Backing up your data Part 2 - Hard drive data recovery

Files are easily deleted by accident, an incorrect keystroke while browsing your files can lead to important data being sent to the recycle bin. If this occurs unknowingly and you do not regularly empty the recycle bin you may miss this important file when scanning the bin before "emptying" it.

In this situation the most important thing you can do, as soon as you realise the file has gone, is to turn off your PC and find another machine to attach the drive to as a secondary drive. When a file is deleted from the recycle bin the data is not actually scrubbed form the drive. All that happens is that the drive marks the area of the drive where the data was stored as being deleted and not until new data is written to the drive is the old data removed; it gets overwritten by new data.

This is why it is vital that you turn off your PC and either take the drive out yourself and connect it to a second PC where the file can be recovered or take it to someone who can do this for you.

There are several off the shelf products that can do this for you, R-Studio, File Recover and many others. These programs need to be installed on Windows so if you have deleted a file and do not have this software installed then the action of installing the program may mean that the information for the program is written to disk in the place where your deleted file was! So if you have a second PC install the recovery software to this machine, add the hard drive with the deleted file to it as a secondary drive and then use the recovery software to scan the secondary drive for lost files and see if you can restore your deleted work.

Should the worst ever happen and you get complete hard drive failure do not worry just yet as you may be able to recover some, if not all, of your important data. Of course this depends on the severity of the problems with your drive, some of the tips below should not be attempted unless you are confident in working with computer hardware, if your data is vital then we suggest you contact experts in this field. Data recovery companies do exist, their charges are not always too bad so it would be worth ringing a few for quotes before trying any of the next suggestions.

1 - Computer hangs on boot up. If when you boot up your computer it sounds as though your hard drive is struggling to spin to full speed or is totally silent then it may be that the bearings that help the platter spin have stuck. Not for the faint hearted but give the hard drive a wallop. Yup, you heard me right, physical violence does sometimes work! Especially in older, smaller capacity drives for some reason, has worked a treat on several situations I have been called to. To make sure you do not damage other components, take the cover off the PC, remove the drive from its housing while keeping any leads plugged in, pop the drive on a firm surface if possible and rap the drive with your knuckles or the handle end of a screwdriver while powering up the PC.

2 - No drive detected error. Sounds obvious but check all the cabling from the motherboard of your computer to the drive itself including the power cable. Give them all a wiggle and see if this prompts the drive to be found. Boot into the computer's BIOS settings and see if BIOS is detecting the drive. If not you may be in luck and either loose cabling or a dodgy motherboard could be the answer to your problems. If this is the case try the hard drive in a second PC if possible and see if this detects the drive OK.

3 - One common error is the lovely blue screen of death (BSOD) with an error message "Error writing to drive C:", this is often accompanied by a clicking or clunking noise from the hard drive. Believe it or not freezing the hard drive can sometimes get these drives to work again temporarily. Remove the hard drive from the PC and pop it in a freezer for half an hour to an hour, take it out, pop it back into your PC, cross your fingers and power it up. It is sensible to have a back up drive at hand so that if the drive does spring back to life you can immediately back up your data before the drive takes its final bow and departs stage left.

There are a multitude of other problems that could occur with your hard drive and sometimes simple data recovery described here can work and sometimes it can only make matters worse and put your data into a state where recovery becomes impossible. It is vital that you have a good back up procedure to make sure your most valuable files are not stored in just one location and there are also other things that will help you recover data such as having a second PC or formatted hard drive that you can put in your PC so you can get a copy of Windows up and running to aid with data recovery should your hard drive die. As a freelancer surely it is vital that no days work are lost because your PC died, it is advisable to have a backup PC (most freelancers will have a desktop and a laptop for meetings etc) so that if the worst should happen at least you can continue working while your main computer is fixed.

As stated before, if your life's work and family photos for the last 10 years are on your hard drive and nowhere else then don't mess about with it, call the experts, pay their charges and make sure you are not so silly as to trust one single copy of data ever again.

Next in the series we will look at making sure your important data is regularly backed up to ensure no time or work is lost should hard ware fail, get stolen or accidentally deleted.

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