Hard Disk Crash Survival Kit

Crashed Disk? No Backup? No Worries (For a Price)

The three options outlined above should suffice to keep any home PC out of trouble. But suppose you do not want to spend the extra money, are lazy, or both? In this writer’s case, it was just plain laziness. Over the past four years, several PCs were left running without backups and during that time, over three hard disks simply died.

The worst incident happened when I backed up drives from three PC onto a cheap single-disk external drive, with movies, family pictures, and videos. I had meant to make a copy of the data on another disk to have a duplicate, but let’s just say that between doing something fun during my free time on weekends or at night and taking care of my data, I chose the former. Then one day, I heard that infamous click and my drive would no longer boot.

Recovering data from a crashed disk will likely require the services of a professional lab (software alternatives are emerging, but that will be the subject of a subsequent story).

I chose CBL Data Recovery Technologies [link: www.cbldatarecovery.com], which is one of only a few labs in the United States that offer nation-wide services. I do not claim that it is the best, but the firm is established and has offices around the world. CBL Data Recovery Technologies also successfully recovered data from a damaged disk for me a few years back.

So, does it cost thousands of dollars to recover the data from a damaged disk? It can, but prices do vary. CBL Data Recovery Technologies says in “90% of the cases, 90% of the time” the service costs $500 to $3500.

The process is straightforward: you call or email CBL Data Recovery Technologies and arrange for shipment of the damaged disks to one of the company’s locations. Upon receipt of the disks, CBL Data Recovery Technologies then emails a form acknowledging that it got the media and lists the details of the disks, including the manufacturer and product number. The company then sends a report assessing the damage and what costs are involved about 24 hours later. Once the customer gives the go ahead, CBL Data Recovery Technologies will then recover the data from the damaged media, which can take just a few days or longer, depending on the damage (in my case, the data was recovered in about 48 hours). CBL Data Recovery Technologies then saves the recovered data on a working disk and ships it back the customer.

But if you engage their services, you may be surprised that your disk is not damaged as badly as you thought it was. In my case, all of my disks only had minor damage. Upon receipt of drives at the lab, tests and analyses revealed that none of my disks were extensively damaged. The external drive’s problem was likely just an issue with the AC adaptor or external case, the company said.

The most damaged disk was a 40 GB Maxtor device. According to the company’s assessment, it suffered a typical failure when “the defect map of the unit fills up with errors and needs to be cleared out in order to gain access to the data sections.” But even that disk only required relatively minor work to recover the data.

The cost and efforts required to recover the data from my batch of disks was on the low end of the price spectrum. While the company did not detail the exact cost, a representative from CBL Data Recovery Technologies said the per-disk data-retrieval fee would have probably been for less than $500.

The moral of my lab story is that if you really need your data recovered, it is worth the price to at least get an estimate from a credible service because the cost might not be as high as you thought it was.

  • FYI, many external HDDs are coming with built-in disk encryption, which would make the "recovery facilities" impotent at restoring your lost data. If your drive(s) has this "feature," you may have to ensure your data is recoverable if the case/drive has issues. (yes, some solutions, WD has one, requires the external drive enclosure to read the encrypted data from the HDD)
  • longshotthe1st
    Please do something about the spam or I am outta here, as well as others I'm sure.
  • Scanlia
    Yeah, there are spammers everywhere and the +1/-1 system doesn't seem to be working... DO SOMETHING TOM!!!
  • syrinxx
    I can't believe there is no mention of Aconis True Image.
  • rdhood
    This is an extremely simplistic article.

    There are *many* partition/disk imaging packages available, often for free (Acronis, Paragon and Easeus come to mind, they offer old additions for free on a regular basis), and 1TB drives are now $60! You can regularly back up your entire drive to a bootable hard disk. Have a drive crash? Swap disks and boot. Downtime is about one minute.

    If you have two computers, it is a good idea to back up data from one system to another.

    When 1TB drives are $60, there is no good reason not to have a full image backup.
  • ctmk
    For desktops, What about software disk mirroring in Windows 7?

    It "seems reliable" on my case. even i unplug one of the drive and plug it in another Windows XP machine and the Dynamic Disk can still be recognized and mounted. Performance were good and no extra hardware required.
  • Darkk
    I personally like CrashPlan as it offers multiple ways of backing up your data to including offsite either for free (buddy) or for a fee at the data center.

    I use the native disk image backup in Windows 7 which is set to backup at least once a week. CrashPlan is always backing up every 15 minutes of any file changes. Very handy to recover a file that have been accidently overwritten.
  • Any linux live cd!

    A friends mac book pro died before xmas and Apple couldn't recover the data (their recommendation was new hdd - unit was still under warranty).

    Booted from Linux mint and recovered about 95% of his work and family files (other 5% were on broken part of disk). I'm no expert but it was pretty easy to do and after some file permission issues were sorted was as simple as drag and drop the files to a usb drive
  • stokesj75
    I would have like to seen applications like photorec and testdisk (both Linux applications) covered in this article . These allow for recovering from minor hard drive corruption or crash. as long as it is just bad blocks/sectors, missing partitions , deleted files and folders.
  • LuckyDucky7
    Windows Live SkyDrive.

    That is all.