Recovering Data From an Erased or Damaged Hard Drive

Disclaimer

By following the instructions in this article, you assume all risks including the possibility of the permanent loss of your data. As I’ll explain in detail later in this article, trying to recover data from a hard drive yourself is risky. Data may inadvertently be written over a deleted file or, in the case of a damaged hard drive, the hard drive may become even more damaged as you attempt to read from it. Before teaching you how to attempt data recovery on your own, this article will help you decide whether to do it yourself or pay a professional data recovery company to recover your data for you.

While I tried my best to be thorough in this article, I simply can’t address or foresee every possible obstacle you might encounter. For example, I’m assuming your hard drive is not encrypted because home users rarely have encrypted hard drives without realizing that they have encrypted hard drives. But, if a user did have an encrypted hard drive, they would find this guide unhelpful. That’s just an example. My point is that this guide should work for the vast majority of users but it can’t work for everyone because there is practically an infinite combination of variables at play and I just can’t address all the possibilities of things users might encounter.

I speak only for myself and not on behalf of my employer or sponsor(s). Neither my employer nor my sponsor(s) have approved or even read this article prior to publication.

For Whom Is This Article Written?

This article is written for users who wish to recover data from a hard drive after that data has been erased or the drive no longer functions correctly. This article only applies to regular mechanical hard drives. It does not apply to solid state disks (SSDs). If you’ve lost data on a solid state disk, stop using the disk immediately and go find an educational resource that deals specifically with data recovery from solid state disks. For example, this article. If you don’t know whether your PC has a solid state disk or a mechanical hard drive (HDD), you may be able to figure it out here if your drive is in good enough condition that Windows can recognize it.

The part of this article instructing users on data recovery deals specifically with the Windows operating system. If you use Linux, Mac OS, Unix or something else for an operating system, this article will only be useful to you if you have the technical knowledge to port my Windows based instructions to your OS of choice.

If you have fallen victim to ransomware, this article is not appropriate for you. It won’t help. You need to stop using the infected PC and call a highly qualified IT professional right away. Don’t shut your PC down. Don’t do anything. Just get qualified help as quickly as you can. Avoid the bargain companies for ransomware infections. Inexperienced technicians may not know whether your data can be saved. And even if they personally know whether it’s possible to save your data, many discount computer repair shops have a policy to just wipe peoples’ hard drives and reinstall the operating system in the event of a ransomware infection.

I’ve written this article with novice home users in mind. It is my goal to strike a balance between being detailed and being easy to follow. But, if I err, I will err on the side of providing too many details.
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