How can I rescue files from dying external hard drive?

Ram July 1, 2010

My WD external USB self-powered 500 GB hard drive just kicked the bucket. The drive is recognized after I plug it in, but the files are inaccessible and Explorer (or any other process) that tries to access it hangs. Disk scan with HDDTune shows bad sectors across the board.

Is there any way to salvage the files? I have tried to copy through Windows Explorer and a raw copy, but like I said above, all software hangs.


  1. Chinod
    January 25, 2011 at 3:52 am

    When i try to compile DDRESCUE it shows me this error:

    chinod@chinod-desktop:~/Descargas/ddrescue-1.14$ ./configure && make

    creating config.status
    creating Makefile
    VPATH = .
    prefix = /usr/local
    exec_prefix = $(prefix)
    bindir = $(exec_prefix)/bin
    datadir = $(prefix)/share
    infodir = $(datadir)/info
    mandir = $(datadir)/man
    sysconfdir = $(prefix)/etc
    CXX = c++
    CXXFLAGS = -Wall -W -O2
    OK. Now you can run make.
    c++ -Wall -W -O2 -c -o arg_parser.o
    make: c++: No se encontrĂ³ el programa
    make: *** [arg_parser.o] Error 127

    Help pliz.

  2. Baluananth S A
    July 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Use Unstoppable copier, it helped me once. Recovered most data.

  3. Josh Fox
    July 10, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Just as an added note, if you get the drive to load, it probably wouldn't be a good time to do exploring. If it's dying, the more accessing there is, the closer to gone it will be. I found Ubuntu to be my best bet for getting files off of a drive that Windows can't access. It actually saved about 200 GB of data for my media center. After copying the files once, the drive wouldn't work anymore though.

  4. Mike
    July 6, 2010 at 4:49 am

    AS A LAST RESORT: open the external case and remove the hard drive itself. Open the hard drive (in as dust-free and environment as possible, and using latex gloves), remove the platter, and put the platter in another hard drive. Button it up, and connect it as directly as possible to your PC.

    It works about half the time, but if you have nothing to lose....

  5. Ram
    July 3, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for all the suggestions!
    I haven't tried spinrite and will do that first, if that fails I'll give the rest a try.

    Much love

  6. Oron Joffe
    July 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    A few things you could try:
    1. Try holding the drive vertically, up side down or at a slight angle (5-10 degrees off the horizontal). Depending on the fault, it may just give your HD a little more life which would allow you to recover the data.
    2. If you are using SpinRite, or even more traditional data recovery software, take the drive out of the enclosure and connect it directly to the motherboard with a SATA or IDE cable. The software will have better control over the HDD over such a connection and may be more successful in reading the disc.
    3. It might be self-evident, but you could contact a data recovery bureau and let them recover the data for you. The chances of success are far higher than a DIY job, but it will cost!

  7. Anonymous
    July 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Have you tried connecting the drive to your system using a IDE to USB cable? I would do this and then attempt to do scan disk on it repairing what I could and then trying to copy the files to a good drive.

  8. Jessica Cam W.
    July 2, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Perhaps you could try an Ubuntu Live CD? 1. Just download and put the .iso file to a USB flash drive using UNetbootin (which makes it really easy but just make sure to select your USB flash drive and not your current or external hard drive) or burn the .iso file on a CD. 2. Once you've done either, now plug in the USB flash drive w/Ubuntu or the CD you burned. 3. Reboot and assuming your computer can boot from USB or CD, choose "Try Ubuntu without any changes to your computer" when you eventually get to the screen with the orange Ubuntu logo. If your computer doesn't boot from USB or CD, which means you go straight to Windows, follow the directions here to change the boot order in your BIOS (but first, just try to note the default boot order so you can revert this later on.)4. When you get to the desktop in Ubuntu, plug your dying 500GB hard drive in.5. You should now see your hard drive appear on the desktop as a mounted drive. Double-click on it to see if you can access your files and copy them to another place like your USB flash drive. Hope you can!Even if this doesn't work, you might want to change your BIOS boot order back to the default settings. Did this help?

    • Artur Wrona
      July 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm

      If step 5 of Jessicas' walkthrough won't help with recovering data your next best bet is byte-by-byte copy of affected disk or partition.

      Make sure that you have enough free space on target drive, login as root and type in:

      # download ddrescue
      # extract the source code
      tar xjf ddrescue-1.8.tar.bz2
      # compile ddrescue
      cd ddrescue-1.8
      ./configure && make
      # first, grab most of the error-free areas in a hurry:
      ./ddrescue -n /dev/old_disk /dev/new_disk rescued.log
      # then try to recover as much of the dicy areas as possible:
      ./ddrescue -r 1 /dev/old_disk /dev/new_disk rescued.log

      You can write to file if that's what you desire:

      ./ddrescue -r 1 /dev/old_disk imagefile.hdd rescued.log

      Good luck with your data recovery.

  9. John
    July 2, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Get a copy of spinrite from It will likely restore the drive so you can copy the files. It is an amazing product it may work at it for hours but in most cases it will restore the drive but be ready to copy the files don't be fooled that it is fixed because if it rashes again its likely gone for good. If spinrite can't fix it nothing can.

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