When you accidentally empty your computer’s recycle bin or delete something off an external hard drive or USB drive, or your PC stops booting up due to a hard disk error, data recovery software can come to your rescue… but only if you use it properly.
However, the engineers in data recover companies receive cases from people whose use, or rather misuse of data recovery software actually made their data more difficult to recover. When you use data recovery software to retrieve files that have been deleted, erased by an accidental reformat, or locked away by a misbehaving storage device, keep these four points to a minimum.
Never Restore Recovered Data To The Same Device
When dealing with data that’s been accidentally deleted or lost due to an accidental reformat of the storage device, this is a common mistake people make, especially when trying to recover data from the internal SSD storage media of your PC. Many people’s first instinct upon accidentally deleting data from their computer might be to rush to Google, pick up some data recovery software, install it on their computer, and run the software. But this is a bad idea.
When you empty your recycle bin, all of those files don’t vanish right away. Otherwise, it would be impossible to recover deleted files. Instead, deleted data goes to a sort of digital purgatory in which the data is marked as “usable space” by your computer’s file system.
The problem is that every single time you write new data to your computer’s storage media, that new data has to go to an unused portion of the disk. Or, rather, an “unused” portion (which might actually contain your deleted data!). So the last thing you want to do is keep using your computer, and you definitely don’t want to install new software, or even run any software you do have installed. Instead, remove the storage media from your computer and hook it up through an external USB adapter to another computer, and run the recovery software off of that. This will keep the amount of new data written to the device to a bare minimum.
When you need to recover deleted or reformatted data from an external device, keep this in mind as well, and make sure to save whatever you recover to your computer instead of the same device.
Keep A Close Eye On Your Device’s Health
When the hard disk drive in your PC or your external hard drive, the SSD in your laptop, or your USB flash drive or SD card starts acting up, running slowly, freezing, or intermittently failing to connect, you’d be prudent to suspect that the device might be on its last legs. This is the perfect opportunity to pull off as much important data as you can and start looking into getting a replacement.
When your storage device starts misbehaving, whatever the damage is, whether it’s a physical fault or just bad sectors, the issue might quickly become severe enough that you can’t access any of the data on the device normally. This is when professional data recovery services and software come in handy, since these tools typically have a good degree of fault-tolerance.
There’s a delicate tightrope to balance on, though, because your device’s condition isn’t likely to improve—if anything, it’ll get worse the more you work on it, especially when you’re dealing with a hard disk drive with very sensitive moving parts that have entered the final stage of their lifespan. Eventually, your device might be in too poor condition for any off-the-shelf data recovery software to help you. This is a problem even professional data recovery labs with extremely powerful software tools at their disposal have to deal with.
If you sense your device’s condition taking a turn for the worse and find yourself struggling to pull off your valuable data, it might be time to call a professional data recovery company.
Recover Data From A Disk Image (If Possible)
Recovering data is a little like being a doctor, and your first principle, like any good doctor, should be, “First, do no harm.”
Ideally, the first thing you should do before you start trying to recover data from your storage device is create a backup disk image. A disk image is a sector-by-sector copy of your storage device. This is how the pros do it—in any professional data recovery lab, the technicians will create a clone of a customer’s failed device and recover the data off of that, working with the original device as little as possible.
Creating a backup disk image to work off of minimizes your chances of accidentally causing permanent damage to your data. However, creating a complete disk image can be difficult if your device’s physical condition is compromised. In fact, when broken drive storage devices are sent to professional data recovery labs, the vast majority of the time and energy spent in the data recovery process is taken up by creating as complete a disk image as possible!
Which brings us to the next point…
Know When To Tap Out
One of the most important things to know in life is your own limits when trying to recover data. You should know when to call it quits and call someone else for help. The truth about any sort of DIY activity is that there are some situations in which you just can’t do it yourself, and as noble as it is to set out to repaint your patio, it’s even nobler to know when you’ve reached the limit of your tools and expertise and hire a professional painter before you start doing more damage.
As discussed in tip number two, data recovery software won’t do much, if anything, except make a bad situation worse if your device is noticeably starting to break down—like if you hear your hard drive clicking, ticking, beeping, or making grinding or whining sounds, for example, or if the hard drive doesn’t seem to do anything at all when you try to boot from it.
Any of these physical issues affecting either the hard disk drive within your PC or an external USB hard drive are not issues you have anything more than a remotely-slim chance of repairing on your own. These are situations in which you’re better off taking your hands off the wheel and going to data recovery professionals to help.