Hard Drive

How to Recover Data from a Dead Hard Drive: a Complete Guide

7 min read

Reading Time: 7 minutesHard drives usually store your important data, and accidentally losing these files can be an immediate cause for worry. This is more so the case if your computer suddenly fails to recognize your hard drive.

Recovering data from a dead hard drive might seem impossible and overwhelming – but it’s not. In this guide, we’ll discuss what a dead hard drive is and how you can recover files from your drive in no time.

What is a Dead Hard Drive?

A dead hard drive is a hard disk drive (HDD) that has become unbootable and cannot be detected by any PC. This can be caused by a failure in any physical part of your drive.

Dead hard drives differ from corrupted hard drives that are usually caused by logical errors, and damaged hard drives that result from physical parts malfunctioning, such as motor damage.

There are different ways that a hard disk drive can malfunction, but it can generally be grouped into two types of damage:

  • Physically damaged or corrupted disk. Physical parts of hard drives are always at risk of malfunctioning, either from damage or just simple wear and tear over time. The components or moving parts of your drive, such as disk arms, platters, or disk heads, are usually the ones that suffer failure. Physical trauma or electric shock can also damage your disk. Strange sounds coming from your drive, computer crashes, and data loss are some of the most common indicators of a dead hard drive.
  • Logical issues that make the drive inaccessible. If your hard drive does not have any physical damage, but you’re still having trouble opening or getting your files, your device may be suffering from logical problems. These issues are software-related, causing files or directories to be corrupted. Your hard drive might be recognized by your system, but the drive itself is not accessible. This is usually caused by viruses, bad sectors, or outdated drivers.

Data recovery from dead hard drive can be challenging, but it is possible using reliable data recovery apps. But when exactly is it possible to do so?

When Is It Possible to Recover Data from Hard Drive

It is possible to recover data from a failed hard drive by yourself. However, your HDD must be visible in the Disk Management Windows tool. You also have to make sure that the disk size is correct and that the crucial parts of the disk are not damaged.

3 Methods to Recover Data from a Dead Hard Drive

You should always be careful when trying to retrieve your data to avoid causing more damage to your drive. Safe ejection after a scan is always a good practice to prevent data corruption.

Moreover, you can try out these 3 methods we recommend for getting data off a dead hard drive:

Option 1: Data recovery software

To safely perform data recovery using a third-party data recovery software, it is best to create a disk image of your HDD first. This is also called byte-to-byte backups. Good data recovery apps like Disk Drill offer reliable backup features.

With Disk Drill, you get a beginner-friendly user interface with an easy data recovery process. It is a powerful app that works well to recover data from hard drive.

You can preview the files you want to recover without having to actually recover them yet, so you can choose which files you need. In addition, with the program’s free trial, you can recover up to 500MB of data on Windows to test out its capabilities.

To perform a byte-to-byte backup of your dead hard disk drive, simply follow these steps below:

  1. To get started, download Disk Drill from the Cleverfiles official website.
    disk drill
  2. Next, run the installer and complete the setup.
    disk drill install
  3. Once it is successfully installed, open Disk Drill. Then, click the Drive Backup option on the left navigation bar under the Extras section.
    drive backup
  4. Select the dead hard drive and click on the Byte-to-byte backup button.
    select partition
  5. After that, select where you want to store your back up. Make sure that the file location has enough disk space to accommodate the backup.
    byte to byte disk image
  6. Disk Drill will now create your disk image. Wait for it to finish and click Done.
    creating byte to byte backup

After successfully backing up your hard drive, you can now attempt to recover data from broken hard drive using Disk Drill. With the backup, you don’t have to access your hard drive and possibly cause more damage.

To continue, head to Disk Drill again and do the following:

  1. On the Disk Drill main page, click the Attach disk image… option. Next, locate your recently created byte-to-byte backup. Then, click Open.
    attach disk image
  2. You should now see your disk image in the options of devices you can scan. Select this copy and click the Search for lost data button.
    search for lost data
  3. Upon clicking, Disk Drill should now start to scan the hard drive copy. You can choose to wait until the scan is complete before checking your files. Alternatively, you can also look into the files Disk Drill found so far by clicking on the Review found items button.
    disk drill scan
  4. Choose the files you want to get back by ticking their corresponding checkboxes. Once all the files are selected, click Recover.
    recover files
  5. Afterward, confirm the file destination where your recovered files will be placed. Make sure that this is not the same as the drive you scanned.
    choose destination
  6. Finally, Disk Drill will now start the attempt to recover your files. Once done, you will be brought to the next page displaying the data recovery status. Click the Show Data in Explorer button to check your recovered files.
    recovery completed

On the other hand, data recovery for internal hard disk drives requires a connection to another PC. If you are not knowledgeable about your hardware setup, we recommend asking an expert for assistance. If you wish to continue, you can do the following:

  1. Carefully extract your hard drive from your computer and connect it to another PC. Preferably, you can enclose it in a hard disk drive case so it can function as an external hard drive.
  2. Check if the drive is compatible and properly connected.
  3. Follow the same steps above for data backup and recovering data with Disk Drill.

Option 2: Previously created backup

The easiest way to recover data from a damaged hard disk is by checking your previously created backups. First, check if your hard drive is synced to OneDrive or the cloud. Once confirmed, access your account and extract your files back to your PC.

Option 3: Data recovery services

It is often more difficult to retrieve data from dead hard drive with significant physical damage. In this case, it is best to take your hard drive to a data recovery expert. Professionals will evaluate your HDD and perform repairs that will expose its delicate parts. It’s important to hire a trusted expert for this since one scratch to the disk can risk your drive to further data loss.

Here are our tips on how you can make the best of the situation if working with a data recovery expert:

  • Always compare rates from different data recovery professionals before hiring one. Also, do your prior research on experts in your area and how much they charge for their services.
  • Always check for available reviews about a data recovery professional.
  • Disclose all the details of your hard drive state to help the evaluation go easier.
  • Ask for help without expecting a 100% successful recovery chance.

You can increase the chances of successfully retrieving files from dead hard drive by taking note of the factors affecting data recovery:

  • Data overwriting. If the data you want to recover becomes corrupted or overwritten by adding new files to the drive, it will decrease the chances of successful recovery.
  • Degree of physical damage. If the basic parts of your hard disk drives are no longer working properly, it will be harder to get your data back. Data recovery experts can only do so much for severe cases.
  • Type of mass storage device. Your computer constantly uses the internal hard disk drive space to keep your OS running. This means undergoing data rewriting continuously, which gives you less chance to recover your files. External hard drives, on the other hand, function similarly to flash drives, so it’s relatively easier to recover. For Solid-State Drives (SSDs), data optimization processes such as trimming can lessen the chance of successful recovery.


While recovering data from a dead hard drive can be tricky, it’s not impossible to get your files back in most cases. Third-party apps that offer byte-to-byte backup and file recovery like Disk Drill are a safe and useful way to DIY hard drive recovery. For drives with significant physical damage, we recommend finding the best data recovery expert in your area and asking for assistance.