The first thing to do is determine whether it’s a mechanical or logical problem. Logical problems are when the file system gets corrupted and your computer can’t read the drive. The data recovery cost might not be too high for a logical failure as often times you can use a software program to scan the drive to see if it can find your files. In this situation your hard disk is similar to a big filing cabinet where all the contents have gotten jumbled and your computer can’t open it. You don’t need a data recovery expert at this point, but just some software to reorganize that filing cabinet and get your data out.
If it’s an external hard drive that needs data recovery, the process is the same – download some data recovery software and test to see if the data can be recovered. Mechanical problems are of a different sort altogether. These are usually accompanied by obvious evidence of clicking or other strange sounds. The procedure involved here is to power down your computer, remove the drive and plug it into another computer, usually using a USB cable adaptor.
Again, you’ll use data recovery software to see if the contents of the drive can be read. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to transfer all of the content to another drive. If you’re not, it’s time to find a hard drive data recovery expert. At this stage data recovery prices can vary wildly, so picking an expert should be based on how valuable the content is to you. If the drive was in a work computer you should calculate the cost of lost productivity — how much time, resources and energy will be spent trying to re-do work, gather information lost on the bad drive, etc.
Personally, in 15 years of full time computer work I’ve seen about three or four hard drives go bad. The first one I lost was tragic. The later occurrences didn’t bother me so much because I had by this time (fueled by the first bitter experience) learned to have more than one back up drive! These days I now use three different backup drives (in addition to my main computer drive) to save work files, music, photos, emails and other important files. The great news is that hard drives are cheaper than ever so it’s easy to spend a little money in the short term, for some assurance in the long term that your data is safe.