We recover your data as safely and efficiently as possible.
Our data recovery process follows the same steps used by the biggest and most expensive data recovery companies in the world.
But we also take extra steps to maximize our customer’s satisfaction, like providing timely e-mail updates throughout the data recovery process, manually adjusting every drive’s firmware before cloning to disable potentially problematic features, and “triple-checking” data on transfer drives.
Mail-in customers should include an empty hard drive (called the “transfer drive“) in the same package as the “bad” one if not purchasing a new hard drive from us. Drop off customers may bring a transfer drive when dropping off.
2) We inventory your hard drive
For drop-offs, we’ll first note and verify the hard drive’s serial number. Then we’ll add customer contact information and hard drive details/symptoms into our ticketing system and data recovery database. Finally, we’ll label all accessories (power adapters, cables, etc.) with customer name, ticket number, and contact information.
For mailed drives, we’ll match the name on the box (and on the hard drive) to the electronically submitted Mail-In Form. We’ll confirm any additional fees and note/label all parts and accessories. We’ll send an e-mail to go over our rate and policies and start working on the drive after the customer’s confirmation.
3) Diagnostic analysis
This involves determining the underlying problem with the hard drive. First, we remove the hard drive from its enclosure or computer and visually inspect the hard drive and PCB (the circuit board on the bottom of all hard drives). If the cover was previously opened ($50 up-front fee), we’ll inspect the drive in our ISO Class 5 cleanroom to check for damage. If everything looks good, we’ll connect and test the hard drive using one of our hardware data recovery tools.
Diagnosis will likely also involve testing various components of the hard drive and PCB. This includes testing the hard drive’s heads individually, checking and verifying the integrity of the hard drive’s firmware modules, and backing up all firmware data from the hard drive including ROM and modules.
Depending on the problem with the hard drive, we may open the cover and assess internal physical damage inside our cleanroom.
4) Revive hard drive
Various actions may be taken to revive the hard drive so it’s accessible on a sector-level by our hardware cloning tools. This may include locating and replacing donor parts (such as “heads”), repairing corrupt areas of the firmware, and replacing or repairing bad components on the PCB.
If donor parts are required, we’ll send an e-mail to let our customers know that we are attempting to locate a donor part (and we’ll specify which part we’re looking for). We’ll send another e-mail after the part has been found with a shipping ETA.
If the hard drive failure is due to damaged heads (about 25% of the hard drives we receive), and the cost of compatible donor heads exceed our rate for recovery (about 15% of the hard drives we receive), we offer our customers the option of a partial recovery. For example, if your drive has 10 heads and 1 is bad, we may still be able to recover 90% of your data! We can do this by virtually turning off the damaged head in the drives, firmware using a tool like the PC-3000.
If we can’t recover any data without a donor part (or, we can only provide a “partial” recovery by disabling the bad head), we will offer you the option of providing/paying for the required donor part. If we can’t recover any data and you do not want to pay for a donor part, you can also decline our recovery attempt and pay nothing. See how a head swap works.
If donor parts (besides “heads”) are required to revive the bad hard drive, they will not be returned with the bad drive. Your bad drive will be returned in the same condition as it arrived. If you opt to purchase a donor drive for a heads swap and the recovery is successful, we will keep the bad drive along with the donor drive. If unsuccessful, we’ll return the bad drive with the original heads and keep the donor drive.
Various steps are taken to minimize risk to the hard drive (especially the heads and platters) to ensure a smooth and successful recovery. Often this includes mapping the heads of the hard drive, disabling advanced (and often problematic) features of the hard drive’s firmware1, and controlling/adjusting the environment of the hard drive.
After this stage is finished, an e-mail will be sent to our customers letting them know their recovery is “In Progress.”
6) Clone hard drive
The most important step is cloning as much data as possible from the bad hard drive to one of our good drives. This process may take several hours, days, or even weeks (worst case scenario). It all depends on the problem(s) with the hard drive, size of the hard drive, the number of bad sectors, and the amount of data needing to be recovered.
To complete this process as thoroughly and quickly as possible, we use specialized hard drive cloning hardware-software tools. Whenever possible, we specifically target the most important files first. Once the most important files have been successfully cloned, we’ll target the remaining requested files. This prioritization increases the chances of recovering the most important files, in case the hard drive is on the verge of complete failure.
We monitor and continuously adjust the cloning parameters to ensure we’re imaging the most amount of data in the quickest amount of time and with the least risk to the hard drive.
7) Logically inspect the hard drive
After cloning as much data as possible from the bad drive, we inspect the clone using our software data recovery tools. Once connected to one of our data recovery rigs, the clone will not “mount” because we have intentionally disabled the part of the drive that instructs the operating system to recognize it (“MBR”). This avoids the problem of the OS attempting to repair the drive’s partition in the background, which can potentially destroy data.
The partition and file structure of the hard drive will be inspected to determine the partition damage (if any). We perform no less than two software scans of the clone to ensure all the data has been found. If partition corruption is present, we will perform several more data recovery scans using various high-end software recovery tools to get back as much data as possible.
In rare cases, we may need to manually reconstruct the damaged partition in order to access and recover the original folder structure and filenames.
8) Extract data
At this point, all the data which can be recovered has been located and we’ll start moving the files to the transfer drive. The most important files (listed on the mail-in form, or noted when dropped off) are verified to ensure they are working properly. Other random files around the hard drive may also be tested to confirm there are no problems with the recovered data.
We always reformat the transfer drive in either NTFS (if the bad drive was PC formatted) or HFS+ (if the bad drive was Mac formatted) unless instructed otherwise by our customer. If the bad drive was Linux formatted, we’ll ask our customers which format they prefer (Mac or PC).
After the data has finished moving, we’ll send an e-mail to give our customers the good news. We will also send a list of files to confirm our customers would like to keep the data we recovered. If so, they will pay the agreed-upon rate (usually $300, not more than $500). If the customer does not want the data we recovered, they will pay a $100 labor fee.
We already have our “clone” of the bad drive which we can use as a backup (and keep for a few days). But in addition to this clone, we also keep a backup of all the recovered “files” on an encrypted disk image. In order to make sure your data arrives home safely, we’ll keep this backup for at least 7 days.
We also offer our customers the option of extremely affordable Long-Term Data Backup Plans. We keep these encrypted backups on a safe and secure RAID-5 array.
To ensure there are no problems reading the transfer drive once returned to our customer, we also perform a “triple check.” We eject the transfer drive from one computer, mount/check on another computer, and then re-mount and check on the first computer. This extra step helps avoid hidden problems with partition corruption and ensures our customers get their data back in full working order.
We also scan all files on the transfer drive for viruses. Any found viruses are repaired or removed.
10) Recovery finished
All recovered data is now on the transfer drive, backed up, and the data recovery process is finished. The final step is to confirm all mailed in or dropped off accessories are present.
If the drive was dropped off, the customer is notified via e-mail that the data recovery process is finished and the hard drives are available for pickup. Once they arrive to pick up their drives, they will pay the total due.
If the drive was mailed, we’ll safely box up the drives, calculate the actual shipping cost (usually $15 anywhere in the United States), and e-mail our customer for payment options (credit card over the phone, credit card online, or cryptocurrencies). Drives are shipped out the morning after receiving payment.
A final e-mail will be sent to Mail in customers for address confirmation and shipment tracking information.
1. Many drives run background scans (like “sectors auto-relocation”) to monitor various aspects of the hard drive during operation. Some drives also use “media cache” to speed up reading/writing. These features/background tasks can lead to very slow reading/writing speeds or even complete inoperability.
We also turn off/disable S.M.A.R.T. — another background task that monitors various aspects of the hard drive like temperature and the number of bad sectors. S.M.A.R.T. is on most modern hard drives. If S.M.A.R.T. logs fill up, the drive can slow significantly or fail completely/click endlessly.
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