How We Clone A Hard Drive In The Lab

​It is relatively straight forward to set a drive cloning providing of course that the drive doesn't have too many issues. For example if a drive has recently had a rebuild (head swap) and the drive is not in a particularly fit state then it won't be such a straight forward clone as there may be scratches on the drive or a couple of damaged heads, so in this situation the drive would need a lot more TLC.​

Although most of the time if a drive is stable and is degraded or has been electronically repaired then the cloning process is never too daunting.

There are two types of cloning machines that we use in the lab:

First cloning machine: These ones are basic machines which have DR-DOS version 7.03 installed. These machines are mainly used for wiping but we also use them for cloning degraded drives, logical drives and at a push mechanical drives (if they have had a head swap and then have been powered up with all the heads working).​

For the extremely complicated jobs we don't use these machines for cloning them as it would take twice as long to try and correct the errors.

Second cloning machine: These ones are more advanced and use a type of software that can be downloaded on any Windows 7 system with sufficient amount of RAM and a system that has the correct type of PCI express card.​

As for cloning on these machines, the cloning process is a lot quicker, a drive can be cloned up to 256MB/s whereas with the first cloning machines you can only clone at speeds of 120MB/s. These machines are also a lot quicker and a lot easier at targeting specific files and folders, this is due to being able to load up the file and folder structure immediately and therefore mapping the files and folders that the customer wants so we can concentrate on cloning them rather than cloning the whole drive and putting more strain on the drive.​

We normally use these machines for drives which contain a lot of unread sectors, or mechanically failed drives.

How Easy Are Mechanical Recoveries?

​Any job that arrives here at R3 Data Recovery that is diagnosed as having a mechanical fault, needs to be left untouched and not powered up again until a rebuild has been performed on the drive. In almost all cases, having a mechanically failed drive means that a head swap is needed, so we would need to source for a matching donor that has working heads and swap the heads from both drives.

R3 hard drive heads and platters

​There are two stages of mechanical recoveries:

Stage 1 - This stage is less severe of the two and should only require one donor. This stage is for if the drive has what the engineers at R3 refer to as stiction, this is basically where the read/write heads stick to the platters. Once the heads have stuck to the platters, the disk can be prevented from spinning up and can cause physical damage to the platter and ultimately the data stored on the disk.​

Another situation that falls under this stage are if the heads are slightly bent or damaged due to the drive being dropped. In most cases we can recover the data when the drive is at a stage 1 providing of course that we can obtain a matching donor drive, which we can almost all the time.

Stage 2 - This stage is the most severe and is only deemed a stage 2 if there is a significant amount of damage inside the drive. Normally it is if the drive has visible rings or scratches on the platters, or if there are heads missing then the drive would be classed as a stage 2.​

If a drive is at this stage then one donor won’t be enough, depending on how damaged the drive is we would have to use at least 2 donors, in some cases up to 5 or 6 but that’s only if the surface area is severely damaged. Normally if the rings aren’t visible on the platters then it would only be a stage 1 as it wouldn’t be anything too major only a few areas that can’t be read, but if there are visible rings then it suggests that the heads have dug into the platters so much that there is just nothing left. This is one of the most difficult circumstances for a mechanical recovery.

To conclude, mechanical recoveries are not easy to do which is why we have trained and highly experienced engineers who are quick at the job but are also extremely careful when handling the inside of your drive. There can be different levels of difficulty in performing mechanical rebuilds, but at R3 Data Recovery we adhere to give every mechanically failed drive the best possible chance of recovery.

Hard drive failures require immediate action. You need fast, secure results, and R3 offers the solutions you need to effectively maintain your data and system after any type of failure. Call us today at 0800 999 3282 to get started with your unique case.

iMac Data Recovery - Seagate 320GB Hard Drive (Case Study)

​Recently a 2008 iMac was sent to us to diagnose - the customer couldn’t access the data o​n the iMac in general​. On first look we found that the drive had no visible damage, and when it came to testing the drive it was reading without any errors, which made us think that it wasn’t actually the drive that was at fault but was actually the iMac itself.

iMac Data Recovery Case Study
  • 14/11 at 18:06 - The iMac was sent in and the engineers diagnosed the drive and started the cloning process, which finished overnight. The drive finished cloning with 0 bad/unread sectors.
  • 15/11 at 11:40 - The data transfer than began where the data was then copied to a 1tb external hard drive so that the a file listing and integrity check could be ran on the data.
  • 16/11 at 14:26 - We knew at this point that the hard drive was 100% ok, the data wasn’t deleted, it was actually a failure with the iMac itself, it had a failed PSU board and would not turn on. It also wouldn’t turn on due to the iMac itself overhearing due to the dust that had built up inside the unit.
  • 17/11 at 8:22 - The customer had requested the drive to be cloned to a 480GB SSD which arrived in the morning so we cloned our cloned drive to the SSD, and we slotted the SSD inside the iMac.
  • 17/11 at 15:00 - At this point the customer had paid for the recovery, so we did one last check which was seeing if the iMac would boot with the SSD inside, and we found out that it did in fact boot up, so we got it all ready to be sent back to the customer.
  • 21/11 at 17:26 - After the weekend we got the ok to send the iMac back to the customer, so we contacted our dedicated driver so that he could take it to the customer.

​If you think your iMac is failing or any machine you have why not get in contact with us here at R3, our ​expert team will be able to give you an over the phone assessment free of charge. We also offer free same day collection on a no data no fee service with prices starting from £129+VAT. Call us today at 0800 999 3282 to get started with your unique case.

What Makes A Hard Drive Unrecoverable?

​Hard drives are very delicate and are easy to damage, which is a good reason why you should have multiple sources of backup so that you never lose your personal data. Drives can be damaged but are generally repairable, for example when a job gets sent to us at R3, nine times out of ten we can get the drive into some form of working state, even if it’s for a few minutes or hours before the heads eventually die.

For a drive to be unrecoverable, it has to have sustained a certain amount of damage for it to be completely unrepairable.

Here are a few reasons as to why a drive can be deemed as unrecoverable:

  • If a drive has too many scratches on the platters - It’s not always an issue if a drive has scratches on the platters providing there’s not too many, because if there are too many then it may affect the system head, this is especially common drives manufactured by Seagate. Ultimately if the system head can’t be read then there’s no way of accessing the data.
  • If there is dust or a certain amount of contamination on the platters - If there is dust on the platters, or water, or anything that will contaminate the platters, then almost 100% of the time there is no way of recovering the data, since the heads are delicate and would be destroyed when powered up. Platters need to be clear of any contamination.
  • If there are large and deep rings on the platters - This is not a common problem that we have as we don’t have may jobs that come in which have that particular issue, but if a drive has deep rings on the platters it is due to the heads digging into the platters when powered up. Normally you can tell when the heads are digging into the platters because there is a screeching noise coming from the drive. This problem normally occurs when the drive is dropped and powered up straight afterwards, in some cases again and again.
Deep rings on hard drive platters

​( ​Large, deep rings on the platters​​ )

Basic Characteristics of External Hard Drives

​All external hard drives connected via a USB cable to a computer. They are becoming more and more popular as people are on the move a lot more they are very portable and small enough to fit in near enough any carry case. Even though they are very portable and are incredibly useful to most people they can also fail, if you drop an external hard drive even if it is not powered on then it can still cause damage internally and cause a mechanical fault within the hard drive.

External Portalbe Hard drives

​Signs of A Failed Hard Drive / Why Hard Drives Fail

​Signs of a failed or failing external hard drive are easy to pick up on. If your drive is transferring data slower than it wouldn’t normally it could be a signs media degradation or it could possibly be a weak head. Also, if you hear a slight ticking/beeping noise you need to power of the drive immediately as this is a sign of failed heads/stiction.​

Stiction is when the read write heads inside the drive get stuck on the platter surface, this usually occurs when the drive has been dropped/knocked while powered on. When this happens, the drive needs to be powered off and not turned back on and you need to get in contact with a data recovery professional as soon as possible.

All hard drives will eventually fail, no matter how much you look after them they will eventually fail. It is inevitable. They can either fail via media degradation (build up of bad sectors) or failing heads. When you think this is happening to your storage device getting in contact with data recovery professionals like us here at R3, we will be able to give you reassurance that your data is recoverable due to our experience and expertise in the data recovery field.

​The Challenges of External Hard Drive Data Recovery

​The only real challenges we see when it comes to mechanical data recovery is when the customer had attempted to do some DIY work on the drive. This is at the top of the list of the worst things you can do when it comes to a failed hard drive. When a drive fails powering it off and not touching is the best thing you can do.​

The good thing about data recovery is when a drive fails as long as you don’t power it on and you place it somewhere safe where it can’t get dropped or knocked the drive can be recoverable in years to come. However, the first thing that happens when a drive fails is people panic and they try and do a cheap fix, however this can cause more damage and it could lead to your drive being unrecoverable due to the damage the drive has sustained.

​Professional Data Recovery Solutions

​When it comes to choosing a data recovery company, a lot of research needs to be done into success rates, reviews and overall company performance. When looking into R3 as a company you won’t be disappointed, we have the highest success rate in the UK and we are known as the best data recovery lab in the UK.​

Based in Sheffield R3 Data Recovery has become more increasingly efficient in the past few years, expanding capacity and developing employees’ knowledge, we are learning new things each and every day. 

Give us a call on 0800 999 3282 to see if we are the right recovery company for you. Our sales team will be able to give you a free over the phone assessment, we offer a no data no fee service with a free courier collection.

​External hard drive failures require immediate action. You need fast, secure results, and R3 offers the solutions you need to effectively maintain your data and system after any type of failure. Call us today at 0800 999 3282 to get started with your unique case. Our ​team will be able to give you a free over the phone assessment, we offer a no data no fee service with a free courier collection.

Is Imaging Hard Drives The Same As Cloning?

​Cloning a drive and imaging a drive are two processes that ultimately achieve the same outcome. Essentially they copy everything on the hard drive. Its possible to clone a disk by using a disk image, but the two are distinctly different in the process they use to copy hard drives. Disk cloning creates a functional drive-to-drive copy of the hard drive, while disk imaging creates an archive of a hard drive that can be used to make a drive-to-drive copy.

Cloning and Imaging Hard Drives

Both procedures are different than just copying and pasting everything from one hard drive to another. This is because when you copy and paste files from one drive to another you're copying only the actual files. This doesn’t include all the supplementary data the drive uses to locate and access those files. For instance it won’t obtain the master boot record. Basically a copy and paste backup drive wont boot.

​Disk Cloning

Disk cloning is the process of copying the entire contents of one hard drive to another including the additional data mentioned before that enables you to boot to the operating system from the drive.​

Cloning essentially allows you to make drive-to-drive copy of one of your computers hard drives on another hard drive. That second copy of the hard drive is completely functioning and can be instantly swapped with the computers existing hard drive and work as the intended. Basically a cloned drive is perfect to have and use in the event that something happens to your original such as a mechanical fault or a malicious virus finds its way on there.

​Disk ​Imaging

In comparison disk imaging is the procedure of creating a backup copy of the all the contents of a hard drive.​

Fundamentally the image is a storage file of sorts that contains all the data stored from the original hard drive and all the necessary data to boot to the operating system. The key difference however is the image needs to be installed to the hard drive in order to work. You can't reinstate a drive by just simply transferring image files on it.​

Here at R3 Data Recovery, in trying to explain this to customers, sometimes can cause confusion from customer’s perspective, when they receive their data back after the data has been recovered from an internal hard drive out of a PC or laptop. Basically because they think they can just hook up the external drive and continue the same as before the original drive failed. Without that supplementary data on there and an operating system this is not possible as mentioned previously.

Disk images are usually used for restoring a hard drives previous contents or transferring contents to a new hard drive. Or in our case at R3, it enables us to work freely and without worry on recovering certain data from a drives image. This is because if we didn’t image the customer​'s drive to a fresh drive and we were to work exclusively from the customers original drive even once repaired could easily fail again due it already being in a weakened state.

So ultimately there are differences between imaging and cloning hard drives. At R3 Data recovery we use both processes, and its useful to know that always imaging a drive as we do here at R3 is the best and most cautious approach to handling and hopefully recovering a customer’s precious data.

Hard drive failures require immediate action. You need fast, secure results, and R3 offers the solutions you need to effectively maintain your data and system after any type of failure. Call us today at 0800 999 3282 to get started with your unique case.

Why Can't I Re-Use The Drive If It Has Had A Head Swap?

​Day to day here at R3, lots of head swaps are done on jobs that we have in with us. When a drive requires a head swap it means that the read/write heads that are in the drive currently are either failing or have failed. Every hard drive will fail at some point, whether it's due to it being dropped or it's an age related issue, or even an overheating issue, all drives ultimately will fail.

But when a head swap is done, technically the drive is then in a working condition. However, it is not in a stable condition, all drives that have had a head swap require to be monitored as the engineers don't know how well the drive/heads will react to having a foreign part being used instead of the original. Furthermore not all head swaps work, even though the technicians who match the parts are efficient. For instance they can get a perfectly matching donor that in all most every aspect matches the original drive, but then after opening the drive the heads inside are not always compatible and will not work no matter what the engineers do.

Hard Drive After Head Swap

When a head swap does work on the other hand the engineers can have full control over the drive; how fast it reads, the option to disable certain heads, the list goes on. As a user this is impossible to do which again is another reason why a drive that's had a head swap cannot just be simply put back into a laptop for example. Also in some circumstances the engineers may have to disable certain read/write heads in the drive, this is normally because the surface that the head is reading is incredible damaged and is slowing down the cloning speed. After the good surfaces are cloned the engineers go back to the damaged areas of the drive and read them as slow as possible as this is one of the only ways damaged areas of the drive can be recovered.

In short when a drive has a head swap it is not in a stable condition like it was when it was first manufactured. However it is in a stable enough state for our expert engineers to get the data of the drive for the customer.

​If you have a drive that is making a clicking noise and you think it is mechanically failed get in contact with us here at R3. ​Talk to our data recovery technicians at 0800 999 3282 ​and get ​immediate help and advice.

Hard Drives That Have Had Virus or Malware Attacks

​At R3 we have jobs sent to us ranging from Mechanical failures and degraded drives to drives which have been formatted and/or re-installed and overwritten. However, there can be occasions where we get sent a drive that has had some form of attack, whether it is a drive that has been afflicted with a virus, or if it is a drive that has had a Malware attack. We have even had a server sent to us which was infected with a virus and also had a malware attack (Ransomware).

When handling a ransomware case or any case where there is a potential threat for a virus to affect our machines/network we must follow a strict procedure so there is no way of the virus infecting our network infrastructure.

Ensuring clones of the data transfer machine we are going to use have been done and the machine is disconnected in every way from the network is just one of the precautions we take.

Virus scan with Malwarebytes and ESET

After said drive has been recovered/cloned by the engineers. Multiple virus scans are done on the image drive so that we know that if there are any threats on the drive we are able to remove them before we begin the data transfer procedure. If we didn’t do this stage and we began to copy the data without doing a virus scan on the drive, it is more than likely we will copy the virus over to the new drive and the customer wouldn’t be any better off.

All this is done so that we know 100% if there was a threat it wouldn’t affect our internal systems and that the data we are copying for the customer is 100% free of any virus and any potential threats to the machines that they use.

Formatting Your Hard Drive Correctly

How To Format Your Hard Disk Drive

When a hard drive comes into the lab at R3 they can be internal, external, or part of a larger multi-drive set up, such as RAID or NAS.

To format a drive (hard disk, floppy disk, flash drive, etc.) basically means to ready the chosen partition on the drive to be used by an operating system (Windows, Mac etc.) It deletes all of the data on the disk already (if there is any) and sets up a file system. For example the most common file system to support Windows is NTFS. For Mac its HFS. However FAT 32 or exFAT can be used and supports both operating systems.

It’s important from the R3 lab’s perspective to find out what operating system the customer is using and therefore what filesystem they need, ideally before we have received the job. This allows the process of data transfer to be seamless and done as quickly as possible. If this information is not known the data could be transferred onto a hard drive with a particular file system, and then the hard drive be sent back out to the customer for use after the recovery and the customer then cannot access their data as it is not recognised by the operating system.

Wrongly formatted drive

This then causes issues for the customer, especially if they need their data back urgently. The only way to resolve a situation like this is to start the transfer of data again to a correctly formatted hard drive. Which in some cases depending on the number of files could be not hours but days.

An example recently of this, was a job we received last week. The hard drive was out of a water damaged MacBook. The recovery was thankfully relatively straightforward. As the data we recovered was from a MacBook the filesystem was HFS. So the recovered data was transferred to a new external hard drive that was formatted for a Mac operating system. This was sent back out to the customer. However what the customer didn’t inform us was that while the hard drive was at R3 getting recovered, they purchased a new laptop. It was a Windows laptop. So when they tried to access the data we sent back to them, it wasn’t recognised by the operating system on the Windows machine.

Ultimately here at R3 this is a rare occurrence. But it can happen from time to time. And when it does it isn’t ideal for either party concerned, as it generates more work and more time for things to be resolve. So something as simple as formatting a hard drive can have a big effect on jobs. Everything can go smoothly until the drive with the recovered media returns to the customer on a wrongly formatted disk. This is why formatting your hard drive correctly is important.

R3 Data Recovery is real lab that deals with real disasters each an every day. If you have RAID that has failed or any data storage device, we are the people to contact. Call us today on 0800 999 3282 for immediate help and assistance.

All Hard Drives Fail

All mechanical devices eventually fail. It isn't a matter of how it is simply a matter of when.

On a side note though, solid state drives (SSD drives) are becoming more and more popular with computer users. First of all, they have become more affordable over recent years and their capacities have increased gradually. But ultimately SSD's have been highlighted as one of the most efficient ways to speed up your PC. Users love the speed increase in boot times and general performance whilst navigating your desktop.

It's also important to point out that solid state drives also fail. However, as it stands, and in the case of jobs we receive here at R3 Data Recovery, Mechanical hard drives still have the best opportunity of having their data recovered, and if looked after properly generally have more longevity to them.

Errors on hard drives

What Causes Errors On A Hard Drive?

From talking with our engineers at R3, an accepted cause of your hard drive failing is heat. Irrespective of how you feel about the role heat plays in wear and tear of the drive, you should take the approach of trying to limit the amount of heat your hard drive is exposed to, everyone knows the effect of heat on a PC's components, i.e. GPU, CPU, its only logical that it extends to your hard drive.

Physical damage of a hard drive can almost always leave it useless. In a brief explanation of the inner workings of a mechanical hard drive (HDD drive) it's basically made up of an aluminium platter that spins up once the device has power. The hard drive has a set of heads that accesses the data on the platter. As the platter spins, the heads move over it reading and writing data. Obviously by physically dropping your hard drive or dropping something onto it can cause the heads to become misaligned and by extension cause damage to the platter when they attempt to access to read/write from it.

Data recovery engineer

Hard Drive Clicking Sounds

A symptom of physical damage is a clicking sound once the drive is powered up. That particular noise you hear is the heads repetitively striking the platter which causes more and more damage and therefore makes the chances of recovery more difficult.

Furthermore, the age of a hard drive is also a significant aspect in regards to the health of the drive. Mechanical drives have many internal moving parts. These parts begin to breakdown over time, which causes the hard drive to degrade.

In most cases, the drive fails gradually. This is a clear advantage of having a mechanical hard drive. It will often start to show signs and symptoms that will give a preliminary warning to back up your data, not always of course but generally. In contrast to a mechanical hard drive, an SSD can often fail without warning. In addition, as we often find at R3 recovery from solid state drives is often complicated, and almost impossible in some situations.

How To Monitor Your Hard Drive

Awareness is essential when it comes to maintaining your hard drive. Amongst the most important of how long it takes to perform simple tasks. The first warning sign that the drive is starting to go degrade is the speed of data transfer becomes extremely slow. Your hard drive may be approaching the end of its life cycle if it takes an extended amount of time for you to transfer a small file.

As mentioned previously mechanical hard drives are made up of tiny moving parts. All of these parts move very rapidly in order to function. So obviously hearing out for unusual noises/vibrations and clicking is a sure-fire way of knowing your drive is failing or failed.

Another way of monitoring your hard drive is through software that tests for hard drive problems. Solid state drives and hard drives both have the capacity to use Self-Monitoring Analysis Reporting Technology (SMART) to test whether the memory storage equipment is functioning properly. Basically, by preforming a SMART test you can detect read errors, reallocated sectors, failing block count, wear and lifetime usage statistics that may be suggestive of significant issues. SMART hopefully will give you time to replace or recopy your data before the hard drive fails entirely.

Finally, and to reiterate, it's imperative to try as best as possible to keep the hard drive cool to extend its life cycle. People can take it for granted, but by purchasing and setting up a fan nearby to circulate the air around the unit may be very beneficial.

Ultimately, and what we here at R3 Data Recovery always encourage whether the outcome of recovery is positive or negative is that the best thing you can do is to back up your hard drive. It's the simplest and most cost-effective way of retaining your data as all hard drives eventually fail.

If your hard drive happens to fail, contact our team of experts at 0800 999 3282. Our skilled professionals will be able to reliably recover data on your hard drive and provide industry-leading turnaround times which give you the confidence that's necessary to develop a solid, effective recovery plan.