How to Recover Data From a Broken Hard Drive

If you are reading this article you are probably desperate, but before you panic let me tell you that there is hope, and there is probably more hope than you think…. Even if your hard drive has an internal mechanical malfunction, data can be recovered without having to send the hard drive to a data recovery service. Yes! you heard right, I’m sure you have come across articles that will tell you how to recover data from a damaged partition, you will find a ton of those on the web, but when your hard drive starts malfunctioning none of those articles are going to help you solve your problem, This article will.

Corrupted file system

If the hard drive gets detected by Windows and can be accessed but you do not see any data inside, or you get a message saying that the drive needs to be formatted. You probably have a corrupted file system in you hands. The solution for this is a good file recovery software. I’ve tried many, and my choice is “Recover My Files” from GetData. Many of the recovery suites out there claim that they can recover data and they probably can, but can they find everything that you want to recover? Most likely not! This software can. But don’t take my word for it, download the free version from their website and give it a try, you will see what I’m talking about. The free version is a demo so it will not allow full functionality but, it will let you see what it can recover and will even let you recover some small files. This software is included in my article: Best Data Recovery Software.

The software does have its drawbacks. If your file type is not on their list it basically can’t be recovered. If you want to recover a file with an uncommon extension that is not on their list you are out of luck. Their list is extensive though. Make sure you run the “complete File Search” and not the Fast, as the later is basically worthless. The complete will give you more than you need, even stuff that you erased from your hard drive years ago. It will take a long time depending on the size of the hard drive. The program will not allow you to install it on the same hard drive where the data needs to be recovered from for obvious reasons. So be prepared to install the software on a secondary drive like a USB Flash Drive or External Hard Drive. There are also a free alternatives which work as well or even better than “Recover My Files”. If your disk read my article: How To Repair A Damaged Partition or MBR. If you are unable to recover the damaged partition but still want to recover your files, read my article: How to Recover Erased Data Using Free Software.

Clicking noise of death

If your hard drive is making the common “clung… clung… clung…” sound your head are having trouble reading the contents of the drive. This is one of the worst problems you can have since the arm of the drive is not functioning properly and therefore cannot read the disks inside. As some of you might know this is not repairable, at least not at home, Hard drives need to be opened in dust free environments, and by specialized personnel, so do not even attempt to open it if you want your data back!!!. Many people will just give up at this point and send hard drive to a data recovery service. However, before you do that and spend an arm and a leg, there is something you can do.  I have written an article just for this: How To Recover Data Even When Hard Drive is Damaged

Hard drive does not get detected

If the computer does not detect the hard drive, or the computer just does not want to turn on when the hard drive is connected to it, you might have a bad hard drive board. This is the big circuit board located at the bottom of your drive. These easily replaceable boards tend to get damaged over time due to the heat generated by the hard drive itself. I will tell you how to replace this board with the following solution:

There are a number of places on the web that will sell you these boards. If you can’t find it or you are a cheap bastard you can always resort to eBay and buy a used hard drive with the same model number as yours, remove the board from the used drive, and use it on broken one. This will probably cost you less than purchasing the board alone. If your hard drive is old it makes more sense to buy another hard drive, on the other hand if the hard drive is new you are better off buying the board. These boards run around $50 each. If you decide to purchase another hard drive or the board alone, make sure you are getting the exact same board! I cannot stress this enough. You can have drives with the same brands and specifications with slight variations on their board and consequently on their firmware, if this is the case the board will not work, so make sure you are getting exactly what you need before pressing that “buy now” button!

Hard drive gets detected but still does not work

If Windows detects the hard drive but it can’t be accessed, won’t give you the option to format it, or its properties. You probably have dirty contacts on your board. Usually when this happens you do not hear the famous “clicking noise of death” noise, but rather a repetitive “rrrrrr rrrrrr” sound, as if the hard drive is reading the same data over and over, or you do not hear any sound at all. It is important to mention that this behavior does involve the computer detecting the drive but DOES NOT involve the “clicking noise of death”. To solve this problem try the following: Remove the main board from the bottom of the hard drive and clean the bottom contacts. That board that you see underneath the drive is actually sitting on top of un-soldered contacts. Many Hard Drives operate at high temperatures, and this tends to melt the circuit board’s coating. When this happens this coating will spill over these contacts, and since they are not soldered their dirty metal surfaces will no longer touch. To solve this, remove the screws from the board and flip it. You will see a row of contacts usually in more than one location. Rub the surface of the contacts with a pencil eraser, just as if you were erasing something you wrote. This will actually clean those contacts better than any other method. Screw the board back in place and try it. (If your hard drive happens to have pin connectors rather than flat ones, disregard this tip and buy a new board.)

Clicking noise of death (Last Resort Solution)

This trick will actually work 60% of the cases, so you do have a good probability of getting your data back. I have to warn you that after freezing your hard drive there is also a good chance that the hard drive won’t work ever again, therefore this procedure should only be attempted as a very last resort.

1Place the Hard Drive inside a Zip Lock bag and put it in the freezer for about 2 hours.

2 – After that take it out and connect it to the computer as fast as you can so that it does not have time to warm up. Make sure that you do not remove the hard drive out of the bag and that you open it as little as possible when connecting it to the power and data cables, so that outside air doesn’t come in and create condensation on the drive.

3 Turn your computer on, look for your data and take it out as fast as you possibly can. Time is key here because you do not know if that drive is going to ever work again. Make sure you do this on a fast computer that does not take to long to boot up, if possible connect the hard drive to an external USB enclosure so that you do not waste time with the computer booting up. Also make sure you know the exact location of your data; is better if you go to straight to the folder rather than using Windows search utility, as searching the drive will heat it up faster due to the amount of work the arm will have to make. Drives usually work for a few minutes and stop working once they heat up. So hurry!!!

4 – If after freezing the hard drive and connecting it to the computer you are still not able to access it and you still hear the noise, hold the drive in your hand and, without taking it out of the bag, tap it with your knuckles on one side to see if this releases the heads, you obviously have to do this while the hard drive is powered on and connected to the computer.

Final Thoughts

If none of these tips work for you and you still want your data back is time to send your drive to a data recovery service, there are number of those on the web, I have never actually tried one, but some of them will charge you a flat fee regardless of the problem. However, these services will not guarantee your back all of the time, in fact most of them regardless of what they claim, will just have a 75% to 80% success rate. There are some things you just can’t recover from, like an arm scratching the whole surface of a plate. Best thing is to back up your data regularly. I suggest you read my article on building your own NAS server

*** Here at GeekyProjects we have been receiving hard drives for a while from all over the world and recovering their data in exchange for donations to the site. (We even received one from a soldier stationed in Afghanistan once!).   However, lately our focus has shifted towards the website itself and we no longer have the time to continue with the service. Nevertheless, we have decided to share our knowledge with the public in a series of articles, The following are the links to some of them: ***

How to Recover Data Even When the Hard Drive is Damaged

How to Repair a Damaged Partition Table or MBR

Best Data Recovery Software – Top 10 List

How to Recover Erased Data Using Free Software

How to Retrieve Files From a Dead Computer

How to Recover Your Files When Windows Won’t Boot


  1. Pablo Garcia, 7. November 2011, 9:27

    Hi Janice:
    Nobody said the condensation occurred inside the drive.

  2. Janice, 3. November 2011, 0:51

    Reducing the temperature of a drive, and then letting it get back to room-temperature will NOT cause “water” or “condensation” inside.

    HDs are sealed. Anything that’s already inside… will always be there. They do NOT put water inside the drives when they make them.

    HD temperatures change all the time…. during every use… year after year.
    It’s normal.
    They don’t suddenly fill with water.

  3. Pablo Garcia, 3. September 2011, 17:40

    Hi Judah: It might be a necessity. That is the problem with buying the PCB board that it has to be exactly like yours including firmware, etc.

  4. Judah, 3. September 2011, 13:32

    I want to verify that I’m at the end of my rope. I got the blue screen of death one day and could not boot the laptop up again. It said did not have a bootable device. I did drive diagnostics using bios utilities (HP laptop) and it got to 40% and told me to replace the drive. The drive is a Western Digital. I bought a new drive and an external enclosure. When the drive spins up in the external enclosure it starts to read and then stops and tells me to reformat. It will even try twice sometimes, but if I go into disk utilities it does not recognize any drive except my replacement. I downloaded Recover My Disk and it does not see the drive. I tried putting the drive in the second slot. The bios looks like it recognizes there is a drive but when I attempt to do diagnostics it just sits at zero. Because of the position of the drive (board down) it makes clicking noises while in the laptop. When I use it externally I put the board up and don’t get any noise except when it terminates attempt to read. The drive does continue to spin. I have not tried replacing board or freezing the drive. Should I bother? I have congregational financial data, so I have to recover (I was using my backup drive for another purpose, won’t do that again :( ). If I freeze can it still be recovered if it does not work?

  5. Dimitra, 27. August 2011, 16:38

    Thanks very much for the answer.
    I hope that Racuva or Photorec will work!
    Thanks again!

  6. Pablo Garcia, 27. August 2011, 16:18

    Hi Wahida: Again… Provided you hard drive is healthy you can use Recuva or Photorec to recover your files, Both programs are free and reliable.

  7. Pablo Garcia, 27. August 2011, 16:05

    Hi Malama:
    In order for you to be able to access your files you need to log into Windows 7 with Administrator rights and “take ownership” of the folder you are trying to access.

  8. Pablo Garcia, 27. August 2011, 16:04

    Hi Dimitra
    Sounds like you have a corrupt filesystem. Use Racuva or Photorec to recover your files.

  9. Pablo Garcia, 27. August 2011, 15:55

    HI Akashlina:
    If you see the drive as a drive letter in windows try using Recuva or Photorec to recover your files.

  10. Pablo Garcia, 27. August 2011, 15:52
  11. Malama, 27. August 2011, 8:46

    My computer had a problem of “NTLDR IS MISSING” However i tried to correct the problem but wasnt successful. i then decided to recover by connecting the HDD to the other computer but also was able to succed. It tells me that “Access is denied” Is there any other solution that you can help me to recover the data?

  12. Dimitra, 26. August 2011, 12:04

    I’ m desperate! I have an ADATA 500GB external hard drive, which I used with my desktop pc (windows xp), I bought a new laptop now with windows 7, at first the HD worked fine, sometimes when I was connecting it with the laptop, a message will pop that was suggesting a format, but as everything was working fine, I ignored it. Yesterday all of the sudden (or maybe not), my hard drive gets detected by Windows and can be accessed but I don’ t see any of my data inside and I get a message saying that the drive needs to be formatted. If I do format, I’ ll lose all my data, right?
    Is there anything that can be done at all?
    I read about software ”recover my files”, does it works?
    Please, if there is any idea or suggestion will be more than welcome and much appreciated.

  13. Akashlina, 26. August 2011, 5:26

    Thanks for writing such informative post. My Transcend 320GB external hard drive just stopped working. The device is being recognized by windows but I am getting error messages like – cannot open drive, format drive to use it, drive is corrupted etc. It had almost 150-200 gb of digital pictures and movie files. Could you please suggest which of the data recovery s/w should be useful to recover the digital pictures (that’s all I care about)?

  14. martin fabram, 25. August 2011, 15:57

    hi…all of a sudden all my data in my hard disk turned into shortcuts…need help on how i can get my data back..thanks

  15. Pablo Garcia, 24. August 2011, 21:33

    Hi Peter, its possible although I have never heard that before. I would suggest you connect the drive directly to a desktop computer’s SATA / IDE interface, then transfer you data using Windows.

  16. wahida, 24. August 2011, 4:03

    Dear sir,
    I’m using my external hard drive Buffalo 500GB anti-shock to store all my movie and photo. Recently my HDD unable to save some photos and when i tried to connect to my netbook,it no longer recognise my HDD.

    I did tried on a different PC which sees the drive displays it in the directory but doesn’t recognise it a having any capacity or files it is simply a shell. Device manager still reads the drive properties however no data.

    I have spent ages collecting the data, vidoes, music, photos etc. on my external hardrive and i was wondering what i should do to recover that data ..

    Please..please..please.. help me :(

  17. Peter Neski, 22. August 2011, 18:10

    My problem is that My WD My book usb port is loose in the case,I took the drive out ,But trying one type of case for the drive didn’t work because the WD Software on the drive caused problem for the case not showing up on my Computer,The tech guy said it wouldn’t work with that case

  18. Pablo Garcia, 21. August 2011, 22:04

    Hi Remy:
    Try another cable they are extremely cheap. You can get one in deal extreme for $1 with free shipping.

  19. Remy, 21. August 2011, 11:47


    I still haven’t had a chance to take the external apart and attach it as a slave but I noticed something in my inspection. It looks as if my cats have been chewing on the usb cable. The external still makes the “window’s recognizing something is plugged in” noise which makes me believe the cable is still working…. but yet the drive still does not show up and the drive still whirls and clicks. Is it possible because of the very badly damaged cord that perhaps its not getting enough power? Should I bother trying to buy a cord and replace it, or should I just assume that it makes the “Windows plugged in noise” and therefore is fine?

    Thanks for all your help!

  20. shane, 21. August 2011, 6:56

    Hi pablo,

    Thanks for your reply, i’m going to try and source a new board this week, I shall keep the thread alive.


  21. Paulie, 20. August 2011, 15:04

    this might be a dumb question, but what should i use to clean the contacts?

  22. Pablo Garcia, 20. August 2011, 12:07

    Hi Paulie
    “Don’t appear” but they might be. These boards have a clear coating that can spill over contacts when the board gets to hot. I would try cleaning them anyways, it won’t hurt, (provided that you are properly grounded of course)

  23. Paulie, 20. August 2011, 11:54

    thanks for the reply. the contacts dont appear to be dirty or have any dust at all.

  24. Pablo Garcia, 20. August 2011, 11:49

    HI Paulie
    It might be a bad board or dirty contacts in the board, have you tried removing the board and cleaning the contacts? the ones underneath the board and the ones that connect to the sata and power cables.

  25. Pablo Garcia, 20. August 2011, 11:47

    Hi Shane
    If the computer’s BIOS can’t detect the hard rive, no program will. Is the hard drive making any noises? Is it completely dead? If it is you might have a bad board.


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