Odds are someone has asked you to recover data from a failed hard drive. Now, they probably didn’t know that’s what they were asking. But when the computer they handed you failed to boot properly, you knew that hard drive was toast. So how do you recover data from a failed hard drive?

Step One to Recover Data from a Failed Hard Drive

Pull it out, and connect it to a working machine. Then pray that God allows you to recover the senior pictures that a fellow staff member took of their kid without making any backups. OK, that got personal! Now, the first step is removing the hard drive. On a laptop there are screws to remove from the bottom of the machine to give you access to the drive. With a Desktop there are screws on the back sometimes, and sometimes one of the sides will simply pop off. Then on the desktop the drive is usually screwed into the frame, unlike many laptops.

Now that you have the drive removed, you’ll need to use a cable that looks like this:

The cable will allow you to plug a hard drive in on one end, and plug that into a usb port. It’s a bad idea for a long-term storage solution. But, it’s really handy for recovering data from a failed hard drive.

Step Two Gain Access to the Files on the Failed Hard Drive

I’m going to describe this process on a windows machine. You can use your google powers to find a process for this step on a mac. For a windows machine, you’ll simply install a script that adds a menu option called “take ownership.” Click here to download the script. Then you’ll install it like any other program.

Now, go to the folder that is protected (usually in users\usernamethatisblocked) right click on the folder and select “take ownership.” Now you will see a dialog box open and what looks like hacker commands executing.

recover data from a failed hard drive 8

Side Note: You actually are hacking the files to give you access – feel special?!?!

Step Three Move the Remaining Files to a Separate External Drive

For you church tech people, I bet you can find an old external drive laying around to temporarily work for you. For everyone else, go down to walmart or your local electronics store and get a cheap external drive to store these files. Note: It has to be big enough (measured in GB or TB) to store all of the recovered files. That is why I do not recommend putting the files onto your computer’s internal storage.

Next, you need to drag and drop the files from the failed drive onto the other external drive. There will be errors. Some files will be lost. That is the problem with a failed hard drive. It can no longer access all the information that was stored on it. When it cannot access all of the windows (or mac os) startup files any longer, then windows fails to boot. For most people, this failure to boot is when they realize there is a problem. Then they bring the machine to you. Trust me, people are usually quite happy that you were able to recover any files at all.

When the files start moving you will see an error message pop up like this:

recover data from a failed hard drive 1

You will want to click the following boxes so that you don’t have to sit at the machine for hours on end.

recover data from a failed hard drive 2

I joke about sitting for hours on end… only slightly. The failed hard drive will sometimes spin so slowly that it takes seemingly forever to get the files to move. Think most of a day for what normally takes a couple of minutes.

Here’s a photo of the two hard drives I’m using today:

recover data from a failed hard drive 4

Step Three to Recover Data from a failed Hard Drive

Have the person buy a brand new hard drive. For this particular example my friend wanted the cheapest fix possible, so I recommended this one off amazon. When budget allows I usually recommend a Samsung Solid State Drive. Solid State Drives are much faster, and generally last longer. Once the drive arrives, you’ll need to install it.

Now, install the operating system onto the new hard drive. You might want to follow this tutorial. At this point, you can move the files from the external hard drive back over to the freshly installed operating system. Your friend will thank you.

Step Four to Recover Data from a failed Hard Drive

Hand the working machine back to your friend. Explain that you weren’t able to recover all the files, if you haven’t already told them that. Encourage your friend to use some sort of backup system, like Carbonite. Or, encourage them to at least a cloud document storage system like Dropbox. Tell them that it will save them a ton of time the next time this happens – and it will happen.

Conclusions about How to Recover Data from a failed Hard Drive

This process can take a while. Most people will expect you to do this for free, not realizing the time and work that goes into to the process. For most of us on a church staff, this is not a problem since we don’t work at a church expecting a large paycheck. For the rest of you, you might consider telling people upfront that it will take time and energy and you will do your best, but you would really appreciate them buying you lunch or paying you X amount. Again, most of us on a church staff will happily do the work for a pastor friend, but if 10 people a year are asking you you might have a side-business and not even know it.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know in the comments. You might also like my post, Church WiFi with Captive Portal. Also, if you are in the DFW area send me an email and let’s meet up for coffee sometime!

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