How to Recover Data from a Failed Hard Drive on Windows

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hard drive failure recoveryHard drives don’t live as long as humans. Like all electronic devices, they’ll die at some point. Your hard drive’s demise is inevitable, but when it happens unexpectedly, it could take your important files with it.

Before you attempt any hard drive failure recovery methods, you’d want to recover the data to ensure it doesn’t get written over. There’s also always the chance that the hard disk may undergo further damage and render data irrecoverable.

In this guide, we’ll help you with the entire process: figuring out the cause of hard disk failure, recovering data, and hard disk failure recovery.

What Can Cause a Hard Drive to Fail

Your first task is to determine the cause of an internal or external hard drive’s failure. Determining the cause can help you decide two things:

  • Will you be able to recover data from the hard drive?
  • Will you be able to fix hard drive failure and use it again?

There are several things that can cause hard drive failure such as:

  • 🔧 Mechanical damage: Mechanical damage (or physical damage) can occur due to a range of factors. Dropping your hard disk several times, sudden power surges, humidity, or wear and tear of components over time are common reasons that cause physical damage, and consequently, hard drive failure.
  • 📁 File system corruption: File system corruption can occur because of an improper shutdown/startup procedure and abrupt power outage, among other things.
  • 🐞 Malware or virus: Malware and virus can cause several types of issues. It can format the hard drive without your permission. In most cases, however, you’ll be able to recover your files because they’ll still be physically present on the hard drive’s storage space.

The chances of successful data recovery in case of mechanical damage depends on the extent of damage. If the hard drive is entirely unusable, you won’t be able to recover data. But as long as it’s still readable, there’s a possibility of recovering data from a failed hard drive.

In case of logical errors like file system corruption, formatting, or malware attack, you’ll be able to recover data from a failed hard drive in most cases, provided the data hasn’t been written over.

Signs of Hard Drive Failure

Sometimes, even though your hard drive’s working, you’ll see signs of it heading towards failure. Recognizing these signs early on can save you a lot of pain if the hard drive does fail.

Following are the hard disk failure signs to watch out for:

  • Slow performance: If your computer seems to be performing slower than usual, it might be a sign of hard disk failure.
  • Blue screen of death (BSOD): If you’re experience frequent BSODs (not a one-off) on Windows, your hard disk may be failing.
  • Overheating: If your hard drive seems to be overheating, it could mean its headed towards failure.
  • Strange sounds: Your hard drive might make strange sounds if one or more of its physical parts aren’t working as they should. It could be a strong sign that your hard drive’s about to fail.

There are several other signs of hard drive failure, but these are the most common ones. If you notice these, immediately backup your data to avoid losing it.

How to Recover Data from a Failed Hard Drive

There are two methods for hard drive failure recovery: data recovery software and a data recovery service.

Option A: Data Recovery Software

You can use a smart data recovery solution like Disk Drill for recovering data from an external or internal hard drive when it fails.

Note: Scanning is an intense activity. If your hard drive is already in bad shape, scanning it could push it over the edge. You can avoid this by creating an image of the drive. Imaging isn’t intense so you won’t cause further damage to the drive. Disk Drill offers a built-in option (Byte-to-Byte Backup) to create and scan images.

Step 1. Download and Install Disk Drill

Start by downloading Disk Drill and installing on your PC. The free version allows recovering up to 500MB of data.

installing disk drill

Step 2. Create an Image of the Hard Drive

Launch Disk Drill after installation and head over to the Data Backup tab from the left sidebar. Select the hard drive and click on Byte-to-Byte backup. Name the backup file and select the path where you want to save it. When done, click OK.

creating a backup

Step 3. Scan the Image

Once you’ve created the image, return to the Data Recovery tab from the left sidebar. Click on Attach disk image and select the image file using the explorer. You should now see the image listed as a disk. Select it and click the Search for lost data button to start the scan.

starting the scan

Step 4. Recover the Files

Once the scan completes, you’ll see the list of files Disk Drill found during the scan. Select the files you want to recover and click the Recover button at the bottom. Select a location where you want to save the files you’re recovering and click OK. Note that you shouldn’t recover files in the source drive to avoid overwriting existing data.

recovering the files

Option B: Data Recovery Service

In some cases, failed hard drive data recovery may not be possible using a data recovery tool. If that’s true in your case, you can seek help from a reliable data recovery service. Your hard drive will be taken to a lab where a technician will retrieve data from your hard drive and then send the data and the hard drive back to you.

Is it Possible to Fix Hard Drive Failure?

Yes, hard disk failure recovery is possible in cases where it hasn’t been damaged severely. The solution depends on the cause of the damage, but the fixes are mostly for logical damage. Repairing physical damage, except for bad sectors, requires a technician’s help.

Method 1: Use Check Disk

CheckDisk (ChkDsk) is a built-in utility on Windows that checks a disk for errors and bad sectors. If ChkDsk finds either errors or bad sectors, it will try to fix them automatically.

To use ChkDsk:

  1. Press Win + R, type cmd, and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter.
  2. Type the following command and press Enter:
    chkdsk F: /r /x

    using check disk

  3. Let the utility scan your hard drive. Once it finishes, exit the Command Prompt.

At this point, Check Disk should have fixed (or at least tried to fix) any errors or bad sectors, if it found any. If it did, you should be able to use your hard drive normally again.

Method 2: Run an Antivirus Scan

When malware is causing your hard drive to malfunction, you’ll need to remove malware using an antivirus program. The process for scanning differs depending on which antivirus program you use. However, it should be fairly easy regardless of which antivirus you use.

We’ll use Microsoft Defender to illustrate the steps.

  1. Search the Start Menu for Virus and threat protection and select the Best Match.
  2. Select Scan options.selecting a scan option in windows defender
  3. Perform a scan based on your preference. When you want to scan a specific hard drive, you can use the Custom scan option. Select Scan now once you’ve chosen.starting a scan in windows defender

When the scan completes, Defender will show you if it found any virus or malware and the action it took. Once you know Defender has cleaned your hard drive, you can start using it normally again.

Method 3: Formatting

Formatting a hard drive wipes your drive clean. Formatting solves almost all logical errors on a hard drive and gives it a fresh start.

Once you’ve already recovered important files with Disk Drill, you can format the hard disk without having to worry about losing data. Here’s how you can format your hard drive:

  1. Search for Create and format hard disk partitions in the Start Menu. Selecting the Best Match will launch the Disk Management Console.
  2. Find the drive you want to format, right-click on it, and select Format.using disk management to format
  3. Select a file system (or leave it to NTFS if you’ll only use it on Windows devices), check the box next to Perform a quick format, and select OK.formatting the drive

Once the process completes, you’ll have an empty hard drive. Hopefully, you’ll have recovered your hard drive by now.

Arjun is an Tech ninja, codes HTML and CSS, and has received an honorary mention as the family’s go-to tech help during get-togethers. He has been writing guides for about six years and he’s currently a contributor on major Tech websites like MakeUseOf, HelpDeskGeek and 7 Data Recovery.
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Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments.