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My hard drive is corrupted but recovering it bit by bit, takes ages as its a USB2 portable HDD.

But I need my portable hard drive for uni/college. Is it possible to copy the entire hard drive contents (each bit/byte) to an image so I can mount it and do data recovery from that? If so, what should I use?

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Depends what kind of corruption has been done: is the drive damaged physically? Or is it "only" data integrity problem? (e.g. accidental reformatting, file system error, lost partition table...) – Alois Mahdal Jan 23 '12 at 3:26
Also I suppose you mean "image". ISO is specifically used for compact disk filesystem. – Alois Mahdal Jan 23 '12 at 3:28

It depends.

If the problem is that there is some hardware issue with reading the bytes, then there is nothing you can do really (other than bring it somewhere).

If the problem is something wrong with the MFT or the MBR, then yes, you can just clone the drive and that would allow you to work on it later.

If the problem is that there is actual corruption of the data, there is nothing that you can do (generally) to get the data back.

If you are on a windows machine you can use Macrium or if you are on a linux machine, you can use Ping.

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Partimage is a disk cloning utility for Linux/UNIX environments. Partimage can save partitions in many formats to a disk image.

Backup individual disk partitions. volume backups are very useful for recovery in the case of a disk failure or data corruption.

Parted Magic is a bootable ISO which contains this utility and others that can assist you in recovering your data.

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From data recovery tools, I have good experience with TestDisk.

You can find it on SystemRescueCd, along with many useful system diagnosis and recovery tools as Partimage, GParted, memtest+...

For maximum performance, SystemRescueCd can also boot from flash drive.

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