5 Tips for DIY Data Recovery

Considering DIY data recovery? If your hard disk drive has failed and you need your files back, it could be a good option.

The safest choice is often to immediately power down and take the drive to the professionals, but it’s not the only option. Only you can judge if a DIY data recovery attempt is appropriate. If you decide to do it yourself, there are a few things you can do to make the recovery as safe as possible. Here are five tips for doing it yourself that will hopefully see you on the road to success:

  1. Clear Your Mind: patronising as it may sound, my first advice in a data loss situation is always the same: take your hands off the keyboard and/or mouse, take a deep breath, and wait a minute before you do anything. When faced with potential data loss, fight or flight is a natural but unhelpful response where data recovery is concerned! Strategy is best formed with logic and not emotion, so to put it simply, take a step back before you take action.
  2. Examine Your Options: you’re calm, collected and ready to try to get your files back. Next, weigh up these factors as you consider DIY data recovery or enlisting professional help:
    • Value: is my lost data of great value, financially or sentimentally?
    • Timing: do I need my lost data back immediately or would I be happy to get it back regardless of when/how long it took?
    • Budget: what is my budget for recovery? (In particular, if professional recovery is a reasonable option financially, sincerely, seeking professional help over DIY is the best choice, if you can afford it).
    • Knowledge: do I have the technical experience/knowledge to safely undertake a DIY attempt?
    • Resources: do I have the needed technical resources to do so? This may include a computer, a bootable recovery environment (on USB or CD), a destination drive to hold your recovered data, and so on.
  3. Get Equipped: for a DIY data recovery attempt, get the right tools for the job. Consider practicing with a drive you don’t care about first. This way, you can make any mistakes while the stakes are low, increasing your chances of a good outcome when it matters.
  4. Preserve Your Source: take care not to modify your failing source drive in any way. Avoid changing, deleting or saving any file to the drive and especially, avoid using repair utilities (including CHKDSK!). Repair tools are not focused on data recovery! Also, avoid the common mistake of installing data recovery software onto your source drive. If it’s your only hard drive, you may find it helpful to use another computer to prepare a bootable recovery environment (such as HIRENS, various bootable recovery tools from your favourite data recovery software utility, and so on).
  5. Tread Lightly: avoid long disk scans or recovery attempts as these could rapidly push your ailing drive over the edge. If your hard drive is showing signs of internal failure and DIY data recovery is your only option, keep your disk access absolutely minimal for best results.

A bonus tip: backup your recovered data! See this article for ideas if you’ve completed your DIY data recovery successfully – and don’t want to go through this ever again!

Whether you engage professional service, try DIY data recovery or simply defer recovery until a better time, I wish you the best of luck for a safe and successful recovery. If you have questions while you review your options, please get in touch. I’d be glad to help you.