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Guideline for Diagnostics – Data Recovery

February 5th, 2009

This is intended to be a guideline for determining whether a hard drive is failing physically or if the drive is a candidate for software recovery by technicians in the field.

There are many commercial utilities that will allow users or qualified technicians to recover data from a hard drive that is otherwise inaccessible. Commercial utilities work with varying degrees of success. The question to be asked is when is it a good idea to use these utilities versus when is a good idea to send the hard drive to Data Recovery Group?

The first step is to determine if the hard drive is functioning. If the hard drive is functioning properly it should be recognized in the CMOS and you should be able to boot the system from another media source, such as a floppy, CD-ROM, or another hard drive. If there are any BIOS errors when attempting to boot the system the hard drive has malfunctioned and needs to be sent to Data Recovery Group. If during the boot process the system is unable to boot from an alternate media source, this is another indication that hard drive is malfunctioning. Further attempts to boot the system could seriously reduce the likelihood of a successful data recovery.

If the system can be successfully booted the next step is to attempt to run the data recovery utility. Most utilities work in the same way. The first step the data recovery utility performs is to scan the drive to locate the file system components. Most utilities will display this scan with some type of progress meter. It is necessary to monitor progress and to stay with the hard drive while the utility is operating. If the hard drive starts to make unusual noises stop the scan immediately and power down the computer. The hard drive will need to be sent to us. Another thing that needs to be watched is the rate of progress for the utility. Usually there will be a count of sectors read. The count should steadily increase and it should not stop. If the count or progress does stop the scan should be terminated and the computer powered down. Failure to stop could jeopardize the likelihood of a successful data recovery. The hard drive should be sent to Data Recovery Group.

If there are any signs that the hard drive is failing physically, it is important that software data recovery utilities not be used on the hard drive. Hard drives usually fail gradually and this failure process will be accelerated during a full scan of the hard drive necessary for most data recovery utilities to recover the data.

It is important to read the instructions provided with any data recovery utility you may use on a hard drive. It is important that if you can complete a scan of the failing hard drive that the recovered files are not saved back to the hard drive you are trying to recover. It is possible o save recovered files on the source drive and if this occurs the recovered files could overwrite other files you are trying to recover.

In conclusion, it is very important to determine if a drive has any physical failure before attempting to recover the data using a utility. Data Recovery Group has received many hard drives from customers where the data could have been recovered had we received the drive right after the original failure. Repeated attempts to recover the data with software rendered the drive useless and the data not recoverable.

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