No longer using a hard drive doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have valuable data to save. The best way to get data from an old hard drive depends entirely on where the drive is currently and the state of the drive itself. Some situations make it easy to get your data, while in other cases, it can be much more difficult or even impossible.
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How to Get Data from an Old Hard Drive
You need specific hardware to get data from a hard drive; what you need depends on where the drive is.
A hard drive in an active computer shouldn’t need anything more than another drive that you can save the files on. You can use an internal drive, external hard drive, USB, or even burn them onto a disk.
If it isn’t in an active computer, plan to remove the hard drive from that computer and use other hardware to connect it to a computer that works. There are various ways to connect a hard drive to a computer, depending on what you have available.
- You can use a standard SATA cable to connect your hard drive to the working computer. If it’s an m.2 drive, you’ll have to put it into an m.2 slot on the motherboard that isn’t already occupied.
- Some adapters let you plug a hard drive directly into a computer via USB. These don’t come standard with hard drives or pre-built computers, so it’s something you’d have to purchase specifically for this purpose.
- You can also get a dock that supports one or multiple hard drives outside the computer, almost like a USB dock. If you plan to pull data off old hard drives regularly, this is a great option to keep them on your desk.
These options all work great if the hard drive is in good condition. If it isn’t or the computer can’t detect it, you’ll have to try a few software solutions to see whether you can make it discoverable.
If a computer or software can’t see the hard drive, you’ll have to seek out professional help.
How to Recover Data from an Old Hard Drive?
Choose the best method to get your data based on your drive.
Hard Drive in an Active Computer
If your hard drive is in your computer, getting the information off the drive is straightforward. All you need is another drive or storage device to transfer it to.
- Open the Windows File Explorer.
- Select your drive in the left pane and open it.
- Right-Click the destination drive in the left pane.
- Choose to Open in New Window.
- Highlight all the files you want to transfer on the old drive.
- Drag them to the new drive and drop them there.
Now the files are on the new drive and on the old drive. You can delete them, wipe the drive, and do whatever you prefer with it.
Hard Drive Not in a Working Computer
If your hard drive is in a dead computer or not in a computer, you’ll have to remove it from the old one and connect it to one that works.
- Ensure the computer holding the drive isn’t connected to a power outlet.
- Open the computer and remove the power and SATA cables from the old drive. You can also disconnect them from the motherboard and PSU if you intend to reuse them.
- Power off the working PC you will use to get the files.
- Choose how you want to connect the hard drive to the PC. You can use an external dock, an adapter, or plug it in as you would a regular drive to your PC.
- Plug the cables into the hard drive as needed.
- Plug the cables into the PC, including the PSU and motherboard, as needed.
- Power on the PC.
- Follow the above steps to move the files from the old drive to the new one.
- Disconnect the old drive from the PC if desired.
Remember to check for hidden files and folders before transferring, in case there are some you forgot.
Hard Drive Isn’t Accessible
If you have the hard drive plugged into a computer, but it can’t access the files, you’ll have to use a recovery program to access and save them.
Before switching to third-party software, perform a CHKDSK scan. This Windows utility looks for problems on the disk and tries to repair them. If it’s able to do so, you may be able to access the files once it’s complete.
- Press the Windows Key + X.
- Press Command Prompt (Admin). If the Power Shell (Admin) appears instead, you can use that. For this purpose, they work the same.
- Click Yes to confirm your choice.
chkdsk X: /f /r /xand replace the letter X with the letter of the drive you want to check.
- Press Enter.
- Type Y and then press Enter again to confirm the computer can restart and run the scan. This option might not appear depending on the drive’s status.
- Wait for the scan to complete and check the results. If it finds and repairs errors, you can re-access the files and transfer them like normal.
If the hard drive still isn’t accessible, you may have one other option before going to a professional.
Hard Drive Isn’t Appearing
Some hard drive recovery software is designed to get files from an inaccessible drive. If these programs work for you, you can get some of your files back. The way they work varies greatly depending on what program you choose.
If the hard drive doesn’t appear with inaccessible drive recovery software, you may have to look for a recovery service. Once a drive is damaged, it can be costly to remove the files, if it’s even possible.
How to Choose Hard Drive Recovery Software?
If you need to use software to recover files from your hard drive, it’s essential to get what will work best for your particular situation. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you look at different options from various companies.
- Program Usability: Some programs are only there to get files from a drive when you can see them but can’t use or move them. Other programs are designed to get a damaged drive that doesn’t appear to respond. They won’t fix your drive, but they can help you remove the files from it before you dispose of it.
- Software Support: If you need the files immediately, look for one with quick chat or phone support. Most programs that offer this will probably require some kind of fee.
- Cost: Some programs aren’t free, and others don’t even offer free trials. However, they may be more advanced or effective than free options. You have to weigh the cost of the programs versus the value of the files you’ll extract before choosing a program.
- Data Recover Capacity: If you’re using a paid version, there probably won’t be a limit on how much it can do. However, other programs that free impose limits on how much you can actually pull from a drive. If you only need a few files.
- Interface: You can look at reviews with screenshots to see how navigable different options are. There may be some you like more than others.
- Ability to Remove Files: Check whether the program includes the ability to delete the files it can find and whether or not it can recover them. It’s crucial for you to securely remove files as needed to protect your privacy.
How Difficult is It to Use Data Recovery Software?
It shouldn’t be hard to use data recovery software for most people who are used to using computer programs. They’re designed to be user-friendly. If you’re concerned about the ease of use, check to see whether there are video tutorials, a guide, or other things that might help you use it effectively.