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Using Data Recovery Software? Start with a Clone

June 20, 2023

If you absolutely need data from a failed hard drive, solid-state drive, or other device, the safest course of action is to contact a professional data recovery provider. Each attempt to recover the files could exacerbate corruption or permanently erase data by removing the data from the platters (in the case of hard drives).

And if the data is irreplaceable, there’s no reason to take risks: provides risk-free price quotes and a no data, no charge guarantee. 

However, if you understand the limitations of software solutions — and you’re willing to risk permanent data loss — you might decide to use data recovery software to attempt to restore your files. We understand the impulse (though, once again, we strongly recommend working with professionals). 

If you’ve decided to try software tools, the best practice is to attempt recovery on a clone of your device, not on the original device. This limits (but does not eliminate) the chance of permanent data loss. Here’s why.

Data recovery software puts tremendous stress on storage media. 

While data recovery tools use different methods to recover data, they’re intensive applications. They’re intended to recover the files, filenames, and folder structure of missing data, and to this end, they use complex algorithms to reconstruct file systems.

For those algorithms to be reliable, the software must analyze your media extensively. If your device is in a functional condition, that’s not necessarily a problem — but issues like file corruption are often related to physical media issues.

If your hard drive is nearing the end of its lifespan, running an intensive process will greatly raise the chances of a head crash or other catastrophic failure. 

And if heads fail during the software’s operation, the software may not detect the hardware failure. As it continues to access the drive, the read/write heads may come into contact with the platters, creating scoring. 

Here’s an example of severe platter scoring. Note how the platter is virtually translucent; the magnetic material has been completely removed from the disks. 

Damaged Hard Drive Platters

A hard drive with severely damaged platters.

Obviously, you’ll want to avoid this type of damage. Platter scoring is permanent; once the magnetic material is damaged, the data is gone forever.

Even if you’re 100% sure that data loss occurred due to a logical (or non-physical) issue, data recovery software can contribute to data loss. Depending on the extent of file corruption, software may make the problem worse — or, at least, increase the cost of professional data recovery services. 

The solution: Before using software, make a clone. 

Cloning a hard drive creates a perfect bit-by-bit copy of all of the data (including corrupted data). This is only possible if the drive is in functional condition; if you’ve noticed any signs of physical media damage, you should not attempt to clone your device.

Why? For starters, cloning is also an intensive process. If your device is beginning to fail, the safest course of action is to turn it off and contact a professional data recovery provider (or replace the device, if you don’t need the data). 

Free tools are available for cloning hard drives and SSDs. In another article, we provided a guide for cloning hard disks with ddrescue, which is a free utility. Other options include CloneZilla and Macrium Reflect. does not endorse the use of specific utilities or software. 

Don’t use data recovery software without weighing the risks.

Even if you follow the best practices, data recovery software isn’t perfect. It can’t fix a failing hard drive, and the most powerful applications have fairly complex features that may be difficult to use. 

If you decide to use software, remember these tips:

  • Never run software on the original device. Make a clone. 
  • Never install software on the device that stores the target data (including the clone of the original media). 
  • Read the software’s instructions. Research options carefully, and review our guide to logical data recovery for additional tips. 

Finally, if software isn’t effective, remember that you still have options. Professional data recovery engineers may be able to restore files — and reputable providers won’t charge for a failed attempt. 

If you’ve lost data, we’re here to help. Call at 1-800-237-4200 to discuss your case with a technician or schedule a risk-free evaluation online.