Storage

How do I ... restore files from a damaged hard drive using ZAR?

Zero Assumption Recovery (ZAR) is a shareware-based utility that can scan your hard drive for files, even if it has been re-formatted or is damaged, and recover them. Wally Bahny shows you how it works.

Imagine this scenario: your computer will not boot. It turns out your hard drive has crashed, and you have never taken a backup of your important files, let alone a recent one. What do you do? Alexey Gubin might just have the solution for you.

Zero Assumption Recovery (ZAR, for short) is a shareware-based utility that can scan your hard drive for files, even if it has been reformatted or is damaged. Using a fairly simple wizard-based user interface, ZAR will walk you through the steps to recover important data from an otherwise inaccessible hard drive.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download. ZAR can also be downloaded from the TechRepublic Software Library.

Installation and payment options

Head over to the ZAR Web site, click on the ZAR Downloads page, and download the installer for General File Recovery (should be a file named zarXXsetup.exe where XX = the current version number). The installation routine is a simple one that you have probably seen dozens of times.

The download comes as the free trial shareware version with some important limitations. Per wizard cycle, you are allowed to select files in only four folders. While this may seem okay, be warned that if your My Documents folder is arranged like:

  • My Documents
  • Home
  • My Pictures
  • My Videos
  • School
  • Work

You will be unable to choose just the My Documents folder and get all those subfolders and their files. You will instead have to make multiple passes with ZAR in trial mode to get all your files restored.

The other option is to pay for a license key. Currently, ZAR costs $49.95 for a single-user instance, which, depending on the importance of the data you are going to lose, may just be worth it. The alternative is seeking out a computer repair shop to do the work, which might more than double that cost.

There are a couple of recovery options using ZAR. The first is to put the damaged hard drive in another system and install ZAR on that system.

The other option (if you do not have access to another system or that system has no open IDE/SATA ports) is to create a Windows bootable flash drive (as outlined by Greg Schultz) and install ZAR onto that device. Then, all you have to do is connect the flash drive to the system and boot from the USB device.

If your hard drive is only partially damaged and still boots, do not attempt to install ZAR on that hard drive. You may cause further damage to your data and make recovery totally impossible.

Restoring files

Note: This article is covering only the basic (and, yet, most common) restoration technique. Visit the ZAR Web site for more tutorials.

Once the setup has finished, ZAR will launch automatically.

The first screen you will see is a simple Welcome screen (Figure A). On this screen, you can enter your unlock code (if you purchased one), enter Advanced configuration (not covered in this tutorial since it will not be needed in most cases), or simply click Next to begin the recovery process.

Figure A

Welcome screen
On the next screen (Figure B), you are prompted to choose the Recovery Type. For most individuals, the first radio button will be the option to choose. Also, most people will choose to keep the default choice for the Deleted Files option near the bottom. Click Next. An interesting side bar: ZAR allows you to use this tool for free to recover images off a digital camera memory card. See the Web site for more information.

Figure B

Recovery Type
ZAR will take a moment or two to scan your system for devices to recover from. Once this process has completed, a screen like Figure C will appear. Choose the damaged hard drive from the list and click Next.

Figure C

Devices
After selecting the damaged device, you are prompted to choose the volume within that drive that is damaged (Figure D). Many hard drives will contain only one volume, so this is an easy choice. If you are unsure which volume to choose, you can always back up to this screen and choose another. Click Next after choosing the appropriate volume.

Figure D

Volumes
On the next screen, ZAR will perform a multi-step process involving the scanning of your hard drive for all file information and the plotting of different block types in a graphical presentation (Figure E). Depending on the size of your drive and the speed of your computer, this phase can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to several hours. The steps are:
  • A Quick Pre-Scan -- identifies the basic layout of your device
  • Scan -- Identify which blocks contain actual data
  • Detect Volume Parameters -- determines the file system type and maps whatever is left of the Master File Table
  • Parse File System -- Actually locates what blocks constitute files and directories and reconstructs the directory tree

Figure E

Scan
Once the scan is complete, you will automatically be taken to the next screen (Figure F). This screen allows you to choose the files and folders that you would like to recover by simply checking the box next to the item. If you are using the trial version, you are reminded that you are limited to four folders upon entering this screen.

Figure F

Files

The tree view should be a familiar layout and should make it simple to find and select the important files. There may also be folders named Fragments or LostFiles followed by a number, which may contain your files, especially if they have been recently deleted.

Finally, click Next to see the final screen (Figure G). This screen allows you to specify a location to save the files to. Choose a restore-to folder and click the Start Copying button to finish the process.

Figure G

Save

If you are using the trial version, you will need to start again completely from scratch and do this process again and again to recover all your files. After a couple of passes, you will probably be more than willing to pay the $49.95.

More information

Zero Assumption Recovery also has several other tools available to fulfill your recovery needs. Take a look at the Web site if you need to recover e-mail messages from a damaged e-mail data file, image a disk for recovery purposes, or reclaim disk space.

51 comments
rootmybox
rootmybox

Hmmm... I wonder how this will work on a crashed Drive from a RAID0 array. Will it do anything pertinent, or does one have to figure out a way to image the bad drive to another one (same of course)?

joe_gervais
joe_gervais

The maximum VOLUME LEVEL on the video WAS TOO LOW. TechRepublic should make sure they record their videos at a high volume level; so viewers only need to lower it, instead of leaving users with not enough volume to adjust higher.

mehosa
mehosa

Double the cost, most drive recovery services change 300-400 at the very least.

bert
bert

I think it would be good to get the program very soon, I just got it on sale for $29.95.

lydia2007520
lydia2007520

I do recommend this program for those who suffered disk formatted or pics lost or file. Hey Wally, why don't you write a blog about this program?

ciakrook
ciakrook

I use Recuva. It does a sufficiently good job for me and is freeware, downloadable from the same group that makes Ccleaner and Defraggler - both of which I use regularly. Donations accepted, but you don't have to "BUY" any of them.

robin.joinson
robin.joinson

"Zero Assumption Recovery" appears to assume that you have a bootable Windows installation. Why not a live bootable CD, as my hard drive has become unbootable? I hava managed to recover some data using a bootable Ubuntu CD

DGermantr@Real-World-Systems.com
DGermantr@Real-World-Systems.com

Intention of this GNU General Public License bootable CD is to Rescue a troubled system. ISO image updated monthly. Includes all files to customize your own version. Includes GParted, Partimage, FSArchiver, Test-Disk, MemTest, full set of network utilities for TCP/IP or MS windows so rescued files can be put somewhere else. CD writing, Ranish partition manager, MHDD low level disk diagnostic can scan for bad sectors and run firmware tests. Supports several languages. Can be written to USB Flash drive. PXE bootable for systems with no removable medai! Great documentation Buy a ready to boot CD for a buck! ( actually $0.89 + $0.99 shipping!) http://www.sysresccd.org/ What else could you want?

munroes
munroes

Hi Can I still use Zar even if the dive mechanism is burn't out

tony_hinkley
tony_hinkley

How fitting that you use a Maxtor drive as your example. Keeping companies like this in business.

vadodsantos
vadodsantos

Hi, How do I get back the files from a USB memory stick that when tried to be accessed asks to format it first ?

die_s_p_a_m
die_s_p_a_m

ZAR totally rocks... but I have one wee problem... and that's with ethics... My own... sometimes I get that tell- tale look, we all know the one... it's the My sky is falling, save me! ...and I don't happen to have my *toolkit*... and I WILL NOT look for a hacked version a torrent, emule, p2p, ya get the idea.. Can someone recommend other opensource software? Chris D, near Mtl Canada ...yeah, it's snowing outside!

endel
endel

For Basics - yes. GetDataBack works for me too. How about if drive is encrypted and decryption is no longer possible?

josephmassaro
josephmassaro

I use Knoppix Linux Bootable cd to recover files from a non bootable hard drive. I connect the bad Drive to a usb2 to ide or sata cable, on a good pc and startup the pc with the Knoppix cd, it mounts all drives and usb devices that it fines. Then you can copy files from bad drive to good drive or cd rewitable or usb device. It saved me a lot of work and time.

jdc100
jdc100

If My hard drive is bad and I can't boot, How di I do all this ??????????????

reisen55
reisen55

A very atractive lawyer (I admit to bias here) had her laptop collapse. The Travelstar drive family from August 2001 was a killer so I gave her a loaner within 4 hours but told her her drive had died like so many others in that family. She looked down as she had lost a diary she had written since the day her daughter was born. ok, this is a challenge. I took it home and for three nights worked on it. There was a C and D partition. C was toast, D was perfect. EasyRecovery found stuff on C for maybe 5 seconds before it dropped off. Partition Magic reported C as toast and D as perfect. I tried an OS onto D as a dual boot. Nope. Winternals Boot CDRom also did not work. Finally, I deleted the D partition out of lack of anything else to do and rebooted........... MAGIC Everything was there. C and D. Beautiful. Why? I have never figured it out. I backed up her data instantly to server next morning and gave her the laptop back with everything. Her smile was well worth the time and trouble. So, you never never know sometimes.

reisen55
reisen55

Well not fusion but COLD. Refridgerator. Take a damaged drive, no head crash of course, and put into fridge. Wait an hour. Take out and boot and using good tools, Easy Recovery, to dig into it FAST and get the data off. You have 1 or 2 shots using this method.

Infernal Acolyte
Infernal Acolyte

Can ZAR recover files shredded using a shredder program???

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Zero Assumption Recovery is one way you can recover files from a damaged hard drive, but not the only way. What applications, tricks, tips can you suggest for recovering files from a damaged hard drive?

nglshmn
nglshmn

Used to use Restorer 2000, now upgraded to Restorer Ultimate Pro. Great tool, nice interface, easy to use, can image drives (good for forensics) - can even rebuild RAID arrays in software (good if RAID controller has gone bad). Excellent value at $50. There's a cheaper version at $30. There is also a network version that you can use to restore a drive across a network ($70). Trial versions available for each. Requires that the drive is visible in the BIOS. http://www.bitmart.net/

adelacuesta
adelacuesta

A good SW tool has a trial associated with it. Before you purchase try it first (shareware). But you can also try the freewares mentioned.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

Only if the system bios recognizes the drive at boot up, and it shows in the storage manager under 'computer management' console (2K, XP, Vista). Zar has to be able to see the drive before it can work, as I understand it...

trib77
trib77

Find me a HDD manufacturer that hasn't had a defective drive. Maybe all your bad experiences come from one company, so consider yourself lucky

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

There are several utilities out there that can do this, and possibly even ZAR (the registered version). You will most likely have to purchase the registered version to get the advanced option of scanning a 'raw' drive, but the cost is inconsequential compared to getting important data back. There is one utility I have used that will also scan for many standard file types in the 'raw' mode, and recover them to generic named files (since the name was lost with the file structure). I'll try to find out what that was, you might shoot me a message to remind me as I can't get to it at the moment...

NI70
NI70

Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. Developer only asks for donations. Check it out, has a bunch of freeware tools. Some of which are disk cloning/imaging. For a list of those tools here is the link http://www.ubcd4win.com/contents.htm.

Icckleguy
Icckleguy

I have done this several times, instead of having to add it to another system i just put the drive into a USB enclosure, they cost about 15 bucks with out a drive. put it in, connect to a working computer and fire it up, if the drive spins up it acts just like a normal USB drive, but u have your entire file structure sitting there. wonderful way of recovering files and just checking whats on a drive if your unsure of where you got it.

doug m.
doug m.

You could take the bad drive out and add it to the good machine as a secondary drive and try data recovery that way. This has worked for me in the past. If it spins up ok this should work for you.

jim_d
jim_d

If the hard drive is bad and cannot boot up, you will need to boot from a boot CD, such as BART PE or another bootable Utility CD or USB drive. You will need to create the BART disk (see discussions on this site if you need help) and I would expect that ZAR would install and run on it, and allow you to recover your files to another disk, network drive, or USB device.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

At the end this software is similar to RECOVERY or FILE SCAVENGER... the disk needs to be "accesible" in order to perform data recovery. Is the disk do not spin up or have a mayor hardware failure, this an any other regular software will be unable to recover a bit. For such cases, the only solution is to hire a pro service like Ontrack data recovery. But this kind of software can recover deleted data and crashed files with good results.

Datacommguy
Datacommguy

I suspect most of us have already run into this, but if you use one of the mil-spec programs (like Diskwipe) to securely clean off a hard disk, the system will bark at you on the next boot attempt when it runs into what it thinks is a "hard drive controller error". Of course, all you have to do is boot from some media where you can run FDISK to recreate a partition and the drive mysteriously recovers and is accessable - along with the 'failing' controller.

aandains
aandains

Its included on several of the boot CDs already mentioned. They also have a version specifically for camera type flash cards. Great utility though not the most user friendly. Its free and opensource: http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/TestDisk

davidsaintamour
davidsaintamour

I have a HDD that still spins, but the partition tables are damaged. It once ran a win2000 system, and I had Partition Magic installed. After a re-partition operation, the system failed to start up. I put the HDD on another computer, but it shows no file system on the drive. Would this ZAR program work to recover my files in this scenario?

Mindtickler
Mindtickler

Using a tool like ZAR assumes you can actually spin up the drive in the first place. Another good tool is SpinRite (www.grc.com). But sometimes the drive just sits there and keeps clicking and never reaches a point where software can fix it. That's when I take the drive, wrap it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. That will often allow a drive to spin up all the way. Of course, when you take it out and hook it up to your computer you only have a short while until the drive warms up and may begin clicking again or not functioning at all so get the important files off the drive quickly and the less important ones later if possible. A buddy of mine has long cables and actually leaves the drive in the freezer and puts the computer right next to it. This has fixed many a drive that couldn't be fixed by software. But be warned that sometimes you can only do this once and it will never work again.

nhalliwell
nhalliwell

I had a bade fright when my PC wouldn't boot - examination of the drive showed a motor controller chip with a hole in it (thus letting out the magic smoke that makes it work) I googled and found this a common issue with this drive.. Further searching gave me more info. I could replace the damaged circuit card with an undamaged one from no less than 3 different size hard disks by the same manufacturer.. it was all about finding the right PCB revision, and there were even ebayers selling just what I wanted. Lucky me, I found I had a drive with the right rev in my disk pile, and a quick swap later had the drive up, with no errors and I immediately imaged it to an external drive. Backing up rocks. having it not go wrong in the first place? Priceless. -But unatainable.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

File Scavenger is the best for me. Can recover in low level mode and is very very good and fast. The interface is very intuitive. For erasing, I use Wipe & Clean to use DOD standards (can take days to wipe a 120gb HD) Any way ZAR will go to the list just in case...

debonairone
debonairone

I use GDB exclusively, there are two versions, one for NTFS and one for FAT32... The only limitation that I have come across is the inability to recover from drives that cannot be viewed in the bios... Can ZAR handle that limitation? If the drive is physically damaged, what options are available then, other than sending it to a data specialist for disassembly...?

durba_s
durba_s

Is there some way by which I can read the contents of this USB HDD and recover files? I am connecting this HDD to my Laptop and the light glows green showing it is receiving power but then it says Check your HDD for errors.

doug m.
doug m.

Also a good idea and even easier than opening your machine.

doug m.
doug m.

I'm currently using BART PE to try and fix my daughter's laptop. It starts to boot but comes up with a blue screen error and says to run chkdsk /f. Can't get chkdsk to run but I can run scandisk and it says there are no errors. When in BART PE, I try chkdsk again and it says the drive is raw and cannot run on raw drives. Any ideas here? I could easily rebuild it for her but of course she had data on it that is important to her but she never bothered to backup. If all else fails I will just rebuild it but I am really trying to recover her data. Any suggetions would be appreciated.

Datacommguy
Datacommguy

I strongly suspect that ZAR (or any other recovery program) would be useless at that point.

Barry ZA
Barry ZA

I have one drive that won't spin up. I am going to try this and will post results.

bleboeuf
bleboeuf

Anyone know the trick of putting the HD in a static bag a putting into the frige? Let it sit and cool it for a while then you hurry and hook it up as a slave to a desktop. Worked for me several time when the hard drive had "gravity" damage and windows was no longer able to boot up.

john
john

Just used GDB (NTFS) to recover the mail PST and project docs for one of my users from an XP system who's MBR could not be repaird. Works like a champ!

reisen55
reisen55

The best solution is to put your drive in a freezer for a few hours. Oddly enough this works and can bring a damaged drive back to life for one or two passes. I had a linux formatted drive crash and it took nine freezer trips plus a linux to windows read program to get all of my neighbor's data off of it.

d.livsey
d.livsey

I have a device (R_Driver III) that allows me to connect standard HD's laptop and sata drives to the usb port on my laptop. A farmer friend had his laptop pee'd on by the cat i removed the HD and connected the device and rebooted my laptop if the drive can be seen then i used GDB with great sucsess and was able to copy off all his data though the drive had the same problem as yours.

doug m.
doug m.

Yeah, I may just have to get a cable to allow me to make it a slave in my system so I can at least access the data.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

Obviously the drive is functional but either the master boot record, boot files or system files have been corrupted - possibly via a virus. If you have the original OS CD you could boot to the CD and select the SECOND repair option (XP) to try and let it rebuild the OS without overwriting her files. You can also do an 'in-place' install of the operating system, just have it overwrite the current one. This will cause you to have to re-install applications and any updates, but will give you access to her files as well. These options won't work if they discover defective sectors or tracks on the drive, and would the require moving her hard drive to another computer as a slave drive and using one of the many utilities listed here to scan and recover the files. There are adapters available for laptop drives to make them able to connect to a desktop computer's internal cabling, you can google or search many sites for them such as Amazon or eBay. Because of it's condition, you may or may not be able to install the drive in an external USB type enclosure and access the drive using the recovery software packages listed. There are some data recovery services that don't charge an arm and a leg for functional HDD file recovery, such as http://www.save-my-drive.com, but instead just charge an hourly rate similar to your average computer shop.

Barry ZA
Barry ZA

Has worked for me often. Only mechanical damage is irrecoverable.