Recovering Lost Data

Scott writes, “I have two external hard drives now. I used to have only one. I used to save EVERYTHING to my external hard drive thinking that if I ever had a computer crash or whatever, I would be protected. Well, while traveling about one month ago, the TSA agent took my external hard drive held it up and said, ‘What is this?’ while he dropped it. When I got home, I plugged it in, but my computer could not read or recognize it. I finally got it to be recognized by a friend’s computer.”
“But, the computer said that the drive needed to have a CHKDSK run on it. While doing this, it found a lot of data that it said it converted to files. I did not know then that it did must have been getting rid of things on my drive.”
“What I did was go and buy a new external hard drive and transferred everything over to the new external hard drive. I know have the original hard drive just as it was after the CHKDSK and the new hard drive, but I am finding that many files and several folders are just plain missing.”
“I understand that there are ways to get back the information, but I do not know how. Do you know how or do you know of a company to recommend for data recovery??”

Yikes! I generally travel with at least one portable drive for backing up audio and video on the road. So far microphones and my mixer get more attention and the drives are still intact. This won’t help get your data back, but one thing I find to be of great value in traveling with important data is to keep it stored on CompactFlash cards instead of a standard hard drive. The CF cards have no moving parts (at least, the non-Micro Drive variety) and are less likely to quit working if dropped. A 2 GB card runs just over $100 in most cases. Of course, you still need to recover your data before looking to the future.
Unfortunately, running CHKDSK on a damaged drive often makes the situation worse. Because the app reads and writes information to the drive attempting to correct errors, it will potentially move around pieces of information linked to damage sectors on the drive. The first thing to do with any drive with damage potential is to eliminate the need to access it. Before attempting recovery, create an image of the drive with disk imaging software.
The data recovery app I swear by is GetDataBack. It saved information from damaged drives numerous times in my own experience. Make sure you know which file system you are recovering FAT32 or NTFS and purchase the appropriate version. GetDataBack includes drive imaging software, so you can create an image of the old drive on your new drive, assuming the new drive has enough space. Once the image is created, run the GetDataBack recovery tool on the image, not on your old damaged drive. Because you already ran CHKDSK, it’s hard say whether all your data can be recovered. If the damaged drive had been your Windows XP system drive, I would have recommended the steps I used in recovering data from my laptop several months ago.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the recovery yourself, plan on spending a minimum of $1000 for someone else to do the recovery. There are companies who promise to do the work for less, but the results are generally the same as buying software and doing the work yourself. Probably the best known company in the drive recovery biz is DriveSavers out of the San Francisco area.