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My external hard disk sadly dropped on the floor. It is not completely broken. I connected to the pc and I can see the directory tree, but trying to open a directory takes a lot of time. Is there any way I can recover data?

What I would like to recover is first of all some java source files, and then if possible 10GB of photos.

I remember of some Linux utility that reads data even if error are detected, is it useful?

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Do Not continue using the drive until you are sure that it is healthy. The longer you use a failing drive the worse and more unreliable it becomes. The best way to get data off a dying drive is a bit for bit copy. Do you have another hard drive you can clone this one to?

Hook up another drive to clone to and boot to a Linux Live CD (Knoppix is great) and see if it picks up both drives. Once you're in the Live CD console you can check to see if the drives were both picked up with an fdisk -l.

If so, then use something like dd_rescue to clone the drive at that point. Just make sure to be VERY careful when using this, if not used properly it can destroy your data.

If you don't want to take the cloning route it might be work taking a look at something like Unstoppable Copier or Recuva.

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I suggest he run SpinRite before he attempts to recovery any files. If something can be done to fix the sectors, or move the files to a "good" sector, SpinRite will be able to do it. –  Ramhound May 22 '12 at 16:15
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First thing to do is get a image of the drive, you can just use the dd command under linux to create the image. (more info here) Even if the HD fails complety after you will still have an image to recover from
Then use a data carver tool like Scalpel or foremost to extract files from the image

To do this you can use a live cd like penguinsleuth that contains all needed tools.

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