Lately, I have seen ads popping up in Google searches for very low cost hard drive recovery services. There are sites advertising complete hard drive recoveries for $349.00, $299.00, even as low as $199.00. I get a lot of questions about these companies almost every week and felt a blog post was in order to answer some questions I receive frequently. Can I really get my data back for $199.00?
There are two types of hard drive recoveries. A “logical” recovery is performed on a hard drive that in most cases has absolutely nothing physically wrong with it. There may be file level corruption, the drive may have been formatted, the partition table has been deleted or some other “logical” issue (The data is there and intact, the operating system just cannot see it). In the case of a logical recovery, I would say “Sure, in some cases you can get your data back for $199.00. But you could have also purchased a data recovery utility for $49.00 that would have done the same thing and saved yourself $150.00.”
A physical recovery is needed on a hard drive that has physically failed. The spindle motor could be seized up, the heads could be misaligned, the PCB could be fried, etc. Physically recovering a hard drive requires (if done right) a clean room (dust free) environment. The reason being that the distance of the heads from the platters is measured in nanometers, one tiny speck of dust or debris is all it takes to cause catastrophic, irreversible consequences. It costs money to setup and operate a clean room environment. It costs money to purchase replacement parts to swap physical components. Can you receive a physical recovery for $199.00? No, not if you want it done correctly by a reputable company.
I work for a data recovery company that sees between 30 and 80 hard drives a week. Most of these drives are physical recoveries. Between 20% and 30% of the drives we recover arrive to us after another “data recovery company” has deemed it “unrecoverable”. It really is unfortunate, but I have witnessed this for long enough to be pretty sure I can guess what they are doing. They advertise extremely low rates and charge a diagnostic fee. They are banking on the fact that a portion of drives shipped to them will be logical recoveries which they can get back simply by running software on. The physical recoveries get shipped back to the customer as “unrecoverable” and they make money on the diagnostic charge. I wonder how many poor customers take their word that their drive is “unrecoverable” and halt further recovery attempts, losing years of precious family pictures, valuable business data, etc.
Just last week we received a hard drive from a customer that had just had it returned from one of these cheap companies. They told her it was physically damaged beyond repair. Luckily for her sake, the technician working on the drive decided to do a “thorough” inspection of the drive before turning it on after he noticed missing screws from the drives exterior. After opening the drive in the clean room, there were the missing screws freely moving about inside the drive! Had this drive been turned on, the consequences would have been so severe that any further recovery attempt would have been impossible. We did recover the data, by the way.
Please if you do decide to use a “Budget” recovery company, do yourself a favor and research the company before deciding to send your beloved data to them. Ask them to furnish proof that they operate a clean room at the facility you will be sending your drive to. Look them up in their local Better Business Bureau. Ask them for references. Make sure they do not charge a diagnostic fee if the only service they provide you is to tell you your drive is “unrecoverable”. And when your drive comes back as unrecoverable, don’t take their word for it.
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