How to Recover Data From a Broken Hard Drive –

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. carlo, 15. July 2011, 13:20

    hi pablo , we have a seagate 500 gb 7200.12 sata2
    works fine for 6 month ….
    today blu screen and no hdd was detected by bios
    now i unmount the drive and i hear that is stopped
    i try to change mb of disk with another of same type
    and drive seem started
    but i can’t see it on the bios and i can’t see it via usb cable connected …
    any suggestion?

  2. Pablo Garcia, 15. July 2011, 8:53

    Hi Dev:
    Other data recovery companies can probably recover your data, as long as the drive is not too scratched. But there is nothing you can do on your own.

  3. Pablo Garcia, 15. July 2011, 8:51

    I would if you give me more details. Is this an internal or external drive. If it it an external drive you need to take it out of its enclosure and test it directly with the SATA or IDE cables of the motherboard.

  4. Pablo Garcia, 15. July 2011, 8:48

    Hi Luke
    If it is making a clicking sound and it is not being detected by the BIOS, I do not think its a PCB problem. If you cant get the BIOS to recognize the hard drive, send it to a data recovery company.

  5. Pablo Garcia, 15. July 2011, 8:10

    Hi Dan
    Yes a data recovery company can get your data out but it is probably going to be quite expensive.

  6. Dan, 14. July 2011, 23:45

    Thanks Pablo. It is not being detected at all. When you say there is nothing I can do on my own – do you mean that it would be possible for an expert in this field to recover the data? I am happy to pay someone if it is possible, Io idea what I am doing so I had never intended to attmept it myself!

    Thanks again.

  7. Pablo Garcia, 14. July 2011, 23:39

    Hi Dan
    If the computer detect the drive and it is not showing up as a drive under “My computer” you can probably try photorec to recover your files. If the computer is not detecting the drive at all, then I doubt there is anything you can do on your own.

  8. Pablo Garcia, 14. July 2011, 23:18

    Hi Harrish
    Is this an external or internal drive? If this is an internal drive, you hear clicking noises and it is not detected by the BIOS, you probably do not have any options left. If the drive is external you might have some options. Yo have to give me more details.

  9. Pablo Garcia, 14. July 2011, 21:58

    Whenever you format a drive the data is still there, but if you write something to the hard drive it overwrites whatever you had in there. The hard drive writes data randomly so if you re-installed windows you do not know what parts of the hard drive got overwritten. You might be able to get some of it back, but whatever was overwritten by Windows is gone.

  10. Den, 14. July 2011, 19:14

    Hi, i had important data on a laptop running on windows XP which got formatted. After formation, windows XP was installed on it again. How do i get the data i had on it before it was formatted

  11. Dan, 13. July 2011, 21:25


    I have a USB memory stick that is not working. It is not making any noise, I just cant locate it on the system after I plug it in. I have tried it on many computers without luck. Is there any hope for me to retrieve the data or is it lost forever?

    Thanks for your help!

  12. Luke, 12. July 2011, 6:10

    I forgot to mention that my HDD has worked once since this problem occurred, which was at the very start – but I have had no such luck since.

  13. Luke, 12. July 2011, 5:59


    I have read so many contrasting comments re: my problem so any help would be appreciated with this.

    I have a Toshiba HDD that is making 2 types of clicking sounds, they eventually stop and it appears to spin as normal, but whatever the case I cannot get it detected in the BIOS ( I have tried external methods and they do not work either).

    I understand from what I’ve read that this could be either a head crash or a PCB problem. I have tried the freezer method and have had no luck with that.

    I was about to buy a replacement PCB just to give it a try but am now reading that Toshiba PCB’s have individual firmware on them and that I would need to replace certain chips as well to have any chance on it working.

    If anybody is able to clarify my situation that would be greatly appreciated.

  14. Anand, 11. July 2011, 23:44

    I bought a 320 GB WD 2 years back and it was working fine till last month. But now when I connect the WD to my laptop and navigate to My Computer the laptop is getting hanged. I had tried various solutions provided in internet but nothing is working out.

    Can you please help me on this?

  15. Dev, 11. July 2011, 11:35

    Hi Guys,

    I really need your help here.

    I have a Western Digital 500 GB Hard disk that i have made external. It stopped spinning for some reason and i had taken it to one of Thailand’s Data Recovery center. They had told me that the Hard Disk cant be recovered because there is a scratch on the disc plate and it wouldnt spin. They changed the spinning head, and the drive began spinning for 2 seconds and stopped again. Is there any chance you guys can help me out ?? The data is really important to me. Thank you.

  16. Pablo Garcia, 10. July 2011, 23:51

    Hi Jared.
    Looks like you lost the partition. You can use TestDisk to try to fix the partition. However before doing that I would try to recover the files using Photorec, just in case you do more damage than good using TestDisk improperly. Read the following two articles:

    It would be good if you can recover the files ASAP, your drive might be going bad and can die unexpectedly.

  17. JaredAvery, 10. July 2011, 11:21

    Hi I have a Free Agent go Seagate 500gb and I’m using it for almost 2 years now. When I connect it to my desktop computer it reads the hard disk but I can’t open it and keep telling me that it is not formatted. is there any possible solution for me to recover the files inside it? thanks..

  18. Pablo Garcia, 9. July 2011, 12:58

    Nothing further from the truth. YES, you can recover data out of a hard drive with a clicking noise, I have done it myself plenty of times with DDrescue. Like everything else, it does not work 100% of the time but it does work in a big percentage of them.

  19. Pablo Garcia, 9. July 2011, 12:41

    Hi Wangchuk
    The drive is most likely dying. If the transfer time is not unbearable, try to get as much as you can out of the drive in one shot and don’t interrupt the copy process. Don’t do it in parts, you do not know if your drive will start again next time.

  20. sylvainbruley, 7. July 2011, 14:26

    One more thing….for a clicking noise there is no need to try any software base solution. It will simply not work. The SA area can’t be read this is it….You need to fix the drive first then use a soft if required….

    Getting the drive cold is a great thing. If this is clicking there is no point to it. But if your drive is recognized with a “weak” ROM or PCB performance , then yes keep it as cool as possible and you can get back things….I would recommend fan more than ice….

  21. wangchuk, 7. July 2011, 4:45

    recently my transcend hard drive of 320 GB showed format it when i connected to in my PC. then i did format it but after this when ever i transfer any files in my hard drive, it is taking too long to copy…..what is the problem with it….can any one suggest me to make my drive effective.

  22. Pablo Garcia, 2. July 2011, 17:35

    Hi Ferdinand
    If you do not care about the stuff on it, have you tried a low level format?

  23. Ferdinand, 2. July 2011, 11:52

    I got an iomega portable hard drive USB 2.0 500GB.
    it is about 4 months since i just got my hard drive, but today it stopped working. The hard drive was running, and my computer (Vista) was reacting to it, but it could not recognize it. when i click on my computer it does not show up next to all the hard drives that the computer use as it used to. But i still can click on the safe remove option. i don’t really care too much about what is stored on it, but is there a way to make it work again?

    Some information:
    Stopped working after 4 months
    Lights are working and it is making a normal sound
    i have tried it on 3 different computers
    A friend of mine that works with computers said the cause was that it was unplugged while still running
    computer does detect it but cant communicate with it

    Maybe i’ll try the “Hard drive gets detected but still does not work” thing if not you have anything else to suggest.

  24. Mohan, 29. June 2011, 9:11

    I am having a TOSHIBA external hard disk with 512GB Memory. Unknowingly,My friend sat on top of the hard disk when the data was getting transferred. Since then it was not detected by computer. I checked in data recovery centre.They told it could be a media problem and gave me 50% chance that data can be the same time they cautioned me that if they open the hard disk it would become useless then.Please let me know if there is any chance to recover data from my hard disk.

  25. Pablo Garcia, 25. June 2011, 12:07

    You must take the hard drive out of the plastic enclosure and use a new one, connect it as a slave on a desktop computer or use an IDE/SATA to USB cable, that is the first step. Then you can rule out an enclosure problem. If none of that works, and it turns out that the drive is the culprit. Then use DDrescue to recover your files. Read this article:

    How to recover data even when your hard drive is damaged

  26. zah, 25. June 2011, 2:32

    hey i have a problem with my external hard disk. Mine can be found on the device manager but not in my computer.
    tried many software out there to extract important data from it but i found no luck. they just don’t find it or i’m not doing it right.
    the instruction usually towards like the hdd is there but i can’t find it. Sometime i gave up and i just want to re-format it but again, I can’t even find the external hard disk (im using WD) the time just wasn’t right. i just re-formatted my computer and my backup files are in the broken external hard disk.

    please help me =(

  27. mario, 24. June 2011, 23:38

    Pablo Garcia is correct…..

    I took out the crashed hard drive out of my computer and bought a new hard drive for the computer for 50 bucks. I needed to get old pictures and videos from the crashed drive so I bought an 350 IDE enclosure case for another 30 bucks and placed the crashed drive in the enclosure which now became an external drive. I connected the external drive to the USB port of the computer, hit local E drive and hit “search” to locate my old files. Voila! I found the old files in again.

  28. Pablo Garcia, 18. June 2011, 20:46

    Hi Moiz… Its hard to say, but in order to recover your data your hard drive needs to be detected by the BIOS period. If the hard drive it is not detected be the BIOS, no software will see it.

  29. Moiz, 18. June 2011, 20:32

    Recently i had a virus and every time i tried to format my Main partition it would show me the blue screen so i took my friends hard drive made his primary and mine secondary. Right click on my computer and format, and boom it worked. Restarted it and now its not being detected. Not on my computer or the bios. Connected it with 3 different computers but nothing. What do people think is wrong and how can i get my stuff back. I had 3 partitions C:/ D:/ and E:/.. I formatted C and E and forgot to transfer my stuff from D.. :( And now i lost my stuff and would love to have it back. Its about 12gb of stuff.. Any one with help can email me at

  30. Pablo Garcia, 10. June 2011, 8:13

    Don’t listen to your friend, Use Photorec.

  31. Nelle, 8. June 2011, 8:10

    Hi can i still recover files and pictures from a corrupted hard drive? when i turn on the laptop is says ERROR NTLDR is missing..a friend of mine says the best solution is to reformat it, but they checked it and they said that the hard drive is not functioning, they said that the “circle” that runs inside it is not running there still hope?

  32. TaLibanUFB, 6. June 2011, 11:50

    thx guys, you are the best. You saved me!

  33. Pablo Garcia, 5. June 2011, 20:39

    Hi Sally
    You need to give more details about what the drive is doing. Is it making any sounds? What is the error you see on the screen when you start your computer? Does it get detected by the BIOS? Give as many details as you can. Do not tell us how it happened or when it happened, that is not important, just what it is doing now.

  34. Sally Widener, 3. June 2011, 20:51

    Hard Drive went out on Old Computer. I am a Genealogist and Would love to Find a Way to get my Huge amount of pictures. Put into another hard Drive or Find some way to Recover them. on Disk, This is a Very big Loss for me. Does Anyone have a Suggestion of Where i should take it. Have had 3 people look at it so far. Say I cant do anything. I am Hopeing for a Miracle that will not cost me alot of Money please I Hope someone can help me. It would mean so much

  35. yazz, 2. June 2011, 7:30

    hi again , can i send a picture of the hard disk to u so u can see what i mean ?

  36. Pablo Garcia, 1. June 2011, 23:06

    Hi Rick:
    I politely disagree with your opinion.
    1) If you read the article, the article describes freezing the drive in a ziplock bag, to prevent condensation from getting to the drive when you take it out.
    2) When you have tried all other alternatives, photorec, ddrescue, etc, etc. and nothing has worked and you do not have $1000 or more to spend in data recovery this is a good alternative that works; not all the time but it does work. And, if it does not, you can still use a data recovery company, in case you come up with the money later.

  37. Pablo Garcia, 1. June 2011, 22:55

    Hi yazz:

    You need to take the hard drive out of its eclosure and connect it directly to a computer, and see if the BIOS detects it and if it shows its correct capacity. If it does, you have a prety good chance of getting your data back. Anything is possible, but I have never seem a hard drive with the USB connection built in, all hard drives are the same. Have you ever tried opening the enclosure?

  38. Rick, 1. June 2011, 9:50

    Just thought I’d throw my two pence in. I wouldn’t recommend putting your hdd (hard disk drive) in the freezer… ever. They are not air tight and thus when you cool them down in your freezer frost/moister can “get in”. Then you warm them back up when you turn them on and you get condensation.

    Also some of the motors use fluid bearings… so when you freeze them they can crack..(liquid expanding when you freeze it.) And again when they thaw they drip lubrication fluid all over your the insides of your drive.

    I can recommend though perhaps putting a heat sink on the drive to help keep it cooler as it works. Oh and PCB swaps don’t really work any more on modern drives, the boards have unique data on them individual to each drive, you have to reprogram your “donor” board with this info.

    Good luck with any data recovery work you come across folks.

  39. yazz, 31. May 2011, 21:14

    hi i have a a portable WD BAAA5000ABK-00 500 gb hard drive, i dropped it a while ago , and when i connect it to my laptop it spins for like 10 seconds and i hear a ticking sound,then it stops spinnig, i tried to find another enclosure for it but i cant find one , the micro usb seems to be biult in the hard disk itself ,it doesnt look like SATA o IDE, i dont know what to do , plz help me i have very important data on it

  40. Pablo Garcia, 31. May 2011, 20:32

    Hi Joshua

    You can buy a used had drive on Ebay, it has to be of the same model number, firmware and even serial number have to be as close as possible sometimes. Then you swap the boards.

  41. Joshua Forbes, 29. May 2011, 20:40

    Hi i have a 1tb seagate drive and the usb connection has broken of board/ is there a way to fix this with out sending in to seagate. Thanks in advance

  42. Jenny, 29. May 2011, 11:28

    I accidentally dropped my Seagate external hard drive and now it cannot be detected by my laptop!!
    I need to recover those data inside my external hard drive but i don’t know how.. help me please…

  43. jp, 25. May 2011, 17:10

    what can i do if my friend acidentally removed my externals’ power supply while i was transferring data to it, and now my external doesnt even power on when i connect it to my pc?(its the hdd with USB AND external power supply). there’s work on their that i cant afford to lose. please help!!!

  44. Pablo Garcia, 25. May 2011, 9:10

    Hi Tom:
    CGSecurity is the page of the makers of PhotoRec and TestDisk. I have several tutorials on how to use them on this site. These are some of them:

    How to Recover Erased Data Using Free Software
    How to Repair a Damaged Partition Table or MBR
    Best Data Recovery Software – Top 10 List

  45. Tom, 25. May 2011, 8:17

    hi guys, haven’t read the article in full detail (sorry) but i recently lost all my files on my hard drive (the computer wouldn’t read it) and i spent days looking for a program that would help restore all the files, in the end, which worked for me, i found this website called CG Security, its nothing huge, just a homemade looking webpage, but the program it offers works. the programs nothing special looking, but its free, and it worked for me. thought id post this if anyone else is in a similar situation like me, here’s the link to the programs.

  46. Pablo Garcia, 24. May 2011, 19:29

    Hard Drives do not have USB slots so I am assuming you are talking about an external USB hard drive. Your problem is very simple to fix. You need to take the actual hard drive out of its current enclosure, purchase a new one and install it. Enclosures are cheap, but you have to make sure you purchase the correct one. (SATA or IDE). Take the hard drive to a computer store like, Tiger Direct, CompUSA, or Fry’s and they can tell you what you need.

  47. milanoi mell, 17. May 2011, 5:26

    hi, my 1TB WD dropped in water accidentally i havent used it in 6 hours although i shook it all up it wasnt much but am afraid to use it coz i dont know if i will find anything or if something needs to be done…

  48. arnav, 12. May 2011, 23:32

    The USB slot inside of my had disk has broken. I want to know if it can be repaired.
    Thank you

  49. Pablo Garcia, 11. May 2011, 21:37

    Hi Kiara:
    Read this article:
    How to Retrieve Files From a Dead Computer

  50. Kiara, 11. May 2011, 15:51

    My laptop ran out of battery. When I tried to turn it on the screen is completely black and there is a blinking horizontal line in the corner of the screen. Also, whenever I press a button the computer beeps. WHAT DO I DO?! T_T


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