Everyone’s nightmare! All your photos, documents, music and more lost to a serious hard disk crash. Yikes!! The good news at least is that it wasn’t my hard disk, but I am involved in the data recovery.

It all started at a drunken Blackpool party last week and is the alleged result of a collision between two alcohol soaked idiots (yes, I’m one of them!) and a very long USB cable running from an external hard disk to a laptop, which was providing the music for the party.

The upshot? One very knackered hard disk that steadfastedly refused to display any of its 1000s of precious files.

As a software developer, this isn’t really something I know much about. I generally try to avoid the hardware side of things as much as possible, but in this instance I felt somewhat responsible.

Idiots guide to Data Recovery

So where to start? I tried the obvious chkdsk /f (obvious if you’re an I.T. guy), but to no avail. It did reinstate the drive, but none of the files were to be found, thus suggesting a corrupt file system (NTFS) and possibly damaged disk, rather than a non-functional external casing and mounting.

Okay, over to Google. As per usual, a quick search revealed more people who had the same problem than it did solutions. I tried several utilities that claimed to get your file system back, even if chkdsk had failed, but they were useless. One even failed to read the hard disk that was now clearly there.

The next thing to try was data recovery software. These work by reading the entire disk sector by sector and looking for patterns on the disk that represent particular file types such as JPG, AVI, MP3, DOC, etc.. There are a lot of these programs about, from the very expensive to the freeware and shareware alternatives.

Rather stupidly (given that time is money), I started with the cheaper options. All of these failed to yield any results and several crashed out. I then reverted to the more expensive paid options. These all offer a free download demo that will scan the disk for files, but will not let you recover them until you pay for the full product. That way, you know that they’re worth buying.

Well, in short, most of them aren’t. In total, I must’ve installed just shy of a dozen products (free, cheap and expensive) before I eventually found one that worked.

Credit where credit is due

I’d just about given up hope and had already advised my friend that all his precious files may be no more, so I was extremely chuffed at the moment it started to say files found. I didn’t want to get too excited as another piece of software I’d tried had previously gotten up to 16 files and 8 folders before promptly crashing and refusing to run again.

But the files kept on coming, 10, 100, 1000 and so on…

I told my friend and he suggested we download a pirated copy of the software, something I’m not comfortable with and about which another post will shortly be written. After all, these guys have written a program that recovered 1000s of photos, including a first date, first holiday and a wedding. Surely that deserves some financial reward?

As I felt partly responsible and software piracy is against my principles (and chosen profession), I forked out for the full version. A very reasonable £23 at the current exchange rate and I could pay via PayPal.

So this is an unadulterated plug for those responsible for the software that saved my neck:

Please note, I make no warranties. It worked for me when others didn’t, but I’m sure all disk circumstances are different. There are tonnes of others out there for you to try. Just Google “Data Recovery Software”.

One last note, if this ever happens to you, be prepared to leave your computer running for some time. To say the process is slow is an understatement. My computer has been running for five days now on a 600gb hard disk and is only halfway through recovering the contents.

In Conclusion…

As well as web design and database development, I can now add data recovery to my repertoire. So if you’re in the Blackpool area and your data has gone south, give me a call.

But beware, unless you can prove I was drunk and in the direct vicinity of your hard disk when it went wrong, it’s gonna cost ya!

Right, time to get on with the day job…