published, and some will argue that tools like ZAR do more harm than good. But I'd like to move the discussion beyond an anecdotal debate and gather a few numbers--albeit through a nonrandom sample. Answer the following questions, and let us know if you've used a self-service hard drive recovery tool and if the experience was positive.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

21 comments
newsmedia
newsmedia

My hard drive failed and after Windows 8 ran its own automatic disc check and rebooted the system, I found the drive had returned to an 'unallocated' state and was in RAW format. It had contained over 320GB of data, the bulk of it being programmes in zipfiles.

I used iCare Data Recover Software and recovered all of the lost data except for 3 images and 1 text file.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

A external Drive that has not been dismounted properly and has Corrupt Partition Tables is not a failed HDD it is one you can not read. A External HDD left on 100% of the time and allowed to overheat and die is a Failed HDD where no matter what software you throw at it it's dead and nothing you can do cheaply is going to make any difference. The same as a Drive that had taken a major Jolt and is dragging the Heads on the Platters isn't the same as a drive that can not be read it's one of the ones the more you mess with it the less likely you are to get anything off the drive. I've used a lot of Off the Shelf Data Recovery Software but always on Drives that warrant it never on a drive that requires a Proper Professional Recovery. Currently my Favorite is On Tracks Easy Recovery or whatever they call it now it rebuilds Partition Tables and is great within it's limits. The problem with all of these tools is that they are used for jobs that they where never designed to do and on Drives that shouldn't be attacked in this manner by people who know no better and this is what causes any Problems or Bad Reps of software involved. There is no substitute for knowing what you are doing and how to do something properly. It's pointless to expect Miracles from software when the drive is in the process of [b]Self Destruction[/b] and on it's way to [b]Silicon Heaven[/b] and even then you need to always need to [b]Know what the Right Tool for the Job[/b] actually is. ;) Col

pgustave
pgustave

Very good article about this issue. It is knee-jerk reaction to try to do the data recovery yourself. A lot of hard drives that failed are getting worst by the second they are on. So, running a software that will take 4 hours scanning the drive before you can see the data can be a big risk. Trust me, I have seen this issue too many times.

iouzero
iouzero

I concur with most of the comments made here, but there seems to be one or two misunderstandings thru this entire thread. First, a simple data recovery program is completely non-destructive. I base this only only on the claims made by the vendors of the programs, but also on my own considerable experience using them. So far as I can see, they are little more than capable interfaces for the 'undelete' function. Second, after having used probably ten or twelve of these programs, including those mentioned in this thread, ranging in price from zero to a couple of hundred dollars, I can say unequivocably there is no difference whatever in useage or result between them. The greatest problem with all these programs is, first, they often will rename files, causing mayhem when large numbers of files are involved, and second, they have a great weakness in ability to recover graphics files. However, they are far, far better than nothing at all, and the price is right.

mikenelson
mikenelson

I've had good success with the R-Studio data recovery tool, having used it more than once to recover data. The process can be slow, but it's worked for me.

dogknees
dogknees

If you buy a chain-saw, you're responsible for learning to use it safely. Same thing applies here. If you choose not to learn to use it safely, you have chosen to risk destroying your data. I do not agree with wrapping the world in cotton wool. If there is no chance of failure, there is no value in success.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

I have seen my fair share of failed drives that could have easily had their data recovered, had the user brought it to us when they started having problems. Instead, the customer(s) wait until the drive is too far gone for simple recovery tools or try using these 'user friendly' applications over and over until the data IS irretrievable without placing it in a clean room and swapping the platters out. As to the expense of data recovery from a 'professional' service being so high. The cost of setting up and running a level 10 or higher clean room is enormous. Granted, some recoveries can be done with very expensive software and hardware ($1k to $5k with annual fees in the $1k range), but the cost of maintaining a clean room requires that we spread the cost among all recoveries so that it's semi-affordable for most.

Sharongv
Sharongv

I have been able to retrieve lost files from drives very successfully with the exception of drives that would not power up. I also had to send out a drive to a company to retrieve information for a law suit and was charged a fortune and retrieved no usable data. When they returned the drive I ran my own software on it and found what I needed. I just cannot get data from dead (power) drives.

hal
hal

Don't ordinarily pitch a particular product, but have used FileScavanger v3.2 software loaded on my main work machine to restore deleted and erased files from a number of harddrives in conjunction with a USB HD Case with multiple drive adapters. Also worked slick on a Kodak Picture Card that saved my life. I erased and reformated what was indicated as a corrupted camera card which contained my wife's Rome trip pictures that had not been saved. Got all but 2 I had recorded over. Has 128 page PDF manual which is a GREAT tutorial on the challenges and pitfalls of file recovery. That manual is free at their web site. Worth every penny of the $49 price and one of the VERY few software buys I've made I can say that about.

Luke G.
Luke G.

I've used the excellent GetDataBack FAT/NTFS programs to restore deleted/corrupted files numerous times. Once I was on vacation when a child with us formatted someone's camera memory and blew away about 40 photos. I had access to a laptop with the software on it and was able to recover everything (after warning them to stop using the camera memory card immediately when the format occurred). I have also used SpinRite and am quite happy with it, although I've used it more as a diagnostic tool to detect errors than to actually recover anything.

cholmes
cholmes

I hsave used On-Track Software brand "Easy Recovery Pro" and other versiuns from them in the past. I have had good results, usually recovering 90%-95% of data. Nothing short of a professional recovery service will work if you have a drive motor/servo failure, though.

wpshore
wpshore

I strongly recommend SpinRite by Steve Gibson, it's recovered several failed drives for me over the last decade or so.

p.reinhart
p.reinhart

I had to troubleshoot an external harddrive containing critical datas. The user was using it to store his documents, because his laptop's harddrive was full. He told me that his external hardrive refused to mount when he plugged the USB. I thought maybe something was wrong with the USB port on his laptop, so I gave a try on mine. Unfortunately, I immediately heard that something was wrong: The hard drive was doing weird noises. I launched Ontrack Easy Recovery, but the software was unable to access the hard drive too. I called Ontrack and sent them the harddrive, but they told me that there was too much physical damages on this one to recover anything from it. Apparently, the user had been trying hard to use his harddrive before giving it to me, and it was too late. He lost one week in his job, and that was a huge cost for us. If you guys think a hardrive has a problem, DON'T TRY TO USE IT, and call an expert support team, they will tell you what to do.

james.kritselis
james.kritselis

it seems everyone has there share of hard drive recovery stories some horror stories and some welcome results, I agree with all methods used in the responses as it really doesn't matter what software you use as long as the user stops writing to the drive immediately and the person retrieving the data has some experience. The only suggestion I have would be to use a write blocked adapter to connect the damaged drive eliminating the possibility of writing over data. As we all know the user who was so in your debt prior can get very upset when they do not get back what they want from the drive. There are free usb write blockers out there for anyone interested I personally have had good results with Ontrack easy recovery Pro as well. although a dead drive is a dead drive and will require up to $2000.00 to repair. I happen to have very expensive Forensic tools as well but for the everyday oopps the tools available for $100.00 or so will work just fine. That is my two sense:)

cbader
cbader

Ive used File Scavenger as well and it is an awesome program. I used to do support for a company that made USB drives and I was able to recover several customers data for them and saved them a lot of headaches.

z111sc
z111sc

This is a wonderful piece of software. I tried Spinrite first, but it's limitations prevented using it. Get Data Back NTFS got all my data back, and was very easy to use. How did I find out about it - the nice techs at Spinrite. They are a great bunch and I commend them for it. I would recommend both products, but it depends whats wrong.

apete
apete

Local Fire Department's main computer crashed and would not boot. They were advised to replace the hard drive. I volunteered to try to salvage their data first, using Spinrite. Ran the Maxtor diagnostics . . . Maxtor recommended replacing the "failed" drive. Ran Spinrite on the 80gb Maxtor drive. It took 36 hours, but found over 2800 bad sectors with read errors. It did a non-destructive repair of each sector with 100% success. Placed the drive back into the original machine, crossed my fingers, and tried booting up the OS. Success . . . original desktop, all data ok. Just unbelievable. If the platter spins, that's all you need.

HappyHeathen
HappyHeathen

SpinRite has been a critical addition to my toolkit as a disk recovery tool.

Jwagdy
Jwagdy

I totally agree. SpinRite helped me a lot few years ago when I managed to recover critical data for a client from a failing hard drive.

g01d4
g01d4

I don't know. If it was a bearing problem then maybe there's a window when the heads are still flying so that the 'experts' could rehost the platter(s) - but it'll cost you a pretty penny to find out. I try to enable SMART http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.M.A.R.T. if it's available.

Acorralado
Acorralado

You have discovered the wheel!!!!.

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