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What steps can I take to try to recover lost or inaccessible data from any storage device?

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More specific please. I could say drag and drop and that could be a valid answer. –  ngen Feb 4 '11 at 20:47
    
@ngen: Adjusted, drag-and-drop no longer works now. Please see community-faq-proposed. –  Tom Wijsman Feb 4 '11 at 20:49
    
Maybe this? diskdigger.org –  tobylane Feb 11 '11 at 19:17
    
@tobylane: Shareware, although it seems nice. Perhaps I could create a list of alternatives... –  Tom Wijsman Feb 11 '11 at 19:35
    
Needs a third case for where the files have been accidentally deleted and are not in the recycle bin –  That Brazilian Guy Mar 13 at 15:07

3 Answers 3

In case of mechanical failures.

Pray, it well help you and calm you down. :-)

Introduction

If you have a mechanical failure (e.g. random crashes, just stops working one day, weird "screeching"/"beeping" type noises), EVERY time you plug it in and turn on, you could be making it much worse. If it is very important data, I would recommend taking it to a lab / professional data recovery service.

However, if you want to do it yourself, you can summarise mechanical failure into two categories:

Spindle/inside problems or outside/controller problems.

First, Spindle/inside problems. This is the worst thing that can happen to a physical hard drive, If it is this, it really depends how bad. My favourite tool for this (not free) is R-Studio, it allows you to create an image from the drive and performs many passes*, then perform the recovery from the image.

* (I have actually had drives fail a read from a sector, but just from trying over and over, it has worked - even unplugging and plugging it back in)

Depending on how important the data is, and if you are not able to read, I would try the freezer trick. This sounds like a joke but it really is not. Put the drive in an air tight bag and stick it in the freezer for a good few hours (I usually leave it in for 6 hours or overnight), then, when you plug it in, you can get a good 15-30 minutes before it crashes again.

If it is a controller board problem then, the only way to fix it is to reflash the drive (check manufacturers website), or most commonly, switch the controller board (Carefully) from one that is an identical model.

For flash drives, again, if important, go to a lab. If you want to do it yourself, there isn't really a lot to say.

Is the error with the controller or the memory?

Typically, if it is the controller, when you plug in the drive, nothing will happen. If it is the flash memory itself, it sort of acts like a floppy/cd drive without the media in - you can see a drive letter, but just can't access it (sometimes get the insert media warning).

If it is the memory itself, I do not know a fix.

If however it is the controller, I have only ever had luck about 40% of the time doing it myself(and it depends on the architecture of the stick). Many of the cheaper sticks you see have two boards - one is the controller and the second (not sure the technical term), is a snap on daughter board. You can usually just unplug the memory and plug it in to another board.

Usually the board doesn't even have to be from a similar drive, just try to get the chip provider correct (e.g. branding on one of the ICs), the most common one I see is from Winbond and they typically work with any memory chip.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

In case of corruption or bad sectors.

Pray, it will help as it calms you down. :-)

Get direct access do the data.

When recovering files from an external drive it's important to have the shortest connection possible.

This means that you wan't to get rid of any extra USB cables, USB hubs or equipment you don't need.

If you are recovering from an external hard drive, try to get it out and connect it using a SATA cable...
If you are recovering from an USB stick, try to connect it to the back of your computer, try different ports.

Downloading and burn an Ultimate Boot CD needed for further steps.

Most tools used in this post are all available on the Ultimate Boot CD.

  1. Download the Ultimate Boot CD at the bottom of this page: Click on the enter image description here icon next to a mirror.

  2. Optionally, to ensure quality, run a checksum with this program against the checksum listed here.

  3. Burn the ISO to a CD using ImgBurn on Windows, LiquidCD on Mac OSX or Brasero on Linux.

  4. Optionnaly, to ensure quality, make sure it verifies the CD.

Take a backup (EASUS Disk Copy).

As we'll try to recover the file system and/or recover the data we are going to tamper with the disk, for this reason you might want to take a preliminary back-up to ensure that if things go wrong you still have a back-up available. If you suspect disk failure you might even want to consider to exercise the back-up instead so you can still send your hard drive to forensics companies if you really need the data...

  1. Start the Ultimate Boot CD.

  2. Go to HDD --> Cloning Tools --> EASEUS Disk Copy.

  3. Do a disk copy to another device that has enough space free.

This will copy the data exactly at a sector-by-sector level.

Check if a hard drive is still in a fine state (SMARTUDM).

Before we tamper with the drive we want to be sure we aren't making its state worse.

We will first check the state:

  1. Start the Ultimate Boot CD.

  2. Go to HDD --> Device Management Tools --> SMARTUDM.

  3. Check if any of the S.M.A.R.T. attributes has a * that is in yellow or red, this denotes a bad state.

If the state isn't fine, try to recover in case of mechanical issues.

If the state is fine, then we'll do an error scan to be aware and get rid of issues:

  1. Start the Ultimate Boot CD.

  2. Go to HDD --> Diagnostic Tools --> ViVARD.

  3. Let it perform an error scan, note how much errors are found and how many remaps are done.

Identify the file system.

Covered by How do I identify the file system used on a partition?.

Try to repair (TestDisk).

Prior to doing the actual recovery, you might sometimes have the need to repair the partition(s) and file system(s) first. This is where TestDisk comes into play, I would recommend to take a loot at what it does.

This is how to get to it:

  1. Start the Ultimate Boot CD.

  2. Go to HDD --> Data Recovery Tools --> TestDisk.

  3. Read the documentation at the bottom of this page and try to repair your data.

Use recovery software (PhotoRec).

Now that the preliminary stuff has been done, this is how you can start recovering:

  1. Start the Ultimate Boot CD.

  2. Go to HDD --> Data Recovery Tools --> PhotoRec.

  3. Read the documentation at the bottom of this page (example: step by step) and recover your data.

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Recover lost deleted photos or images from storage media like Pen Drives, Flash Cards, Thumb Drives, Memory Sticks, Micro Drive, MMC Cards, XD Cards. You may try third-party software Kernel for Digital Media Recovery Tool. That application easily recover all lost and damage data. http://digitalmediarecovery.blogspot.com/2014/03/best-way-to-recover-lost-photos-from-digital-camera.html

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