Data Recovery and Coffee Coasters

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - Earlier, we divided disk problems into three groups:

Case 1 - dead drive; Case 2 - you can't get at your data even though everything else seems normal; Case 3 - bizarre noises.

We covered the first issue completely and the second up to a point. Now we need to decide what to do next. Well, at this point you can run scandisk.exe (see the Microsoft documentation if you don't know how to do this). Scandisk is a Microsoft utility that checks the drive data storage system for problems and optionally tests the data areas for reliability.

If your disk gets a clean bill of health but something still doesn't work, then you can go back and explore the whole problematic area of how your disk subsystem should be configured.

Alternatively, if scandisk finds something wrong and corrects it (at least to the best of its ability), then you are faced with the simple problem of figuring out if the recovered data is valid - something that is outside the scope of this discussion.

Of course, if scandisk gives up at this point you might have a really trashed disk, and you should skip down to the heading "In Extremis."

Note that there are many tools for data recovery that all rely on having a readable disk (at least to some degree). But we're looking to solve a truly horrible problem: what to do if your drive is completely dead or just makes horrible noises.

In Extremis: Now we're in real trouble. You can try any of the disk recovery tools and cross your fingers. Of course, if your drive makes any kind of noise that at all resembles the sound of a lathe, turn it off! If the data on the drive is at all important, you want to maximize the chance of recovery, and letting the drive disassemble itself is, under the circumstances, considered counterproductive.

That said, if your data is so valuable that you're willing to spend a lot of time trying to recover it but you never bothered to make a back-up copy, then you have a real problem with reality.

Your problems aside, assuming that the drive is not making horrible noises and that the CMOS drive definition is correct, but you can't read anything from it, then you should make a low-level copy of the disk drive. For this, Gearhead recommends using an image backup or cloning tool (we favor Norton's Ghost for the latter . . . the former may not make a copy of all the important areas of the drive).

Now you have a drive that is in some kind of dubious state - that is, it isn't working at all and you would like to get at its contents. The only choice is to send it to a data recovery service. Note that the faster you need the data recovered, the more you will pay.

I have talked to a number of people who have used such services and, in the main, they were pretty happy with the results. That said, the price tag for data recovery service can be pretty hefty.

The bottom line is that there is no substitute for back-up and restore systems, and it is usually the case that a dead disk should be thrown away or, at best, stripped down to make high-tech coffee coasters.

Recovery stories to gh@gibbs.com.

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