Emergency! The computer has failed: what now?

  1. Impact: Turn everything off for 5 minutes and let things stabilize. Once everything is turned back on, check files and applications for damage. Make sure there’s a backup of the important files right away. Be alert for errors indicating deeper problems.
  2. Power surge: Unplug everything and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, as above, bring the system up & check for damage. Proceed with caution.
  3. Water or fire: Unplug everything. Put the hard disk in a sealed plastic bag (“zip-lock” style bags are fine) and send to us for recovery. Don’t dust out or try to dry out.a. Why not dust or dry? When dried, water can leave mineral deposits or other contaminants behind, as can smoke.
  4. Symptoms
    a. Screeching or scraping. This is a bad sign. Immediately turn off the computer. Let the hard disk stabilize for a few minutes and either remove the hard disk or unplug the power from it. Then turn the computer back on. If it’s still screeching (and there’s no power to the hard disk), the problem is not the hard disk. You’re in luck! Your data may still be safe and you should have your computer diagnosed.
    b. Screeching or scraping, part 2. If the noise is coming from the hard disk, it has a serious problem and needs serious help. It is best to NOT turn the hard disk back on in this situation. It can take from only a few seconds to a few minutes to render the media unrecoverable when the noise is from a head crash. You need hard disk recovery. Call us for a quote.
    c. Clicking: As above, turn off the system immediately and determine if the noise is coming from the computer or the hard drive. A clicking sound often indicates head or media damage, and the longer the drive continues to spin, the deeper the damage will go. If your hard disk is clicking, don’t try to restart the system. Call us for a quote.
    d. System won’t boot, but there are no odd noises. Listen carefully for clicking sounds (see “clicking” above). Try booting into Safe Mode (on a Windows system), or with Extensions disabled (on a Macintosh) then see if the directory structure is accessible. If it is, you may be able to back up important documents to a floppy disk or an attached external hard disk.
    i. Booting in Windows Safe Mode: When you power on your computer, press and hold the “F8” key right when you see the text (not the colorful banner), “Starting Windows (your version)”. It needs to be pressed at just the right time, so you may need to try it several times, or press the key repeatedly. A text screen should come up that allows you several modes for starting. You want Safe Mode. Many systems have a corporate banner that hides the “Starting Windows… ” text. Usually pressing the “Esc” key before the banner comes up will cause it to go away. Then press the F8 key.
    ii. Booting a Mac in safe Mode or with the Extensions off: Simply hold the Shift key when you start the Mac. This should cause OS X to boot into Safe Mode, where it will want to run First Aid. This causes OS 9 to boot with Extensions off.
    iii. Try booting from a floppy diskette, CD, or external hard disk: Be Careful!!! Many systems come with a System Restore CD that will likely erase all of your data! Many times, a client has called after their computer vendor had them do this. Be careful! even if someone tells you to do it, be aware that you may be erasing your data. Read all messages carefully. You want only to boot the system so you can back up files. You do not want to do anything that will write data or do any partition or format operations.
    Booting from a CD on Windows PCs: Most PCs have a button to press that will bring up boot options, or boot order. It varies form computer to computer, but on many newer PCs, it is the “F1” or “F2” key. It is sometimes the “Esc” or “Del” key. Check with your manufacturer, if possible, or just experiment.
    Booting from a CD or external drive a Mac Holding the “C” key at startup should force a boot from the CD drive. Holding “T” at start up should force a boot from an external drive (in OS X).
    iv. Try putting the drive in another system. Take the drive out of the computer, and put it in as a secondary drive in another system. You will need to change jumper settings, and if it’s a laptop drive, you will need to get an adapter to plug it into a desktop computer. But you may be able to bring the drive up as a secondary drive in another system and copy your files off, or back them up. Again, take care to listen for any unusual sounds. If the drive begins to click or screech, you should shut it off immediately and call us for a quote to recover your data.
    v. Disk repair utilities, First Aid, and Data recovery software: If the drive is physically damaged, or making unusual sounds, it should be turned off immediately and sent in for recovery. In such a circumstance, running any software at all is likely to damage your data, possibly beyond recoverability. Call for data recovery service. If the file structure is damaged, disk repair software can damage the files beyond recoverability. Great caution must be taken when running and disk repair utility that writes anything to the hard disk – and most of them do. If you do run a “do it yourself” utility, keep the following precautions in mind.

Read the documentation. It’s a pain, but it might save you from a fatal mistake.

Save an “undo” file. Many repair utilities allow the user to save a file that will allow changes to be undone. If the utility does give you this option, then do it, by all means. Save the file to a different drive than the one on which you are working. If the software needs to be run several times, rename the previous undo file to something like, “1st try'” “2nd try,” etc. and save a separate undo file. If the repairs need to be undone, then undo them one at a time, using the newest undo file first, and the oldest one last.

Don’t allow the software to make changes to “FAT”, “FAT tables”, or “MFT.” Don’t let it make changes to anything that sounds like parts of a tree, such as “leaves”, “trees”, or “b-trees.” Don’t let it make changes to anything with “node” in it. These kinds of repairs can damage your file structure beyond recoverability.

Don’t reformat your hard disk. If you want to get your files back, don’t let anything or anyone format your hard disk. Even tech support for major manufacturers will sometimes tell you to do this. Don’t! While we have had success on most occasions recovering data from formatted hard disks, it always makes things more difficult.

Being proactive:

Setting up your computer workspace for success, so you don’t need data recovery services in the future.

  1. Heat: Many hard disk failures are due to heat.
    a. This may come from the environment, from two drives being too close together, or from an overworked system fan in an overpowered system.
    b. Keep PCs out of the sun, and keep them in a temperate room.
    c: Don’t put a computer on a soft surface, such as on carpeting. This keeps air from circulating and may plug up vent holes.
    d. If you add an extra internal hard disk, try to leave a bit of airflow space between hard disks inside the computer.
    e. Auxiliary fans (such as those that fit in disk drive slots) are useful, but make sure the airflow assists the main system fan, rather than working against it.
    f: blankets, soft surfaces: Laptops can overheat if fabric (such as a blanket or couch cushion) blocks heat exhaust. Hard surfaces should allow the laptop the space it needs to breathe.
    g. Dust and fur: Dust makes heat problems worse, ruins cooling fans, can gum up moving parts (like fans, or CD or floppy drives). Cats love to sit on nice warm computers and monitors, but pet fur will coat the components inside your computer like a custom kitty- or doggie-fur sweater.
  2. Cold: Extreme cold may cause failures as well.
  3. Vibration: Is a great enemy of hard disks. We often see systems sitting on the floor, in easy reach of tapping feet, and full of dust. Impact and inkjet printers sitting too close, or on the same table, can cause too much vibration over time, as can subwoofers. Systems on slamming file cabinets are a bad idea, too.
  4. Electrical: A tremendous number of drive failures are related to power surges. Fluctuations happen all day, every day in nearly every environment. Economy power strips are not much of a solution. Uninterruptible power supplies are a practical solution, as they isolate the system from the wall current.

Taking safety measures: Actions a user can take to make computing safer.

  1. Backup: If everyone backed up all of the time, no one would ever need data recovery. But no one backs up all of the time and most don’t ever back up at all. An excellent method of backup is an external hard disk. You can use flash drives, CDs, DVDs, online backups, and more. There is no shortage of backup methods.
  2. Turn off at night: There are many schools of thought on this subject, but here’s our view from three decades of data recovery. Turn off the computer at night and it won’t be subject to the vagaries of the environment, from hackers, to power surges, to the occasional earthquake or flood.
  3. Save: Hit the save button frequently while working on a file or document. All too often, the crash happens at the end of a couple of hours of heavy thinking and rapid writing. Get in the habit of saving every time you stop to think.

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