Does data recovery actually work?

My hard drive died a couple of weeks back, and I’ve been trying to use software to get files back, but nada. It recognises the drive exists, but it can’t find any files, even though it was half full.

There are a few folders on there I didn’t back up and now would really like to have back, so I am thinking of using a pro data recovery company to get them to look at it. But I need to know if it’s worth the effort before committing money to it.

Does anyone know anything about these companies? What’s involved, how much it costs, how reliable their results might be, what potential obstacles there are? I am assuming that they are not open right now, so I can wait until they are back, there’s no desperate hurry (but within a couple of months I hope).

Data recovery depends on why the drive failed. If the interface died, they can swap out the board from a matching drive and everything comes back, if you had a head crash there may be significant data loss.The fact that you see an empty drive indicates that the drive hasn’t had a mechanical failure. Was this all in a single partition?

I have not needed a drive recovery since the 90s, so i can’t comment on providers or pricing.

It was indeed a single partition. And it’s not going click, it seems to rev up in a normal fashion. I’ve unplugged it and set it aside so as not to agitate that, though.

I don’t know why they wouldn’t be open-- if you mail them a hard drive, that’s pretty minimal personal contact. Viruses on metal will be dead by the time it gets there.

But there’s definitely no guarantee of success, and it wasn’t cheap last time I checked. Too expensive to justify the non-very-important files on my dead hard drive. Couldn’t hurt you to get a quote, though and decide for yourself (again, understanding that they may or may not be able to get anything back for you).

In the meantime, you’ve gotten a better backup solution in place right?

I used Ontrack back in the 90s to salvage a drive with a critical database on it. I remember it being expensive, but we were a commercial client paying for their highest priority service so I doubt our price reflects what you would pay. I recall the price being about $10K then, but I could be way off. It was on the order of tens of thousands with some certainty.

They did an excellent job. We were able to recover more than 99% of the disk. Before sending it to them, I spent a few hours running software I wrote to repeatedly try to pull sectors off of the drive. My job was time-consuming and was only running at an ~90% success rate when we pulled the plug on it. That said, it’s unlikely that my drive suffered from the same problem as yours. YMMV.

This is good news. Your files and folders could just be hidden.
Open a command prompt and run “attrib -h -r -s /s /d C:*.*” to show hidden files.
※Change “C:” to whatever letter the hard drive was assigned.

Believe me, I feel bad enough that I hadn’t backed up those folders. (I had switched off parts of my backup app when I ran out of room on my drive, then through a series of misadventures never got around to turning them back on). I already feel a fool, no need to be passive aggressive about it.

This is definitely not what happened.

One of the big companies in this business (either DriveSavers or Ontrack) used to have a deal where an evaluation was a fixed price of a couple of hundred dollars, for which they’d tell you how successful they might be and what the final price would be. That might be worth it (and it was useful for me in a corporate environment because it meant I could get a PO issued for an exact amount). And it’s good you set the drive aside. Anything you do could cause further data loss.

I used a data recovery company several years ago. I had a hard drive fail catastrophically, and I tried just about every software-based method of recovering the files. There were tons of pictures on there that I didn’t want to lose, so I sent the drive off to a data recovery business. The price varies based on how much effort they have to put into recovering the data. For mine, they basically had to open it up in a clean room and remove the platters. That, along with some other CSI magic, managed to recover about 95-98%% of the data. Some of the pictures were a bit scrambled (top and bottom halves of the photos not lined up, nothing too serious). The whole job costs a little over $1,0000. I don’t remember exactly how much. They sent the recovered files back to me on a new hard drive. It was all definitely worth it.

This is exactly what happened to me, though it was probably around 20 years ago. Drive failed, sent it off, they had a couple tests that they’d run for free, but my drive was too far gone for that. For a nominal fee, they’d open it up and read the platters and tell me what they’d be able to recover and for how much. I paid whatever that nominal amount was, learned they couldn’t recover the thing I cared about, and told them they could go ahead and destroy the drive. (I had the option of having them mail the drive back to me, but that wasn’t worth it either.) It was sad, but I’ve gotten over it in the years since.

My only experience with this involved a friend who runs a home business and many years ago was not very careful about backups (believe me, lesson learned there!). When a hard drive catastrophically failed, her entire business and entire source of income was in jeopardy.

We took it to a data recovery service. I don’t remember the details of what the problem was but it was NOT as simple as just a controller board – the actual read/write heads were irrepairably damaged in some way. Basically a head crash, I suppose, but due to great good fortune the platters themselves were not damaged, or at least, not seriously. They needed to source an identical HDD to get replacement heads, put it back together, and the drive was good as new. ALL the data was still there! I don’t know how often 100% recovery is possible, but it was in this case. The downside was that it cost several thousand dollars, but it was absolutely worth it in this situation.

We didn’t trust the original drive, but did an immediate clone to a new one and installed that, put the original away as a backup, and then did ANOTHER full backup and she’s been doing them regularly ever since, through several new generations of computer, the newer ones all having SSDs.

The most important thing is DO NOT power up the drive and especially DO NOT do anything that might attempt to write to it. Who knows, running a CHKDSK repair might restore the files, but it’s more likely to render the drive impossible to recover. If it’s important, take it to a competent data recovery service, and be prepared to shell out potentially major $$.

The other thing to do is to test the backups to make sure the files and folders are correctly being copied.

I’d try Ontrack if I were you, but it’ll cost you. My boss had the drive in his PC go bad about 4 years ago and I was unable to do a recovery on it. I sent it to Ontrack and they were able to retrieve the data and I seem to remember it costing about $600 or so. The cost is determined by the amount of data recovered from the drive as I recall.

PLEASE NOTE: The following story may or may not be relevant to the OP.

In the early 2000s, a friend offered to install a new OS on my computer. He did not tell me it was pirated. Still, I don’t think there was any issue with corrupted software or viruses; I think the problem was that he installed the new OS in an inappropriate sub-directory. Whatever the problem was, it required data retrieval to fix.

When my computer returned, about 20% of my files had vanished or the data had been completely replaced by junk characters. In addition, there were 5 or 6 new folders created that contained hundreds of files composed of bits and pieces of files which no longer existed. So, for instance, there would be a .jpeg from some article I had downloaded, but the article itself was gone. It took me months to go through them all and I would guess less than 10% was salvageable.

The cost of the service was $200. I was told they could give it another shot for more $$$, but as my friend had no money at the time, it never happened.

Given the alternative of having no access to my files, the $200 was worth it.

Might as well give the freezer trick a go. I was surprised that it worked the one time I needed it.

The misplaced comma suggests that you meant one thousand dollars, not ten thousand, right?

The one time I tried this and it worked for me, I was getting the “clicking noise” for a while before it failed, but I didn’t recognize what was happening. In this case, the OP says they are not hearing a clicking noise.

Ooops. Yes, it was a little over one thousand dollars.

Ya, I know (mine was clicking, too) but the price is right to try it.