Well that actually depends on what you’ve lost and what you’ve lost it from. As you probably know, all your computer really understands is a series of 1s and 0s. Most people tend to think of their hard drive as being full of these binary digits, but the platter (the metal storage device inside magnetic drives) actually has trillions of tiny magnets that can be up or down (1 or 0). That being the case, your files can never really be deleted, you can’t delete a magnet! What happens when you delete a file, is that the space where the file was allocated, is marked as empty, i.e. it can be copied over. Whether or not this happens right away depends on a number of things, but if you have just deleted a file, there is very little chance it will be copied over immediately. In fact, it could remain for weeks, months, or even years!
Can I fix it on my own?
For the average user who has accidentally deleted a file or folder, there are a lot of data recovery software options that you can use and you probably don’t need to pay a data recovery company, as long as you are comfortable installing and running the software. Some software has a limit on how many files or how much, (in terms of megabytes or gigabytes) you can recover for free, but a quick Google search should find what you are looking for. A piece of advice though, if you go this way and you output the results of the scan, make sure you save it to another device. If not, you could be writing over the very file(s) or folder(s) you wanted to recover!
Hard Drive Issues
Apart from accidental deletion, there are a lot of other reasons that you might not be able to access your data, and here is where you probably need to let a data recovery expert look at the drive. Issues with hard drives can be divided into two categories:
- 1) logical issues
- 2) physical issues
By way of analogy, a book with a logical problem may have grammatical errors, poor sentence structure, or even just strings of random gibberish. You can read it just fine, but it doesn’t make any sense. A book with a physical problem has pages that are torn out, ripped, wet, rotten, chewed, or they came out of a printer that was running out of ink. It is anyone’s guess if you can read something meaningful off the page.
Logical issues can include things like a corrupted partition table, MBR/$catalog file errors, bad sectors, firmware corruption, etc. Symptoms might include your drive running very slowly, files and folders being visible, but not accessible, or not being detected at all by your computer. A combination of specialised software and hardware can address logical issues, so in terms of severity, these are on the lower end of the scale.
Physical issues cover things like damaged heads, PCB/power issues, and platter damage. Symptoms might include your drive not being detected by your computer, making strange sounds like beeping or clicking, or the drive not turning on at all. To remedy these issues often requires finding a suitable donor drive and exchanging parts, which although it doesn’t sound complicated, it’s very specialised and requires a lot of special equipment; ideally done in a class 100 clean room. You should never open your drive on your own, there is nothing you will be able to do to fix it and you will almost certainly make the problem worse.
What to Look For
A reputable data recovery company will examine the drive before they give you a quote and then allow you to decide if you want to proceed before they start recovery. Make sure you find out their policy on this and if they charge to look at your device.