Below is my quick guide to showing how I recover lost files on a removable (or internal drive) with software on Windows. This is not a paid advert but this is what works for me (and has worked with everything I have thrown at it). Tell me what works for you (especially on OSX).
“Helping one person might not change the world but it could change the world for one person” – Buddha.
I hope this guide helps someone, I have never seen someone happier than when I have been able to restore lost files or photos for someone. Not everyone backs up data (read my guide here).
Before you start
Don’t touch (format, access or install software) onto drives and USB drive that you want to restore files from or you may overwrite files on that drive. Doing this will potentially block the ability to restore files. Electronics die, software gets corrupted, this can be complex so If in doubt seek professional help and advice before proceeding. This is advice only and it’s your call with your data, Restoring files on damaged magnetic or USB drives can damage the data storage platter or storage chips, so proceed at your own risk. (legal disclaimer over, good luck).
More on how file systems and storage work
How File Systems Work
How the File Allocation Table Works
Installing DIY Data Recovery
The DIY Data Recovery software can restore images (photos) from a UBS, SD card or files (images or non-images) from data or operating system drives. If you have a system or data drive from a PC you can plug it into another PC running DIY Dat Recovery and scan and restore from the possibly bad drive to a good host drive, never restore files to a bad drive from a bad drive. I am an Apple Mac user now but only know of this Windows method for restoring files, please let me know of an Apple Mac way to restore files on FAT, NTFS and other file systems please.
I usually connect USB drives directly or connect SATA drives via a small caddy
On a working Windows computer install DIY Data Recovery software from here.
Plug in your dead USB or another drive to restore files from (do not interact with the drive once Windows can see it).
Do not format or modify the drive if prompted (cancel this screen).
Sometimes Windows will offer to fix it (do not interact with this dialog).
From memory, you can follow the steps below on a free trial version but you will need a paid version (serial number) to actually restore files. The free trial will show files that it can restore though. I paid about $60 for the software a few years ago, it is currently 59 EUROS. Enter your serial number if you have one.
After you register it (or continue with the free trial) select the drive to scan for files and click Next.
Here is another unreadable SATA drive
DIY Data Recovery will scan each sector and try and find files. On a smaller healthy drive, the scan won’t take long, on a larger drive (e.g a 2TB NTFS drive it may take 18+ hours).
In this case, we can see the USB drive has two bad sectors (red squares) at the front of the USB stick in the file system sectors (green squares). This possibly happened when the USB was pulled out when the operating system was writing to the USB stick. If the USB was dying the bad sectors would be at random positions.
Data fragments are listed as blue squares.
Here is another sample scan results
When the scan is done click ‘Save” to save the found sectors state (saving the state can save you time later).
Disclaimer: Clicking save does not save lost files it just saves the current scan state.
You can click the legend button to see the state of each file (Not processed, Presumably valid, Invalid, bad sectors etc)
Tick the files you want to be restored.
FYI: You will see some files you know, some files you forgot and some weird files. Restoring files is hit and miss and you may never see files again (do backup). Benjamin Franklin once said “Failing to plan is planning to fail”, You can also say “Failing to backup is guaranteeing lost data”.
- Create a folder on your working Desktop to restore files to.
- Do increase Read and Write cache
- Do set longer Timeouts (e.g 1000, 5000, 10000, 60000)
Click “Start copying the selected files” to restore.
Hopefully, you will have files restored, if not seek professional help. I’d recommend keeping the corrupt or source drive in a drawer, you may be able to use other tools to restore more files at a later date.
Donate and make this blog better
Ask a question or recommend an article
V1.1 Added more screenshot from a second DATA drive scan
v1.0 Initial Post