Friday, 14 November 2008

Recovering Data From A Failed Hard Drive

This week I've read of several people whose computers' hard drives have failed: most of them ended up losing their work or paying someone a lot of money to recover their work, but when it happened to me I didn't lose a single bit of work and it only cost me £20, thanks to my lovely computer supplier (who is not Fujitsu Siemens and is helping me sort out my current problem).

About six months ago I had a big computer meltdown. My hard drive had failed completely: I couldn't boot it, and couldn't do anything but watch it do... nothing.

I'd not backed up for over a month.

Luckily the person who supplied me with my computer told me what to do. Here's what I learned from him. If you're careful it should work for you too: but you can't blame me if it doesn't work because I am only a writer, and not an electrician or a computer expert: this is what I did, and it worked for me.

The first thing to do is nothing. Do not attempt to repair the hard drive! This is very important, because that repair might well end up reinstalling Windows which will overwrite everything on the disk. Turn your computer off and go and buy a USB hard drive caddy. There are different kinds: Maplins sells a universal caddy for about £40, but if you know what kind of hard drive you have, you can find them more cheaply: my two hard drives are SATAs, but you can also get IDE drives (apparently). I bought a SATA hard drive caddy for £20 from my local computer shop.

Open up the computer box and look for the hard drive: mine is about four inches wide, six inches long and half an inch deep and is connected to everything else by a ribbon cable about two inches wide. If you're not sure what the hard drive is, it might help you to look at the connections in the caddy and see what you've got inside your computer which will fit those connections.

Right. Whip out the hard drive, whack it into the caddy, and then plug the caddy's USB connection into a different computer which is switched on. Then all you have to do is use Windows Explorer to copy everything from the old, damaged hard drive onto the other machine. I found it really easy: it took less than an hour, and I didn't lose a thing.

Once you've got all your data peeled out of the damaged drive you can put it back into its original computer, phone your supplier's technical support, and follow their guidance to repair or reformat the drive as required.

Honestly. It was not difficult. If I can do it then so can you all. But it would have been easier if I'd have backed up. Point is, back up as often as you can but if you forget and your computer goes into meltdown, make sure you retrieve what you can before you try to mend the hard drive.


Unknown said...

Hi Jane - I had lunch with Emma today and she told me about your blog - good to find it - and to 'meet' you. You're blogrolled now so I'll be back!

Jane Smith said...

Fiona, hello! I'm glad you've found me. And I do hope that Emma enjoyed her launch day properly: it can be a bit of an anticlimax.

I do like your small stones: I might even submit a handful myself (for those of you who don't understand that, have a look at Fiona's fascinating blog).

Anonymous said...

Hi guys!

Just wanted to say that I recently got an external hard drive as permanent, always-on back up. Yes, it cost a bit over £100, as installed by someone else, but the installation looked dead easy so would be cheaper to do yourself. It has a vast capacity - bigger than my PC's hard drive - backs up at set intervals automatically, I can force a backup before I do anything dodgy by pressing a button, and when I go away, I just unplug the two leads and give it to a friend if I think the house will go up in flames, or hide it in the house if the worry is the computer being stolen: it's only the size of a shortish, fattish hardback textbook. Mine's made by Maxtor, but there are others.

Jane Smith said...


I hope you had a wonderful launch yesterday, and remembered to eat lots of sweeties (because calories don't count on launch-day).

Your external hard drive sounds a lot like my hard drive caddy. I'm going to buy a hard drive to live in it permanently, to use as you do.

Peter Drobinski said...

Thank you for that tip, Jane. I have an external hard drive connected to my main computer, but I really need to become more disciplined in backing up files to it!

Anonymous said...

When my hard drive crashed last summer, it was due to physical damage, not merely lost access. I'm not sure how it got damaged since it just sits here, but the professional I took it to only charged me the $60 handling fee since he could not extract a bit or byte. I've learned my lesson and back up frequently now. I'd like to get an Apple Time Capsule, which is an internet router as well as a back up drive. Time Machine software on my Apple can be set to make continuous backups -- whenever there is any change to the data. Costs money, of course.

Gutsy Living said...

Since I write at the library on my laptop, I have a USB flash drive which I use to save my work onto and copy the files to my home computer at the end of the day.
Just found your blog today. Thanks for helping other writers.
Do you edit manuscripts from the U.S.?

Jane Smith said...

Peter, I think that Sally Zigmond uses a free gmail account as an online backup, and emails herself copies of everything that she writes (she's so organised). That might be worth trying for you.

Paul, I feel for you. I've got two hard drives in this computer now and do copy between them now, every now and then, but I do need a separate backup at a different location, just in case.

GW, USB flashdrives are useful but I'm always convinced that I'll lose them, they're so tiny! I have edited books for USA publishers (Chronicle Books, HarperSanFrancisco and a couple of others) but they were non-fiction and a while ago. And I'm glad you like the blog!

Jean said...

My computer crashed about a year ago. I did what you so rightly warn us not to do. I tried to repair the hard drive, which involved reinstalling Windows. By the time I got in a computer expert, he was unable to retrieve the lost data because of what I'd done. We live and learn!

chelsea said...

I'm really excited to read your blog.

And, I have a possibly offensive request. Is there any chance you might make your text just a hair larger? At least in the blog posts? I am an avid reader, I love to read, but my eyes are giving me the Wow, so tiny, are you sure you want me to strain? routine. Whiners, my eyes.

I can just sense the goodness packed into this blog. But the smallish text is telling my eyes to come back later when they're in the mood to work for it.

Sorry if I'm out of line or obnoxious, it is your blog, after all... Here's hoping for easier to read text!



Jane Smith said...

Oh, Jean, that's a shame! It's a nightmare to have to reinstall Windows (the few times I've had to do it I've been very worried that I was doing it right) and to find that by doing so you've killed all your stuff--you must have been heartbroken.

Chelsea, I'd happily change the size of the font only I can't read it at a different size! It's already larger than the standard size. However, all is not lost: look in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen, just above the taskbar and your clock: can you see a little magnifying glass there, or a percentage? Because if you click on there you can very quickly change the size of everything that you can see, then change it back again when you go elsewhere.

Does that help? I hope so.

Jane Smith said...

PS--Chelsea, you weren't being obnoxious at all, by the way, and I can quite understand your troubles as I'm having vision problems of my own right now. It's a pain, in more ways than one.

Bowman said...

I use multiple flashdrives, so I bought a case to help me keep up with them. I back up my writing somewhat frequently on a flashdrive, my wife's laptop and her parent's desktop. I try to play it extra safe.

Anonymous said...

I use flashdrives for moving files about, and mail things to myself at Googlemail, but I'd put money on most commenters here not backing up their emails because the programmes make it so complicated, and yet how disastrous would be it be if they all went? The advantage of the always-on external hardrive is that it reproduces your real hard drive exactly, and always up to date.