Step One: Assemble Your Tools and Examine The Drive’s Condition
How Can I Recover Data from a Dead or Erased Hard Drive?
The first thing to do is make sure you have the tools required to connect this drive to another computer safely. Ideally, you’ll have some kind of SATA/IDE to USB cable or USB drive enclosure or sled that you can mount the drive into and connect it to your computer easily. Sure, if you have a desktop and like getting your hands dirty you can try to install the drive as an internal one, but an external connection is faster and easier.
Step Two: Grab Some Data Recovery Software and Connect the Drive
Before you do much else, make sure your antivirus and antimalware tools are up to date. You don’t know what you’ll find on this drive, and you don’t want it to start misbehaving once the drive is connected to an active system. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to download and install some data recovery tools. Here are a few we love:
FileSalvage (OS X, $80): File Salvage for Mac will set you back some serious coin, but it’s one of the best tools to pull data off of a connected hard drive in OS X. It can recover virtually any type of file on multiple partition types, and prides itself on its ability to recover from damaged drives and corrupt media. If you want an alternative, try Data Rescue for Mac ($100).
TestDisk (Win/OS X/Linux, Free): If you’re not afraid of the command line, TestDisk is an open source utility that can run against almost any platform or partition type. It does a great job of recovering data quickly, and won’t do unnecessary writes against the drive you’re trying to recover from.
SpinRite on it, so you can boot to an OS that’s not your primary drive, avoid writing or touching the drive you want to recover from, and run a host of recovery and forensics tools against that drive that are highly effective and completely free. Photo by Roman Soto.
A number of these tools can recover from formatted drives, especially if the data hasn’t been overwritten. We’ve tackled this topic before, and used Knoppix as our bootable linux distro, but the steps apply to the ones we’ve mentioned as well. For more reading, check out this old but still largely accurate guide at Linux. com to recovering from formatted drives.
Note: If the drive is yours, or the data you get from the drive is valuable, we’d strongly suggest you make sure your data is backed up , both locally and online. After all, it’s better to be able to get the data back quickly than have to jump through these hoops every time a drive fails. Remember, every hard drive will fail eventually, it’s just a matter of time. Now go forth, use this knowledge for good, and recover!