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How to Save Your Data and Files From a Corrupted Hard Drive

published 11/8/2021

A corrupted hard drive has the potential to destroy years' worth of files if you are not prepared. If you want to save as much of your data as possible, you'll need to act quickly and deliberately.

To help, today we have a short guide full of actionable advice about corrupted hard drive data recovery. We will also review some of the best practices you can implement to keep your files safer, even if your drive were to be destroyed.

The Nature of File Corruption

To begin, we first need to discuss the nature of file corruption. This is because file corruption comes in degrees. Trained people with the right tools can save many corrupted files, but not all.

One useful metaphor is to think of files as actual documents in a real, physical folder. That folder is labeled and stored within a cabinet. When you want to use a file, you "tell" your computer to seek out the relevant folder and retrieve the correct document within.

Over time, through wear and tear (or intentional sabotage, in the case of viruses), those folders and documents can become damaged or misplaced.

Some types of file corruption are the equivalent of a folder having a label torn off and then being misplaced. Your computer can no longer find it when asked, but the right software and applied expertise can find the folder and restore it to a usable state.

Other types of corruption are the equivalent of roughly crumpling a document into a ball. Some effort may make the file usable again, but the the file will always show signs of corruption thereafter.

Finally, some types of file corruption are the equivalent of lighting the document on fire with a match. It is ruined even if small scraps of the document survive the fire enough to remain legible.

Why Do Hard Drives Get Corrupted?

The next logical point of discussion is how data on corrupted hard drives gets corrupted in the first place. While it's easy to think of files as purely digital, it is important to remember that they are still stored on a physical object. That physicality is a point of weakness.

An HDD (which stands for "hard disk drive," usually shortened to "hard drive") stores files on a spinning disk using magnets. Over time, the movement of that disk wears the device down.

While many people don't realize it, hard drives have an expected lifespan. A modern HDD is expected to last about 3 to 5 years, with the specifics varying somewhat by manufacturer and the quality of the drive.

After a while, parts of the drive may begin to fail. Small nicks or wobbling on important elements of the device, inevitable in anything that moves, can damage the files stored on the drive.

In the worst-case scenarios, drives can become so damaged that all the files on them are completely ruined. For example, fire damage to a drive or deliberate smashing/drilling can render a drive's files completely lost.

With the above in mind, some drive corruption is instead on a software level. Malicious software (malware) can corrupt files without dealing physical damage to your hardware.

We won't focus on this, as the specifics of malware is an immense topic all its own. For now, we will note there are many kinds of malware, much of which can be damaging to files and drives.

How Do You Save Files From a Corrupted Hard Drive?

Assuming a file has not been irreparably damaged, it can almost always be recovered. The problem is that one cannot usually repair corrupted hard drives in the way most users hope for. A corrupted drive tends to be unstable and therefore untrustworthy.

To recover corrupted hard drive files, you need to act. The longer you wait, the more likely the corruption is to worsen. Eventually, the drive might completely die or become so corrupted as to ruin all the files on it.

Unless you have the relevant software and expertise at home, stop using a corrupted drive the moment you notice a problem. Then use a data recovery service like ours to get the files off that drive and, all going well, in a form you can use.

While it is sometimes possible to fix corrupted hard drives enough that they may be usable again, it is almost never worth it. The repairs tend not to be cost-effective and, done wrong, could cause identical or worse problems later.

It is better to get the copies of the files on the drive as quickly as possible and store them on a newer, more stable drive.

Backing Up Your Data

While all the above is true, it also touches on a big problem in our digital age. People, as a rule, are very bad at backing up their important files.

If you have one copy of a file on a single drive, the wrong piece of malware or certain hardware failures can destroy that file forever. Not all corrupted files can be recovered.

If you have two copies of a file on two different drives, the odds of the file being lost go down dramatically. You can even use products like our Data Vault to back up your files, making the process hassle-free.

Anyone who regularly uses computers will benefit from backing up their files. In many ways, it should be considered as essential as antivirus software.

Your Data Matters

Whether you're dealing with a corrupted hard drive, a nasty piece of malware, or just want your computer to be checked out by experts, we can help at Data Doctors.

If you're interested in our help, we would love for you to contact us about your specific needs! You also can use our store locator if you'd like a more hands-on approach.