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Why Do Storage Devices Fail And Other Causes of Data Loss?

Data loss can be divided into two categories namely, Logical (Software Related) and Electro-Mechanical (Hardware Related) failure.

Logical (Software Related) failure refers to software issues with your data storage device. The device is still 100% functional from a mechanical point of view, but you lost data due to other causes.

The following is a list of the most common causes of logical failure that we encounter:

  • Formatted device. Formatting a data storage device involves the operating system preparing a device or partition for use. Formatting normally leaves the data areas (on a sector level) intact despite not being accessible via the operating system.
  • Re-installation or reload. Data that was on the device prior to re-installing the operating system and/or applications (with or without formatting) would not be accessible via the operating system but is normally intact (on a sector level) unless overwritten in the process.
  • Deleted file(s) and/or folder(s). Accidental or intentional deleted directories and/or files would not being accessible via the operating system unless still in the recycle bin.
  • Deleted or corrupt partition(s). Partitioning refers to the act of dividing a data storage device into multiple or single logical storage units (partitions or volumes) onto which data can be stored. This allows you to have multiple virtual "œdisks". Once these partitions are deleted or become corrupted the operating systems would not able to read the data from these "disks".
  • Data corruption. Could be caused by a number of factors including storage device quality, application quality (e.g. bad programming), memory quality, power stability, incorrectly shutting down devices or applications, incorrect ejection of removable drives, virus or malware infections etc. Viruses are malicious software that can delete your data or even corrupt your files we strongly suggest you install reliable anti-virus software.

Data is in most cases recoverable using specialised data recovery software unless the data areas have been overwritten or severely corrupted. The success rate would be dependent on file sizes, file location and fragmentation prior to the potential data loss scenario.

Electro-mechanical (Hardware Related) device failure refers to physical problems with your storage device.

The following is a list of the most common symptoms and causes of electro-mechanical failure that we encounter:

  • Dead device. The device is not detected e.g. the hard drive fails to spin-up when power is applied. This is normally due to a damaged PCB (printed circuit board) caused by power fluctuations, surges or spikes as a result of a faulty power source, power failures, lightning and in some cases even water (or other liquids) being spilled over the device.
  • Noisy hard drive. Clicking (clacking, knocking) or scratching noises are normally as a result of broken or damaged read/write heads (commonly referred to as a head crash), platter damage or firmware corruption.
  • Drive not spinning. The drive is making beeping or buzzing noises and when power is applied. This is typically due to spindle motor seizure.
  • Drive spinning but not detected. This could be due to firmware corruption, damaged read/write heads or a faulty PCB.
  • Drive spinning up and down repeatedly. The drive spins up and down repeatedly when power is applied. This could be caused by faulty read/write heads, firmware failure or a faulty PCB.
  • Excessive number of bad sectors. The data on the drive is not accessible or the drive may struggle to read or write data. Typical indications could be Cyclic Redundancy Checking or CRC errors when reading or writing data or drive repeatedly runs a scan (scan disk) at start-up.
  • Drive contamination. Hard drives are extremely sensitive to contamination. This is one of the reasons we have a class 100 clean room where we can safely open hard drives without the risk of external contamination. Once a drive has been opened in a non-clean environment the risks for data loss increases substantially. We typical encounter fingerprints on the surface of the platters and/or dust contamination caused by D.I.Y. or other unskilled data recovery attempts.

The most common reasons for electro-mechanical device failure includes failed components, rough handling (bumping or dropping), manufacturing and power source issues. Data is in most cases recoverable using specialised data recovery equipment unless the platters, magnetic field or memory chip circuitry have been severely damaged.