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What Happens During a Data Recovery Media Evaluation?

January 4, 2022

Most reputable data recovery providers evaluate storage media before providing a quote. In another article, we explained why evaluations are necessary — if you missed it, you can read more here. 

But what happens during a data recovery media evaluation? The quick answer: Engineers determine why your device failed, whether data is recoverable, and what they’ll need to do in order to restore the data to a functional state.

To make those determinations, our engineers look for key factors that will indicate the difficulty of the recovery. Here’s a basic overview of the process.

Data recovery engineers inspect your media for signs of permanent data loss.

In our laboratories, we frequently say that if the data exists on the device, we’ll find a way to recover it — but severe failures may physically remove the data.

Hard drives contain platters, spinning disks coated with a thin layer of magnetic material. A set of actuator heads read and write the data from the platters. Under normal conditions, the actuator heads never come into direct contact with the platters; when the hard drive fails, however, the heads may physically “crash,” scraping off the magnetic material and permanently destroying data.

During the evaluation, we open each drive and visually inspect the platters for signs of damage. This always occurs in a certified cleanroom. Storage media devices (especially hard drives) can sustain damage when exposed to dust and other airborne contaminants; cleanrooms are highly filtered to eliminate these contaminants.

Through a visual inspection, we can typically provide an immediate analysis of the device’s recoverability. Severe platter damage is, well, severe. Here’s an example of a drive with severe platter damage:

scored hard drive platter damage

Modern hard drives have numerous safeguards to prevent severe failures, and data recovery techniques have advanced substantially over the last decade. In some cases, engineers can read the areas around the platter damage to provide a partial copy of the data (we don’t charge our clients if we’re unable to recover their requested data in a usable condition).

Put simply, we rarely declare cases unrecoverable during the evaluation. However, if platter damage is significant, we’ll inform our clients that the case has a low chance of success.

Solid-state drives and flash drives are less susceptible to physical media damage. For these cases, we visually inspect components for electrical damage, then move on to the next step.

Related: When Is Data Recovery Impossible? 

Data recovery engineers look for signs of component damage.

To create a plan for recovery, our engineers need to inspect actuator heads, spindles, printed circuit boards, and other components to make sure they’re in a functional condition.

As a simple example, if a hard drive’s platters cannot spin freely, we’ll know that the drive may have spindle damage — we’ll need to inspect the spindle to determine why this occurred, but we can compare the case to similar cases from our historical knowledge base to create a working hypothesis.

Our engineers will use information provided by the client during this phase of the evaluation. If you’re considering data recovery, we strongly recommend keeping a list of failure symptoms to help engineers analyze the device properly. If your case paperwork simply says, “it no longer works,” it’s not especially helpful. However, if you tell us that the drive makes a clicking sound and fails to boot, we’ll know which components require the most attention.

Related: How Can I Tell If My Hard Drive is Broken?

Engineers consider media specifications before providing a data recovery quote.

If your media requires physical repairs, its specifications are important; engineers will need to replace damaged components with working parts from a donor. If a device is extremely expensive or rare, finding a donor can be difficult.

To avoid delays in case processing, maintains an extensive library of donor drives. We collect thousands of drives from every manufacturer, and we provide our customers with transparent information about their cases as they progress — if we need to order parts from one of our suppliers, we explain the situation.

With that said, we’re able to recover the vast majority of cases without lengthy delays. On average, our standard hard drive recovery services have a turnaround time of about 3-7 business days. By regularly sourcing donors for hard drives, solid state drives, and other devices, we’re able to maintain industry-leading turnaround times while keeping costs affordable.

We look for logical issues that could affect data recovery.

After evaluating media physically, engineers may attempt to operate the device. This only occurs if the drive shows no signs of media damage — operating a hard drive with damaged components can cause permanent data loss.

Engineers will determine whether the drive can boot and whether data is accessible. If the drive can operate safely, we use proprietary utilities to diagnose the extent of logical (non-physical) damage.

Engineers do not recover data during the media evaluation.

The purpose of the media evaluation is to create a roadmap for data recovery, not to actually recover the data. After analyzing your media, we provide a risk-free quote that includes:

  • A not-to-exceed estimate of the cost of recovery
  • An estimated turnaround time
  • A description of the data loss scenario does not charge for standard hard drive media evaluations. We also support our services with a no data, no charge guarantee — if your case is unrecoverable, you don’t pay for anything (not even return shipping). With certified clean rooms and real laboratories at every location, we offer industry-leading success rates with affordable pricing.

To learn more, call us at 1-800-237-4200 or click here to schedule a free media evaluation.