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How can I retrieve some photos on a failed hard drive?


Hi Leo. How can I retrieve some photos on a failed hard drive? The message I
get is “Hard disk failure is imminent.” I can’t get in to save my data even
though it says, “Please back up your disk and have it replaced.” Help!

In this excerpt from
Answercast #55
, I look at a failing hard drive and the limited options for
recovering data from it.

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Failing hard drive

So, I need to start with the admonishment that you should have been backing
up before this. If the hard disk failure will cause you to lose data, that means
that data was in only one place – and if data is in only one place, it’s not
backed up.

So step 1: Learn from this and begin backing up in the future.

Retrieving data

Now, getting around this one… Yeah, this disk is definitely on the verge. In
fact, it’s probably over the verge. Clearly, you can’t get your data off of

I have (unfortunately) only two real solutions for you.

Disk recovery program

One is potentially to run SpinRite on it.

Now, SpinRite is not free, but is the kind of a program that can in fact
repair/recover certain types of failures on hard drives. It’s something that
I’ve used and recommended for a long time.

It’s not as seamless as it once was in that SATA drives occasionally give
it a bit of pause. But the good news is that if you can’t get it to run with
your drive (or if it actually doesn’t fix your drive), the folks at SpinRite
have a really liberal return policy and they’ll happily give you your money

Data recovery service

Now the only other alternative I have for you is (if this is important
enough…) SpinRite’s going to cost you $95 right now and hopefully, that’s
small compared to the value of whatever is on that hard drive. On the other
hand, the only other alternative I know of is something like a data recovery

There, you’re going to be spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to
potentially recover the data from that hard drive.

  • If it’s valuable enough to you then, absolutely, go down that path and see
    what they can do for you.

  • If it’s not, well, then that data is probably going to be lost forever.

It’s unfortunate. It’s one of those things that could have been easily
prevented by having regular backups of that data, but this is kind of where
you’re at right now.

So, those are things I would try. Definitely see about backing up from now
into the future and for this specific drive, give SpinRite a try. Or give a
data recovery service a try, if it’s worth it.

Do this

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9 comments on “How can I retrieve some photos on a failed hard drive?”

  1. This has been mentioned before, but we put the harddrive in a plastic bag (better if the drive has been in a non-humid area for some time so there is no moisture), and then put it in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. Many times it will allow the drive to be read for a short time. Pull it out, hook it back up (or to a USB adaptor), and copy off what you need as quickly as possible. Does not always work, but is a first step we use.

  2. A friend of mine ask me if I could help her out. She had all her digital photos on one disc. Yes, that’s right – they were not backed up. This disc, a Seagate USB-disc, suddenly seized to work and nothing she could think of made things any better.

    So, I decided to try to help her, even though I’m not a computer techie but rather a fairly experienced user.

    I stumbled upon some tools at
    They were all for free and did the work exceptionally well. You need some computer (and especially file/dir/disc management) experience since the user interface is not designed for the mass consumer market.

    But, it did help me to recover all her lost files, so we made a donation to the author.

    Might be worth to check out. If you are not at the necessary level to understand and use these tools, maybe you have someone nearby (a phone call away?) that is.

  3. This is more a question to Leo but it pertains to this article. To this very problem of total harddrive failure. Would it be possible to take the drive apart to get to the disk only and install it in a good drive to get to the data? Or is that train of thought way of the mark?

  4. @Siegfried
    That is what Leo is referring to when he mentions bringing it to a data recovery service. They can disassemble the drive and put the disk in a special recovery drive. This is a very delicate and expensive process which must be carried out in a clean room as even a speck of dust can damage the drive.

  5. Another option. If the disk is spinning there is a good chance you can access your files and folders using the tool in the following description, USB 2.0 to 2.5″ 3.5″ SATA IDE Hard Drive Disk HDD Converter Cable Power Adapter, do a search on google, ebay is the cheapest option, around $15.00, this tool enables you to connect your hard drive to another computer via a usb port, in a perfect world your drive will be visible and your data recoverable. The beauty of this tool is that your hard drive doesn’t have to be bootable.
    Hope this helps.

  6. Boot disk with Puppy Linux on it. If the drive does not even get recognised then there is one final option.

    Now I know Leo is going to scream Urban Myth on this one but I have done it and it works … sometimes.

    Remove the drive, wrap it in shrink wrap, put it in a zip lock airtight plastic bag and leave it in the freezer overnight. Work quickly the next day as you might get about ten minutes worth to retrieve your files. Some of my clients think I am a miracle worker. The others think I am an idiot.

    No, no screaming from here. :-) I’ve heard of it working, though I’ve never done it myself. I definitely consider it “plausible” for a variety of reasons.

  7. Couple of basic tips.

    1. Open the case and put your hand on the METAL part of the drive. Turn the computer on and if you can’t feel the vibration of it spinning up then it is dead. Find a spare power cable from the power supply and plug that in.

    2. If that doesn’t work get yourself an IDE/SATA to USB from eBay. Only a couple of bucks and try again with the drive out of the computer. Let’s face it is time to get a new drive anyway.

    3. If the drive does spin up. Replace the cables first. There could actually be nothing wrong with the drive itself.

    However I will agree with Leo on this one. There is absolutely no reason to not have a backup these days. Back in the 80’s it was a pain to sit there and plug 50 5 1/4 inch floppies in but I have a 2TB USB drive sitting next to me and it cost me $129

    As a secondary backup off site I have a Gmail account and anything valuable I email to myself. They got heaps of backup resources and it does not cost me a cent. Let the house burn down. I can claim that on insurance and get another but at least my data is safe.

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for the information provided in the above blog, after reading this blog a searched more about hard drive data recovery software. I found a good data recovery which helped me to recover all my precious photos. You just need to do one thing, connect your hard drive with some healthy system. Once your hard drive is detected you can easily restore your lost data back. Here I provide the link that software it will be useful for some needy person if future.

    Software link:
    Download link:


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