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Lost Data? - Recover It!

Aug 29, 2008
Losing your valuable data, either by damage to your computer or accidental deletion, is an upsetting situation. Whether the lost files contain sensitive personal information, treasured photographs, or data for your small business, the loss can be devastating. Your data doesn't have to stay lost, however. Data recovery services specialize in restoring files that most people wouldn't think would be recoverable. Keep reading to learn how data recovery services work.

Why Data Recovery is Possible

The files stored on your computer are all written onto the hard drive, which consists of thin, round platters coated with a shiny magnetic data storage medium, much like the shiny coating on the thin ribbons contained inside VHS and cassette tapes. Just like in a VCR or a tape player, a head inside your computer's hard drive reads and reads and writes the data onto the magnetic storage medium.

When you delete a file on your computer, it is not actually erased from the hard drive. The hard drive simply changes the marker on that space from "occupied" to "vacant." The data itself is still there until it is written over. Think of it as a home video that you have decided you don't want anymore. Until you actually tape over it, it's still there.

Even once data is written over, it can still be found. This is because the data that is written over it is usually imperfect, leaving traces of the original file. With the proper tools, these traces can be located, deciphered, and - usually - reassembled into complete files. However, the more times an old file is overwritten, the more difficult it will be to retrieve it - so the sooner you contact a data recovery service, the better.

Data Recovery Options

1. Data recovery service. When you contact a data recovery service, usually the first thing they will want to know is how the files you want to recover were lost. You might have accidentally deleted the files, or the data might have become corrupted. In a worst-case scenario, your hard drive might have sustained damage, ranging from relatively minor damage such as hard drive crash, to serious physical damage such as flooding or fire. However, the data recovery service most likely won't be able to give you a quote until they have inspected the hard drive, so you will also need to drop off or mail your hard drive to them. Before the data recovery service begins work on your hard drive, they will make an exact copy of the drive. All work will be done on this copy, to avoid doing any more damage to the drive itself. Using the copy of the original drive, the data recovery service then uses a variety of tools and techniques to try to recover the lost data. Every hard drive creates a sort of table of contents at the very beginning of the drive; by retrieving old tables of contents, the data recovery service can tell where the files you need would be located on the drive, making it easier to make sense of and restore written-over data. Once the data has been restored from the drive, the data recovery service checks to make sure the files they have recovered are complete. Again, they can use old tables of contents from the hard drive to check for holes in the files. Once they have ensured that the data is all there, they will back it up to CDs or another storage medium, and send it back to you.

2. Undelete software. A common type of data recovery software is "undelete" software, which enables you to restore files that you have accidentally deleted. However, remember that when you delete a file, the hard drive marks it as available storage. In other words, anything you do after deleting that file - whether downloading undelete software, saving another file, or even just shutting your computer down as normal - can overwrite the data, rendering it impossible to recover without a data recovery service. A way around this is to download the undelete software to a separate drive, such as an external drive or even a USB drive. Unless you know what you are doing, though, you should probably call a professional right away - the longer you wait, and the more you tinker with your computer, the more likely you are to create the need for major data recovery in order to restore your deleted file.

3. Uncorrupt software. Another type of data recovery software is one designed to find and/or fix lost or corrupted files. Again, the hazard is that every piece of data you write to the disk could overwrite the file you are trying to restore. Since the file is lost or corrupted, you cannot trust that the hard drive will know not to overwrite it. Again, immediately contacting a professional is probably the best course of action.

There are many data recovery software packs available online. These may be pretty tempting, but remember that depending on what you need done, they may or may not satisfy your needs. And even if software can fix your problem, using them without a professional's guidance may inadvertently create more problems, not only ensuring that you will have to use a data recovery service, but also creating more work for them (and therefore a higher price for you).

Because of the nature of a hard drive or another type of memory storage, data loss is not necessarily permanent. An experienced data recovery service can easily help you restore your valuable photos, financial information, or small business data. However, don't forget that when your valuable data has been deleted, lost, or damaged, time is of the essence if you are to get it back: The longer your computer runs, and the more often it writes to the hard drive, the worse the situation gets.
About the Author
Jason Kay recommends you read reviews of data recovery services and data recovery software at DataRecoveryAgents.com.
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