How can I get my data off an external hard drive that has bad sectors?

Bobbi Bach-Oachs December 7, 2012

I have an external hard drive that opens, but it takes a while. But when I try to copy the things off of it, has to think about it forever. Why would it let me take one folder off of it and not anymore.

I have a bunch of pictures of my daughter on there and videos of her, so I really want everything off of there.

  1. luis donis
    December 11, 2012 at 6:52 am

    excellent there and recommended the hirens boot

  2. Etech Etech
    December 10, 2012 at 2:51 am

    You can also try using TestDisk. I've had success with it.

  3. Paul Pruitt
    December 9, 2012 at 1:30 am

    Yeah you better bite the bullet and make an image of the drive onto a new one even if it takes 2 days, as it sounds like it is about to fail. I think your drive is taking so long because it is trying to recover from numerous bad sectors which I guess take time to deal with. I'm no expert in that department but disks can try to recover from errors on their own.

    You can check the health of your drive with freeware that looks at S.M.A.R.T parameters that I think all modern drives have built into them. Try this one for instance:, Passmark's Disk Checkup. There are others.

    I think the freeware CloneMaxx,, works great for cloning your failing drive onto a new one, but there might be other suggestions from MakeUseOf users.

    Roadkil software might also be useful. Unstoppable Copier from Roadkil might be good for individual files that have bad sectors in them: They also make a disk Imager/disk cloner:

    By the way if your disk just dies and it is an old one, say made before 2005 you can try the freezer method (supposedly with the ones made afterwords it won't help) . Bag it up in double Ziploc bags and put it in the freezer overnight, then try to copy your folder again in the morning, but do it fast before the drive heats up. Search online for drive freezing treatment to get more details. Why this works sometimes is kind of mysterious.

  4. ha14
    December 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

    best will be to use live cd to boot and to backup as suggested by others.

  5. Robert Backlund
    December 7, 2012 at 2:44 am

    I just dealt with this issue, I had a 500GB Fijitsu HD that had many bad sectors and once I was able to get all of the data off of it that was still readable I was able to bring the drive back to a usable state, though I would only trust it with data storage and not my primary drive with my OS installed on it. The following are the things that I did to accomplish this. I do not know if you have ever dabbled with the Linux OS before or not but I have been using it ever since 1999 usually in a dual boot set up with various versions of the Windows OS. One of the interesting things about Linux is that it is free, yes free as in free beer. All it will cost you is the download time. Another is that most of the various distributions are available as a live CD or DVD .iso image. What is a Live DVD you might be wondering, well you can after downloading the OS burn it to a DVD pop it into your DVD drive and simply reboot your PC. When you get to the initial post screen hit the appropriate key to access your alternate boot menu, some pc's use F2, some F12 usually it will briefly pop up on your screen while it is just beginning the boot phase. Once you have found this information hit the appropriate key for your PC and a menu will be presented with all the different drives that you can use to boot from and select your optical drive. Once this is done your computer will boot from the Linux OS that is on the live DVD and not your internal HD. Linux will then be loaded into your RAM and you will be presented with a very usable and modern OS some with lots of very usable programs. For the task at hand I usually use a specialty distro called PartedMagic. If you want to forgo the creation of a DVD there is a program that you can use to create a bootable USB pen drive called unetbootin If you decide to create a bootable pen drive then just pick the boot from USB option in your alternative boot menu that I previously discussed. Once this loads even if you use a disk the whole thing is loaded into memory so you can remove the disk from the drive freeing it up in case moving your data to optical disks is your only back up means. The fastest is to use an external USB or eSATA hard drive. I have found Linux to be more tolerant of retrieving data from a disk with bad sectors than Windows is. I saved a lot of information from a damaged external drive that Windows would not even recognize that it was even connected. You will find a very usable file manager in PartedMagic and if you are lucky a lot of the data on your damaged drive will be visible and easily copied to your back up disks or preferable external drive. Once you have recovered all that you can you still may be able to get data that lies in damaged portions of the drive using a terminal window and a program called ddrescue and this program will copy data bit by bit to a back up drive and will try and recover data even from damaged sectors of a disk. It can be used on hard drives, and optical drives. (great for getting most or all data from a scratched CD, DVD or Blu-ray disk). Just keep in mind that this task can take a very long time depending on the size of your hard drive, it can take several hours so be prepared. If you have more than one PC that you can use do these tasks use the one you can live without for a few hours. Once you have gotten all the data that can be recovered from your drive you can attempt to repair your drive. All hard drives have lots of spare sectors or blocks, when you use a program that does a surface scan looking for damaged spots on the disks it will map the damaged areas and remap these areas from the pool of undamaged sectors and if possible will recover any data in these areas. The reason I had you use the various tools before this step is that everything that precedes this is NON DESTRUCTIVE to your drive and any recoverable data. There are some Linux command line tools that will do this but because I have not done this in quite sometime I could not get the syntax correct for the flags I wanted to set so I just used the Disk Check tool that comes with Windows 7, you access this by right clicking on your drive and select Properties. Once this pops up click on the Tools tab and then in the Error-checking section click on the button "Check now". A small menu will pop up and then select the second option "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" and sit back and wait, this will take several hours it took about 8 hours on my 500GB drive. The length of time will vary depending on the size of the drive and how many bad sectors that there are. There is a nice little GUI program that a guy made for this Disk Check program and can be obtained from the following link. If this is the first time that you have attempted to do this do not let it become too overwhelming and keep in mind that the only thing that separates an amateur from a professional is that the professional gets paid. This does not mean that he or she is any better only that they get paid. Get what you can off of the drive and then use this as a learning tool (even the pro started somewhere, they were not born with their knowledge) to expand your abilities because this will happen again trust me. As drives have come down in price so has their quality and reliability. So when this happens again you will be able to approach the task with confidence and who knows perhaps it will be you helping out a friend or relative recover their precious photos or mp3's from their ailing drive. As an after thought I forgot to mention the main things I use PartedMagic for and that is to format and partition hard drives using a program on the disk called Gparted and to do backups and cloning drives using Clonezilla. Another very useful but much bigger(still fits on a DVD) distro is called KNOPPIX also there are a lot of very good user forums for the various Linux Distros and also for a lot of the software you will find on Linux. So if you get stuck do not hesitate to join some of them and ask for help, you will find lots of very knowledgeable and friendly people who like to help. You on occasion will run across a jerk who will respond with RTFM (read the f#$%*! manual) just introduce yourself and explain that you have never used this before but a friend suggested to try these tools to help you recover your data and you will be surprised at how many will jump to your aid.
    Good luck, wish I could meet and help you with this,

    • Tim Brookes
      December 7, 2012 at 4:29 am

      Wow, what a reply - thanks Robert!

      • Qin Tang
        December 7, 2012 at 7:03 am


    • Douglas Mutay
      December 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Very good answer.

  6. Jim Chambers
    December 7, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Use EaseUS Disk Copy Home to make a sector by sector copy of your xHDD so you can try to recover files from the copy and not the failing original. Are you sure its the drive and not the USB to SATA interface of the xHDD thats failing?

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