Hard Drive Data Recovery FAQ

Here is a comprehensive list of hard drive data recovery faq’s. This list will grow over time as we add additional answers to customers frequently asked questions.

  • Why is hard drive data recovery so expensive? This is the question often asked by someone requiring data recovery for the first time. Hard drive data recovery is a very technical discipline and requires a very advanced skill set in addition to tools that can be very expensive. To be successful in data recovery one needs knowledge of the following: Troubleshooting electronics to the component level with the use of a oscilloscope and other electronics test equipment. An advanced skill set with usage of hot air soldering rework station and advanced SMT (surface mount technology) soldering techniques under a microscope or large magnifier, An advanced knowledge of computer file systems including FAT, FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, HFS, HFS+ and others, Advanced knowledge and usage of a HEX editor, and expensive advanced tools and combined software and hardware suites used for data recovery. In addition, a clean room is required under many circumstances limiting the number of dust particulates per cubic feet of air. Donor drives also come in to play and data recovery companies have to stock an extremely large inventory of working donor drives to meet the demand of incoming patient drives. More and more hard drives are being physically destroyed by individuals, recycling companies and others. Donor drive acquisition becomes very difficult and expensive when an exact drive is needed. Specific hard drives are only manufactured for a brief period of time as technology changes and manufacturing advances. Donor drives depending on the manufacturer have very exact specifications for being compatible to replace the existing patient drive. As en example, some Western Digital and Seagate donor drives typically have to be manufactured at the same exact facility within one week of data of manufacture of the patient drive.  In addition, hard drives are manufactured with very precise tolerances and are extremely delicate. For example, the flight height of typical read/write heads pass over the surface of the platters at a fixed distance close to 10nm. A typical sheet of copy paper is 100,000nm. FYI –> 1nm is 1/1 billionth of one meter. In conclusion, providing a level 3 data recovery requires extreme care, expensive equipment and extremely advanced training and techniques to be successful.

  • How do I get my hard drive to you for data recovery? Just send us what you have either in pieces or as one unit. Please send us everything no matter how insignificant you may feel it is. All the pieces help us with proper identification and may be necessary for a full data recovery. Be diligent about packing the drive in a padded box within another padded box. Send us an email or call us telling us it’s on its way! We will be implementing an online submission form soon which you can utilize to send in your drive to us and start the data recovery process

  • How long does it take? In about 85% of our cases, we can turn around data recoveries in less than one week. For the remaining 15% of the cases, many different variables are involved in completing the data recovery process. Imaging is generally the single most important part in the data recovery process and is where 99% of the time is spent.

  • What is the general process of hard drive data recovery? The drive is diagnosed and all mechanical and firmware issues are resolved with the use of parts and one of our data recovery machines. Once the drive is mechanically stable, our goal is to obtain a bit for bit image of the patient drive. This is called the process of imaging. Once an image is obtained, the image is used to recover the customers resultant data. See the four phases of data recovery for a more informative explanation.

  • Where is the work done? All of the work is done locally in our labs at our facilities in San Antonio, outside of Austin and Houston. We never outsource as others do.

  • Can I attempt data recovery myself? Depending on the type of recovery, there can be success in DIY (Do It Yourself) data recovery. It very much depends on the level of data recovery that is needed. Keep in mind with any level of data recovery, there is always the possibility of losing your data forever and that’s why we recommend using a professional. If the risk of losing your data forever with no chance for recovery is not a problem, that’s when we recommend you not using a professional.

  • What is a logical data recovery? A logical data recovery is when the data physically exists for the most part on the hard drive but the data is lost to the end user because of accidental user actions, a crash by an application or the Operating System, partitioning, formatting of the hard drive by mistake, file corruption, reload or restoration of the original operating system over the top of an existing operating system, accidental deletion and more. This is the least expensive of all recoveries.

  • What is a patient drive? A patient drive is the customers drive in need of a data recovery.

  • What is a donor drive? A donor drive is an exact replacement drive generally used for its internal parts. Specific manufacturing parameters must be matched to the original patient drive. Depending on the damage to the patient drive, many donors may need to be utilized for a successful hard drive data recovery. Data recovery companies have to stock an extremely large inventory of working donor drives to meet the demand of incoming patient drives. More and more hard drives are being physically destroyed by individuals, recycling companies and others. Donor drive acquisition becomes very difficult and sometimes expensive when an exact drive is needed. Specific hard drives are only manufactured for a brief period of time as technology changes and manufacturing advances. Keep in mind, we often equate a donor drive to a human kidney. Even if all manufacturing parameters are met, the patient drive will often reject the donor drive heads and the heads will be incompatible. As an example, Western Digital, Seagate and most Hitachi Hard Drives require a donor that is manufactured within one week of the date of manufacture in addition to the same model. The location where the drive was manufactured is also important since some manufacturers have multiple manufacturing locations. There are also other manufacturer specific parameters that need to be met.

  • What is the hard drive service area? The hard drive service area is the area of the drive which contains manufacturer specific adaptive parameters used for providing initial startup and diagnostic information. The service area varies in its location depending on manufacturer. Usually there is a dedicated area on the platters and in ROM which contains the essentials to get a drive initialized and allow user access to the data on the hard drive. The service area is only accessible with specialized data recovery equipment and is off limits to the computer end user. Western Digital for example, usually has the service area written to two locations to allow for a backup copy of the service area in case of damage to one. Without the service area modules in tact and accessible, there can be limited to no initialization of the hard disk drive resulting in no access to the end users data.

  • What is imaging? Creating a data recovery image is the single most important process of data recovery. The basic idea behind hard disk imaging is to do what is necessary to read a sector and copy that sector to a good working intermediary device. In our case we use redundant stand alone servers in conjunction with our data recovery machines to hold the image created. Using one of our data recovery machines, the original customers drive (patient drive) is copied sector by sector to create an exact bit for bit image of the original drive which will later be used to perform the actual data recovery. The imaging process is read only and non-invasive to the original drive and is completely isolated from any operating system and outside influences. Our data recovery machines can facilitate the operation of a hard drive even when there are some mechanical/physical malfunctions. They can also access manufacturer specific features/functions of the hard drive that would be inaccessible to the end user. Some of the features of our data recovery machines during imaging include: slowing down, speeding up, reversing direction, and repetitively hovering over problem areas of the drive to read and image problem sectors. This allows us to image sectors that would not normally be readable. There are also many advanced capabilities of our data recovery machines including the ability to image sectors ignoring corrupt header information or imaging ignoring ECC (Error Correcting Code). Sometimes the original drive allows imaging at a very fast rate and other times the machine can reach an area where it has to slow down to a crawl using varying techniques to be able to image the sectors that would otherwise not be readable. Lastly, custom algorithms can be written to provide even more specific functions for interaction between the machine and the original hard disk drive.Common Problems Associated With Disk Imagingi. The physical properties on the molecular level of the actual material deposited on the platters can degrade over time losing its ability to “write to” or “read from”. High traffic areas that have been written to and read from many times have a higher incidence of failure.ii. An exact amount of current is used to move the actuator arm with its respective read/write heads to an exact location of the platters based on the servo tables. If any of the very precision tolerances change in the bearings of the spindle motor or armature, the originally specified parameters will no longer be optimal and result in sectors that can not be read. Keep in mind hard drives are tuned from the factory to very exact tolerances. Unique adaptive parameters to each drive are provided during manufacturing.iii. Donor parts depending on the drive, can be identical in every way but can differ slightly in manufacturing tolerances and thus create read issues when placed into the malfunctioning patient drive because of slight variances.iv. Dust can often infiltrate the internals of the hard drive over the course of its life causing read instability.In conclusion any failed hard disk drive restored to a functional drive will have some anomalies associated with it causing read instability and slowing the image building process.

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