Hard Drive Recovery: How to recover data from your computer

Breaking a laptop or computer can have costly consequences. It’s no secret that electronics are expensive and replacing an entire system can cause a serious dent in your finances, which is why having a good backup plan in place is important. Luckily, though, nine times out of ten a broken computer or laptop doesn’t result in a broken hard drive. In most circumstances you’ll simply be able to dismantle the device and plug it in somewhere new, giving you access to all of your data with little hassle.

However, if you’re unlucky enough to be one of the ten that can’t retrieve their data using this simple technique, there are still options. Even a hard drive that’s succumbed to serious physical damage can be saved. In fact, it’s a lot harder to delete data than you think. These tips will help you get started.

How to get Files off a Hard Drive

In either case, the first step towards recovering your data is removing your hard drive. Start by unscrewing the casing and dismantling the mounting brackets – most laptops use 2.5 inch hard drives that are either IDE or SATA.

IDE: Hard drives that have connectors with two rows of pins.

SATA: Hard drives that have two separate connectors; one for data and one for power.

In most circumstances, you’ll be able to connect your old hard drive to a new system by either replacing its existing hard drive or by slotting it into an additional port. If this isn’t possible you’ll need to purchase an enclosure that matches your hard drive type and size. When it’s in the enclosure you’ll be able to connect the hard drive to another computer by using a USB cable –which will allow you to transfer the files and make a backup copy.

If, however, you had a password protected laptop or computer Windows will automatically deny access to your hard drive. To bypass this issue you must take ownership over the User Folder. To do this:

  • Access the files on the hard drive and right click on the “Users Folder” or “Documents and Settings” folder (depending on which version of Windows you are using).
  • Click on the “Security” tab in the newly opened window, and then press the “Advanced” button.
  • Navigate to the “Owner” tab and click the “Edit” button.
  • Left-click the “Administrators” group and check the “Replace owner on sub containers and objects” box.
  • Press “OK” and select “Yes” when the Windows Security pop up appears.

The taking ownership process can take a while to complete – depending on the size of your hard drive. However, once the process has finished you should be able to access all of your locked files.

Software Problems

Software problems can cause serious damage to your system. While your computer or laptop may not be broken in the conventional sense, boot failures and viruses could render it useless. If the problem isn’t of a physical nature there will be various ways to solve it without having to remove the actual hard drive.

First try booting your computer in safe mode. This will only load the minimum requirements necessary to get your system up and running.

  • If you are using Windows 7 press F8 upon startup and select Safe Mode from the menu.
  • If you are using Windows 8 or above press F8 or Shift plus F8 upon startup and select Safe Mode from the menu.

If you succeed to open your system in Safe Mode use Windows File Explorer to locate your lost files and save them to an external device. When you have finished the transfer start your antivirus software. With a bit of luck this will locate and fix the problem.

How to get Data off of a Hard Drive

There are an abundance of data recovery programs on the market that are designed specifically to retrieve lost data.

Recuva is one of the most highly regarded free recovery programs available. It is even more effective than most premium options. To start the recovery process using Recuva, follow these steps:

  • Open Recuva to start the wizard. If it doesn’t appear automatically click on the “Options” button and check the “Show Wizard at Startup” box.
  • Press “Next” to open up the File Type page.
  • Select all the file types that you want to recover and click “Next” to bring up the File Location Page.
  • On the Thank You page select “Deep Scan” if you’d like Recuva to perform a more thorough check. Press “Start”.
  • When Recuva has finished the scan select the files you’d like to retrieve and press the “Recover” button. Remember to set the destination.
  • Press “OK” and wait for the recovery to finish. This could take several hours.

Recuva has several different scanning options. While the Deep Scan is the most thorough, the Standard or Advanced scans may be suitable if you only want to recover files that have recently been created.

Most data recovery programs are able to retrieve deleted data from the hard drives of damaged computers and laptops because the data itself will still be present. Even when you delete files manually they will remain stored on your hard drive until there is something else to replace them.

Click here to download Recuva


Professional recovery services are available if you’re truly at a loss. Prices often vary depending on the size and level of damage. Specialist services will have access to industrial grade hardware and software that can maximise your chance of success. The only real danger with hiring a professional is that you may only have one chance to recover your files as they might have to take your hard drive apart to access certain components. This is more common when the problem stems from an electrical fault. For this reason you should only ever seek professional aid as a last resort.

In most circumstances – especially with regards to laptops – hardware issues will stem from an exterior component, such as a monitor or fan. Therefore, before you start taking out hard drives and spending money on repairs, try to establish the route of the problem. Sometimes the simplest solution, such as checking that the connections are secure, is all it takes.

It’s important to set restoration points and backup all of your data on a regular basis – we recommend trying cloud-based storage for this. Get into the habit of doing this whenever you make a significant change to your system. Keep all of your data saved on an external hard drive to minimise your risk.

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