11 Things You Can Do To Recover Data From Your Failed Hard Drive

On Wednesday 6th August 2014, after playing a game of tennis, I came home and did my normal routine. I put my tennis gear down, turned on my computer, had a shower, and then sat down to check my emails on my computer. However, when I went to sit down, I found Windows 7 was still frozen on the Welcome to Windows screen.

starting windows

I thought it must have been a glitch or something from a Windows Update, so I restarted the computer and tried again. Still… nothing apart from the “Starting Windows” screen. After a few more attempts, I thought, “Great, Windows is corrupt, let’s boot into my 60GB SSD”, which contained an installation of Windows 7 Pro that I rarely use. At least that way, I’ll have a computer to use. In my attempts to boot into it, my computer would yet again freeze as the same spot.

My computer has a 60GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive installed. The 1TB HD was formatted into two partitions. C:/ which was around 250GB and contained Windows 7 Ultimate, and D:/ which was used for data storage with a partition size around 750GB. From memory, I set the Master Boot Record on the 1TB drive to dual boot with the 60GB SSD. If you are wondering why I was not using the 60GB SSD for Windows – I only had 10GB’s left after installing Windows and installing a few other programs. A 60GB SSD is not enough to run an OS for a heavy user.

Let me give you a bit of background about my hard drive crashing. The weekend before, I was running low on Disk space; I had about 75GB of files left (from a 750GB partition). My computer’s desktop was a mess with files from previous computers that I needed to find homes for. So I spent an entire day, cleaning up my files and sorting them into organised folders. The weekend after, I planned to take a full backup after everything was in place. The last complete backup I did was in May 2012, so I didn’t have a recent copy of my files, so I was well due for one. But now, my priority was to recover and access my data.

Attempt 1: Booting into Safe Mode and trying Windows Repair

So the first thing I thought I do is try to repair the Windows Installation or boot into SafeMode. When attempting to boot into SafeMode, it would freeze at “\Windows\System32\Drivers\CLASSPNP.sys”, and the computer would just hang.

safe_mode_classpnp

My next step was to try the Windows 7 installation CD to try to repair Windows. However, my attempts in doing so were also unsuccessful. I could get to the stage where I could move my mouse, but no dialog ever appeared. By disconnecting and connecting a combination of drives in my computer, I could not get the Windows Repair Tool to even detect the failed Operating System. If I click on the “Load” button, I could access the C:/ Drive of my SSD, but not the hard drive with my data. So booting into SafeMode and Trying a Windows Repair did not work for me, which got me thinking, this is more than a corrupt installation of Windows, it’s a Hard Drive issue.

Attempt 2: Use an External USB Caddy to Access Files

So at this stage, I couldn’t access any OS or data. I took my hard drive out of my computer, put it into a USB caddy I had and plugged it into my Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook (which conveniently 1 week later now won’t boot). My Ultrabook began to run really slow, and when I opened My Computer, I could see the C:/ Drive of my failed hard drive and the space it occupied, and I could also see the D:/ drive partition, but not the size of the disk. I opened Disk Management, but it just froze my whole computer. As soon as I turned the drive off, the computer became instantly responsive again. After trying this a few times, I managed to access 2 levels deep into the C:/ drive, however, it was very slow, and not the location of any files I wanted to recover.

I also noticed that my drive, a Hitachi, started making a “click” noise every 2 or so seconds, so now, I am getting worried that it’s not the OS that has crashed, it is a mechanical failure with the drive.

After not having a backup of my files since 2012, and not backing my files up after organising everything, you could imagine how I am feeling about now.

Attempt 3: Ubuntu Live CD

So my next attempt was to run a Ubuntu Live CD. I had one lying around from a few years back, so I tried that. I could see the two partition and the size, so I thought, “Yes, this will be successful; just open the partition and copy the files to another hard drive”.

Well, Ubuntu could not mount the drive, and I was faced with these errors.

Recovering Failed Hard Drive With Ubuntu

I did not want to run a force mount at this time, because I was unsure if that would corrupt the drive even further, so I thought I would clone the drive first using CloneZilla to prevent further damaging the disk.

Attempt 4: Cloning the drive with CloneZilla

Since having never used CloneZilla before, and after multiple sources recommending it, I’d thought I give it ago using a spare hard drive first – just to play with the settings so I don’t accidentally write data to the wrong drive. It worked flawlessly. So I began a sector-by-sector clone of my drive to a Portable 1TB USB Drive.

As soon as the cloning began, things were not looking good. I was faced with hundreds of errors like these, with my driving making the “click” sound again. After Googling “Error in queuecommand_lck CloneZilla”, it returned 5 results – so it was not helpful at all.

Recover Failed Hard Drive with CloneZilla

Attempt 5: Trying a different PC and Different USB Caddy.

So after my normal data recovery efforts that I usually perform when the OS crashes, has failed on me. So I tried recovering the data using another PC by inserting the failed drive, and connecting it directly to the motherboard. In my first attempt, I couldn’t even boot into the working version of Windows. It would, yet again, get stuck on the Windows 7 loading screen.

I then inserted the drive into another USB caddy, and I could finally boot into Windows and see the partitions of the failed drive, but Disk Management would report the files as unformatted RAW. I am now thinking the partition tables of the drive are corrupt. However, what is confusing me is the inconsistencies I get:

  • Ubuntu – can see the partition and sizes, but unable to mount
  • Connecting the drive to motherboard, would not allow the working hard drive to boot into Windows.
  • Connecting the drive to motherboard on the same PC, and having it boot on another try, I could see the two drives, but reporting unformatted and 100% free disk space.
  • Using one USB caddy, I would only see 1 partition that was Unformatted and RAW
  • Using another USB caddy, I would see the two partition

Attempt 6: Using Data Recovery Software

After 5 attempts, I have gotten nowhere. Earlier in the year, I was approached by EaseUs to include their software in JackCola’s Freebies Programs. I like to ensure I review products before I include it in the program, but I declined their offer for a review as I didn’t have a failed drive to work with. I responded to their email again, and asked for their assistance. I gave their Partition Recovery Program a go and connected the drive using the USB caddy.

The program failed to detect any partitions to recover, so I tried the Data Recovery part of the software that was also included in as part of the free trial. I ran the search overnight, and it detected hundreds of thousands of files. The next morning, it listed about 100 or so partitions, with some selected. I then selected them all, thinking I could restore them all, but the program said I could only select a maximum of 4 partitions. I didn’t take note of the partitions the software selected. After clicking next, it ran another search for 30 or so minutes, so I had some hope. I could see the files and file sizes of many files I have lost. I hit the recover button and attempted to open the file, only for the program to say the file is corrupt. This is a Word document, so I opened the file in WordPad, and I could see pages of gibberish, so there was data that was recovered. However, when looking into the HEX values, it was all 0’s.

As I believe my drive is facing some mechanical failure with the “Click” sound, I don’t really want to run it again. I would prefer to create a clone of the drive and then do the recovery on the cloned drive.

Attempt 7: Giving it to a mate

With CloneZilla first failing on me, I would thought I’d ask a person I know (who is an ex-coder) what his data recovery experience was like. He said he has done it heaps of times, recovering 100% of the data, and with 1 drive only recovering about 40% of the data.

I gave it to him, explaining all my steps that I have done, and he was also puzzled with how the drive was behaving. His attempts also failed trying data recovery software and disk cloning tools. Due to the lack of time he has, I took the drive back to continue to look for a solution.

Attempt 8: Retrying Attempts 1-7

After trying everything I could think of, I would try the first 7 steps again. You never know, I might be second time lucky. At the moment, I am thinking, “I have not given up, so I have not lost any data – I just can’t access it – it will be back”.

Attempt 9: I’m still trying… and running out of ideas.

So after retrying the 7 steps, I have ran out of ideas.

Attempt 10: Reaching Out To You

So as my first 9 attempts have failed, I would love to know what worked for you, so please share your experience below in the comment section below.

Attempt 11: What Actually Worked, and How I Recovered 100% of my Data from a Failed Hard Drive

So after 1 month of stressing, I finally found and executed a solution that worked, and allowed me to recover 100% of my data back from a failed hard drive. I was on the right path in Attempt 3 – all I had to do was download the latest Version of Ubuntu.

Once I did, I used ImgBurn to burn the ISO to a DVD Disk.

I then booted the Live CD, with my failed hard drive connected directly to the motherboard and I could see my two partition drives and their sizes, however I wasn’t able to mount my data drive. I could however, access the C:/ drive and browse all the files fine.

So at this stage, I am getting quite excited. I searched for the words “Disk” using Ubuntu Live’s search box and opened Ubuntu’s version of Disk Manager. Luckily enough, Ubuntu could read my hard drive and my partitions without any issue.

Ubuntu Smart Tool Testing

As you can see, the disk wasn’t looking that good with 2332 Bad Sectors. That’s quite a lot, because anything over 5 is considered bad.

So, my next step was to take an image of the drive. I selected the partition that I wanted to image, clicked on the little Cog, and selected “Create Image”. What this does is creates a sector-by-sector copy of the hard drive (an exactly clone), and save it as a .img file on another hard drive. So after running it, near the start of the disk, I started getting data that was unreadable.

Creating Disk Image with Ubuntu

Lucky the data missing was only small. By the end of the disk, only about 5MB of data was missing – and that was probably where the Master Boot Record or Partition table sat on the drive making it unbootable.

As you can see, the image took about 6 hours to produce. Now that I have the image, how do I read the data?

I have used Virtual Clone Drive in the past to mount ISO images as a CD to be able to install Software on my computer. So I gave that a whirl, however, it failed miserably. I took the internet, and found a useful article by Guy McDowell on MakeUseOf.com – a website I used to write for. After reading the recommendations from Guy, I gave OSFMount ago. OSFMount is a program developed by a security expert who also happens to live in Australia.

After installing the software, mounting the .IMG file as read/write, all my files appeared as a drive, as if nothing ever happened.

Success!!!!

After 1 month of stressing about losing year’s worth of data, a Ubuntu Live DVD and OSFMount, saved the day.

Bonus Hard Drive Recovery Tips

Recently, a close friend of mine could no longer access the files on her hard drive and the 11 methods did not work. But I managed to recover all of her files. Here’s how I recovered her deleted hard drive files.

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