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About 5 or 6 years ago I had a laptop HDD go bad on me (wouldn't boot anymore). I removed the HDD and have had it stored away since then because it has almost all of our pictures/videos of my son's very early years. It is very important to my wife and me, obviously.

Recently I tried to connect it to my PC using a SATA cable, but I could not get BIOS to recognize the disk exists. I can hear/feel the HDD spin, but no matter what connections I used I could not get BIOS to see it.

Considering the importance of the data I sent it to werecoverdata.com and paid a $95 diagnostics fee.

The quote I was provided was $1750, (the cheapest of the time frame options). I asked what the issues were and this is what I was told: "The hard drive is unstable and has System Area issue."

I've done some googling and see a lot of references to programs that allegedly fix unstable sectors, which I'm assuming is what "unstable" means. System Area doesn't mean much to me.

Ultimately I need the data off of the HDD, but $1750 seems pretty steep, especially if they just run some program I can download for $50 to get the data off.

I could really use some other opinions, ideas, thoughts on this price.

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    The description of the problem seems made-up to me. Ask them for a broad overview of how they intend to pull the data off. If your data us worth less to you then the cist of recovery, post back as there are some "hail Mary" things you can try which could allow you to recover the data, but they have a greater chance of killing the drive. (Things like freezing it, heating it, dropping at a strategic height/angle - although that likely won't help here). – davidgo Jun 25 '20 at 1:57
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    If the BIOS is not reading the drive, its unlikely you can use software to recover it. Try in another system and using a different cable. What size and model drive? – davidgo Jun 25 '20 at 1:59
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    I'm unsure if this is an appropriate comment, but Linus Tech Tips has some Youtube videos where he visits a clean room data recovery center, and another one discussing specifically $1000 data recovery fees. Maybe give them a watch, they might shed some light on the issue for you. – Kraigolas Jun 25 '20 at 4:55
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    If you are tech-savvy, you can use a Linux distro to see how the disk reacts when connected to a PC. I mean, dmesg, smartctl, lsblk and aux tools like mount, g/fdisk, and dd. Electronic and mechanical failures may give overlapping symptoms as the desk holds some important parameters and the electronics may fail unpredictably. You may try replacing the electronic controller from an identical (possible used) disk. You must be careful not to damage the disk. If that still fails, you know it's mechanical and only professionals can recover your data. – Margaret Bloom Jun 25 '20 at 11:52
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    The bad grammar of that company's statement of the problem is off-putting, but the price sounds typical. You can't do anything in software if the drive isn't detected by the BIOS. The only home repair option you have is to buy an absolutely identical drive and try to swap the controllers over, but there's a chance it could make things worse. – Boann Jun 25 '20 at 12:13
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It is entirely up to you whether your data is worth it to you. They should give you a guarantee of data recovered or no (or minimal) charge.

I had a drive with apparently a catastrophic failure that I gave to an agency (they quoted about $1,100 but charge only a nominal charge if no data recovered). No data was recovered and I paid the small charge. Fair all around.

Followup note based on discussion here: I would add the that the quote you got is reasonable and is not a "rip-off". Charges are made for clean room, analysis and labor.

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    Yes they did provide a contract and if recovery fails I just pay the diagnostics. I can pay the $1750, I'm just hoping there is someone who knows more about this stuff than I do that can hopefully provide some guidance whether they think the issue is worth $1750 or if this company is trying to rip me off. – Ken Jun 25 '20 at 1:46
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    That matches what I answered above. If they cannot get the data, just a diagnostics charge. We cannot tell you is the charge is worth it to you - it is your data. I would have paid (above) if the company recovered the data. There is not a dramatically cheaper way. – John Jun 25 '20 at 1:49
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    I'm not asking anyone to tell me whether the data is worth $1750, I'm asking does the description sound like it's worth $1750 to someone with knowledge of HDDs that surpasses my own (which isn't much) or is this company ripping me off. – Ken Jun 25 '20 at 2:03
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    The price is not a rip-off. It is the cost of clean room and labor to recover the data. The quote sounds reasonable and certainly not a rip-off. – John Jun 25 '20 at 2:09
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    @Ken To add to what John said, the price may or may not include the price of a new HDD or 30 day storage on their servers, for you to download. And may or may not include the fee for shipping back your HDD. youtube.com/watch?v=u3lPghtUucs <-- this is a good example of what may happen in one of those centers. – Ismael Miguel Jun 25 '20 at 9:54
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From your description of the drive being unrecognised by the BIOS and the recovery company's explanation it sounds as though the drive has hardware/mechanical damage or other low-level issues that require specialist tools (e.g. a manufacturer-specific firmware flasher) or physical disassembly/replacement of parts of the drive (e.g. controller board replacement, platter swap, etc.) in order to be able read the data. $1000 - $2000 is the typical price for this kind of service, and these are not tools that you would be able to buy yourself, or use correctly without specific knowledge and training.

However, I would recommend asking around for a quote or second opinion from another organisation. There may be places that offer a better price and if "The hard drive is unstable and has System Area issue." is a direct quote the clarity and grammar of this statement wouldn't give me confidence if I was about to hand $1750 over to this organisation. Some places also charge a lower fee (half, or even less) if they aren't able to recover the data.

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    "Spins but not recognized by BIOS" sounds like an electronics board issue to me, rather than a mechanical one, but I'm not a data recovery specialist. Still, specialised tools etc etc – user253751 Jun 25 '20 at 14:55
  • @user253751 I mentioned mechanical issues for 2 reaons: 1. the "system area issue" sounds to me like corrupted/unreadable data on the disk media itself (some hard drives store part of the firmware on the magnetic media rather than in flash), which could indicate a physically damaged platter, faulty heads, etc. 2. mechanical damage is the most familiar and understandable example for explaining the difference between "professional data recovery" and "download a utility program" and gets the point across about "this is a difficult and expensive task that you can't do yourself". – Micheal Johnson Jun 25 '20 at 16:58
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Of course, you can't use any of those do-it-yourself programs if the computer cannot recognize the drive. $1750 does seem high, and the usual advice for spending almost any money for services applies -- find at least three providers with decent reputations, and compare the quotes. $1750 seems quite low, for a worst-case scenario recovery where the provider has to build a new hard drive using the discs from your old one because of whatever is wrong. There's also recovery and there's recovery. Are they going to recover the file structure and file data (names, dates, etc), or will you just end up with a zillion files and good luck figuring out what they are and where they go? I had a HDD crash years ago that I used a well know recovery program for. What I ended up with was very frustrating. Many of the photo files, for example, had garbled sections. A recovered photo with only the top 1/2 of the picture isn't a great thing to have. So, my answer is: Check around. If you get 3 quotes that are in the range of $1750, that's probably a reasonable price for the difficulty of the task you're requesting.

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It won't help you now, but you should have tried to recover the data right after the failure happened: the magnetic field in those unstable sectors is only getting weaker as time passes, errors in the flash memory of the controller accumulate, head positioning becomes less and less precise as the lubricants harden, and any replacement parts needed for the recovery of an older driver become more and more expensive. It's entirely possible that 5 years ago you could have used one of those $50 recovery programs if the disk was still recognized by the computer (albeit unbootable), and the price tag in a recovery centre would have probably been lower too.

Regarding the situation now, it's entirely possible that the price is too high, but you won't know that unless you go to another business and pay the diagnostic fee there. Once the drive is undetectable using a computer, any opinion on how damaged it is or how much the recovery should cost is a wild guess unless the person giving you the opinion has actually diagnosed it.

Statistically speaking, $1750 is on the higher end of price tags for private customers, but not out of the range of reasonable.

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About 20 years ago my mother in law lost 3 months of invoices from her business. I had read a bit on specialized data recovery services and told her to expect something in the $2500 range and to stick with national-level specialized companies. She left it with her (generally incompetent) IT provider, but lost patience after 3 weeks. Luckily, they did not damage the data, she contacted a reputed big firm, her wallet got a lot lighter and she got her data back within a week.

Like @Michael Johnson says, shop around. Since you should avoid dealing with local IT repair shops (I love mine, I just wouldn't use them for this) you have the whole country to look at. Make sure that they've been in business for a while, do only that, and are capable of handling the real hard cases (clean room disassembly and the like). Recovering hard disks is a specialized skill, requiring specialized procedures and equipment. Either you're in that business or you're not. I can think of plenty of things that could irremediably lose the data once more aggressive procedures are taken - that's why you want the pros.

Then contact your shortlisted providers with a pre-written note on your symptoms so that each gets the exact same story. If any one of them picks up on something that makes it seem like it's less serious (like the fact that it still spins and it could be "only" a BIOS issue), they may either quote a lower price or point you back to non-specialized people. Still, unless they have a good reason for lowering their price, the 1500-2500, on success, is what I would expect.

If you're still stuck at specialized care, I'd go with the middle bid, just like is often recommended for home renovations.

Before committing to the full procedure, you could, if you have a good local IT repair shop you trust, ask them to connect to your drive from alternative machines (maybe a Linux workstation), with the express understanding that they would not do anything else than a straight simple read without your express approval.

Also, stating the obvious, check your SATA cable. Does it work on something else? If you're not 100% sure, get a new one just in case. Maybe you could also look at it from a friend's computer. If it seems like it connects better, but still doesn't read, back off and just add that to your symptom list when you contact the providers.

Yours is an HDD story. I've had at least one good SSD (Samsung 850) die on me, after less than 2 years. There was no warning, one day it didn't work, there was no recovery possible either.

Next time, with SSDs, you most likely won't even have this option. Backup, backup, backup (esp with ransomware floating around). Do it on 2 different disks at least, rotating. Time Machine has saved my bacon twice, takes zero mental effort to use, and is one of the main reasons I stick to Macs despite knowing my way around Linux and Windows perfectly well.

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