Hard Disk Crash Survival Kit

Almost everywhere you turn today in American society, there is someone or something reminding you that you are a horrible person. You go to the dentist and you get a moral lesson about not flossing enough. The “financial advisors” who visit your office and peddle their 401K brokerage packages let you know how irresponsible you are for not stashing away $200,000 by the time you’re 30. Your doctor scolds about how eating  a cheeseburger and fries followed by a caramel Frappuccino will make you overdose on sodium, bad cholesterol, and your recommended daily calorie count.

Then there is the chore of backing up the data on your PC hard disks. PC users often hear and read about how easily it is to lose data and how necessary backups are—yet the warnings often go unheeded.

I know of at least two people who have lost invaluable personal data at home because their hard disks crashed. In one case, family photos of a wedding, children, and family gatherings over the course of a decade were lost on a damaged disk. Another writer I know wrote what he thought was the best final chapters to his novel—yet he believed his chance to finish the Great American Novel was lost and gone forever when his hard disk crashed.

I’m also at fault. I’ve penned numerous articles about data backups and how risky it is to not properly backup your PC. Yet, I have a confession to make: out of pure laziness and procrastination, I never bothered making backups of PC hard drives on some of my PCs. I played the odds that nothing would happen, but several of my disks became damaged and crashed.

But all is not lost--even in the case of the family photos and the Great American Novel described above.

It turns out that if you really need to recover your data, commercial disk-recovery services exist that can usually save the day—yet the cost can be steep, often totaling over $1,000 per disk.

Vendors have also recently made home PC backups easier and cheaper than they have in the past. During the past few years, powerful backup software and RAID storage media have become affordable for consumers. There are also online backup possibilities that are reasonably inexpensive.

In short, it has gotten easier and cheaper to make sure that you never lose your data. Indeed, the odds can be in your favor so that there is a 99.9% chance that you will always be able to recover files when and if a PC hard drive crashes on your desktop or laptop.

As you sit at home making more digital memories with your loved ones over the winter holiday, spend a few minutes thinking about how to protect those files.

Here is what you can do to become as failsafe as possible, and instructions for when the unthinkable happens and you have to rely on the services of a professional lab to recover data from a disk.

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  • 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.
  • ProDigit10
    I thought finally a clever soul invented a casing where you just need to drop in the hd cylinder and it'd recognize it, and restore the drive on another drive...

    I guess that's what manufacturers don't want to do, when they can get upto a few thousands of bucks for it!
    Technically it should be a matter of taking out the cylinder/platters, and installing them in a similar drive,then copying the data to another drive.

    In other words, the price of the harddrive, + shipping + 2 hours of work (since the time of copy usually noone needs to attend the drive). In other words, a drive for $100, + $25 shipping and handling, and $50 max for copying the data = $175 for recovery!

    $500-$3500 is just absurd. They invest in dust free rooms for the hd, but in real fact, the hd has a hole in it the size of a screw that could absorb dust.
    For the average joe signing a contract that the company can not be sued when no data could be extracted, that has all his fav movs downloaded on the drive, $175 is a much more feasible fee!
  • LordConrad
    I hope you tried Spinrite before calling CBL. If not then you probably wasted some hard earned cash. Spinrite won't fix everything, but it's definitely worth trying before paying a company like CBL.
  • bobwya
    Ok so I'd like:
    * 1x Christan Audigier BIKINI JACKET
    * 1x gstar coogi evisu true jeans
    I hav US dollar is that god?

    Heh, heh - can't beat 'um then join them.

    BTW I just thought of a good idea for a new THG article:
    How CAPTCHA works!!
  • I can't believe there is no mention of Steve Gibson's SpinRite! www.grc.com.

    Peter G
  • +1 for Testdisk

    Avery Y.
  • bobwya
    pgowdyI can't believe there is no mention of Steve Gibson's SpinRite! www.grc.com. Peter G

    Yeh just wish he'd work on updating it so it worked with more host controllers!! I gather it can't boot on a Linux kernel because it doesn't get direct access to harddisks... Maybe he could get the technology licensed to get Spinrite added into some of these new fancy EFI BIOS's!!
  • hardcore_gamer
    RAID1 ;)
  • I guess no one ever heard of just burning the information to a DVD. As soon as i have around a DVD's worth of a single type of information i burn it. The only things i worry about are the small files, things like resumes and my program code, which i only back up when i reformat, which happens every 3 months on average.... Anyways i ordered a new drive and it should be here any day now, since i noticed that my 5 year old drive is making a horrible knocking sound and is likely on the brink, it sounds like an old car engine before it dies...
  • bobwya
    comp enthuisistI guess no one ever heard of just burning the information to a DVD. As soon as i have around a DVD's worth of a single type of information i burn it.

    Say you happened to be doing things that you shouldn't be... You wouldn't try and backup a 1Tb+ on DVD media - would you? There starts to become issues of storage space. Never mind that you might by a dodgy batch of DVD's (with a new dye) and get a pile of coaster backups. Also all recordable DVD dye layers gradually destabilise over time - the lifespan of 50 years originally postulated for the media is grossly inaccurate...

    Also ever tried to backup a full HD movie to a DVD... Uh duh - it doesn't fit..

    I've tried bulk DVD backups and it's a pain in the preferables...
  • thillntn
    I backup several different ways. Pendrives are good for COPIES of important stuff. Encryption is preferred in case you lose them. Acronis isn't mentioned but works with vista and 7 and is network aware for image dumps. DVD are still preferred when someone wants to borrow something. After all if all your flicks are on a raid 1 partition they can wait 10 minutes for a disc to burn :).But that's just how I do it, everyone has their own method, or they should anyway. Decent article for beginners.
  • ricky_75
    Backingup files or data is the only way of keeping files secure incase of a computer or hard drive crash.I use my external hard drive and the online backup software i have installed on my computer called Safecopy backup.So this has saved me from spending tons of money.
  • webgrunt
    I'm sure CBL is very good, but NASA's first choice was Ontrack (now Kroll Ontrack) for recovering the hard drives from the space shuttle Columbia after it exploded. They recovered the data.
  • bobwya

    I re-read this article today. I have to say your suggested on-line storage firm is very expensive. $2.00/Gb - you must be having a laugh...

    Jungle Disk offers much cheaper (as recommended by Tekzilla - as I recall):