Losing important data is never a good feeling. Be it because of accidental deletion, physical damage, or a malfunctioning hard drive. It may seem especially daunting if the data loss occurred on a laptop hard drive since most of us predominantly use them for work-related stuff.
Fortunately, there are various methods available for laptop data recovery. Read on to find out.
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Is It Possible to Recover Data From a Laptop Hard Drive?
In a nutshell, yes, it is possible to recover data from a laptop hard drive. What’s more, it is not as scary as it sounds. Depending on the reason behind the data loss, you have multiple methods to recover data from your laptop.
When talking about modern laptops, a lot of them come packaged with TRIM-enabled SSDs. The TRIM feature basically tells the SSD which areas contain redundant data that is no longer in use so that it can be wiped out completely. Without TRIM, your data is effectively still there, it’s just not visible to you. The data is then removed, once new files are written to that area. While this prevents performance deterioration, in the long run, it does mean that data recovery isn’t possible on these devices, even if you didn’t write new data to the drive.
To check if your SSD is TRIM enabled, follow these steps:
- Open Command Prompt as administrator.
- Type this command: fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify and press Enter.
- If you get a message that reads: DisableDeleteNotify = 0, it means TRIM is enabled. If the value is 1, then TRIM is disabled.
Important: Try not to copy or create new files on the affected laptop hard drive. This is essential if you want to maximize your chances of recovering the lost data.
Laptop Data Loss Scenarios Explained
It is important to understand laptop data loss scenarios since the fixes depend on what caused the data loss. Once you recognize the symptoms of different data loss scenarios, you can easily choose the method that is best suited to recover your lost data.
🔨 Physical Data Loss
As is evident by its name, physical data loss occurs when there is a mechanical failure in your laptop’s hard drive. HDDs are prone to this because they have a lot of moving parts, all of which have a negligible margin for physical error.
Mechanical hard drive failures can be caused by water damage, electrical damage, or physical shock (dropping your laptop).
The telltale signs of physical HDD failure include buzzing or grinding noises from your laptop. Another audible sign is clicking noises. Additionally, your laptop may not boot beyond the manufacturer’s logo or even detect the OS. In most cases of physical damage, the HDD will not be functional enough to recover data using software-based methods.
💿 Logical Data Loss
Simply put, logical data loss occurs when your storage device is physically in perfect working condition, but you’re still unable to access some of your files. Naturally, this kind of data loss is completely software-driven, and there are no clicking or whirring sounds like in the case of mechanical hard drive failure.
The most common causes of logical data loss include malware infections, a damaged file system, sudden power surges or outages, and human errors such as accidental data deletion or formatting. Other reasons behind logical data loss include controller failures, power outages, driver errors, and unexpected system crashes. The hard drive can become completely unreadable in some cases.
Similar to physical data loss, your laptop may have booting problems due to logical data loss. However, this is rare. In most cases, you will simply be unable to access the missing or corrupt files. Logical data loss is the best candidate for DIY laptop data recovery.
How to Recover Data From a Functional Laptop Hard Drive
If the hard drive is in working condition, but you lost important files due to a logical HDD error, most, if not all of it, can be recovered. Ensure that you follow the listed steps carefully.
There are two primary ways to retrieve lost data from your laptop, provided the hard drive is functional.
Option A: Disk Drill
The holy grail of DIY laptop data recovery is professional data recovery software. Disk Drill is a well-reviewed program that allows you to recover up to 500 MB of data for free. Due to its focus on usability and functionality, Disk Drill allows anyone to retrieve lost data in a few clicks, no bar the file type. All this makes Disk Drill one of the best data recovery apps available currently.
To recover data from your laptop’s hard drive, follow these steps:
- Download Disk Drill. The download should begin automatically after clicking on the link.
- Install Disk Drill by running the downloaded executable, and following the on-screen instructions. You will need administrative privileges to do so. It’s advisable you install the program on an unaffected partition or device.
- Launch Disk Drill on your laptop, select the partition, and click the Search for lost data option.
- Click on “Review found items” to display the scan results in Disk Drill.
- Select the files you want to recover from the list of results. If a file can be previewed, it is eligible for recovery.
- Click on the Recover button to begin the recovery process. It’s recommended that you recover the files to another storage device to avoid overwriting.
Option B: Windows File Recovery Tool
Microsoft also has its own in house data recovery tool. It can be put to use to recover data from your laptop’s hard disk drive. However, it is more suited for seasoned users as it is a command-line utility, and doesn’t have a graphical user interface (GUI). Additionally, it is functional on Windows 10 (with the July 2020 update and above), and Windows 11.
To recover data from your laptop’s hard drive using the Windows File Recovery tool, follow these steps:
- Download the Windows File Recovery tool from the Microsoft Store.
- Click on the Launch button once the download is complete.
Now, depending on the type of file system and your personal preferences, Windows File Recover offers two modes you can use to recover deleted files from your laptop’s hard drive. Regardless of the method you choose, the basic syntax will be winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches].
The Regular Mode in the tool is suitable for drives using the NTFS file system. Use this mode if you want to recover a recently deleted file from your laptop’s hard disk drive. The exact process is as follows:
- Type winfr source-drive: destination-drive: /regular and press Enter. If you’d like to add filters, visit the Windows File Recovery help page for more information on how to use them.
- Press Y when prompted to continue.
- Press Y on the prompt to view recovered files.
If the hard drive uses any other file system besides NTFS, Extensive Mode can be used to recover the lost data. Additionally, it is recommended you use this mode if you deleted the relevant files a long time ago, you formatted the disk, or if the hard disk is corrupted. To use Extensive Mode, simply go through these steps:
- Type winfr source-drive: destination-drive: /extensive, and press Enter. Use filters if needed.
- Press Y once you see the Continue prompt.
- Press Y on the view recovered files prompt.
How to Recover Data From a Malfunctioning Laptop Hard Disk Drive
Sometimes, data loss and HDD damage can be extensive enough to prevent your computer from booting altogether. In this case, you cannot use third-party recovery software to recover data from your laptop’s hard drive.
An important thing to note is that you MUST NOT try connecting or powering on the hard drive if there’s a- clicking noise, the hard drive isn’t spinning, and the drive was damaged because of fire or water. It’s best to contact professionals in this case.
There’s also a chance that your HDD is simply uninitialized. Naturally, the data recovery methods for uninitialized disks slightly differ from malfunctioning HDDs.
The following methods can help you recover data from laptop hard drives that are malfunctioning:
Verify If the Laptop’s Hard Drive Is Indeed Malfunctioning
Many times, other common laptop issues are mistaken for a hard drive failure. As a rule of thumb, if your laptop’s screen is not lighting up at all, and there are no unusual noises coming from the laptop, it is most likely NOT a hard drive related problem.
Additionally, try booting your laptop with the A/C power adapter connected. If it boots up as usual, you’re looking at a battery issue, not a hard drive one. If you get a missing OS error message, then it could possibly be a malfunctioning hard drive.
All in all, the most common signs of a malfunctioning hard drive are a clicking sound or loud noises from your laptop. Before proceeding to the next section, simply reseat your laptop’s hard drive and then try again. If the laptop doesn’t boot up, it’s most likely a failing hard drive.
Use the Laptop’s Hard Drive as An External HDD
If the laptop that is housing the hard drive isn’t booting, you can try converting the HDD into an external hard drive. It’s one of the best ways to recover data from a hard drive that won’t boot. This step has two main advantages: it can help you confirm whether the fault lies in the hard disk drive itself, and if your other computer detects the HDD, you can easily assess the amount of data loss that has occurred.
To use your laptop’s hard disk drive as an external HDD, go through the following steps:
- Purchase a laptop hard disk drive enclosure. You can easily find them on popular online shopping sites at a cheap price. Double-check the compatibility before purchasing.
- Remove the internal hard disk from your laptop.
- Place the hard drive into the laptop hard disk drive enclosure.
- Connect one end of the bundled USB cable to the enclosure and the other end to a working computer.
If the computer detects the hard drive, copy all the important data to the computer’s internal drive. If some data is missing, try recovering it using a third-party data recovery software tool such as Disk Drill. Upon non-detection of the hard drive, try connecting the USB to a different port, which is one of the methods to fix an external hard drive not showing up.
Connect the Laptop’s Hard Drive to a Desktop Computer
Most laptop hard drives use a 2.5” SATA cable to communicate with the motherboard. Thanks to this, you can use it as an internal HDD on a desktop computer. This can help you gauge the extent of data loss that has occurred while allowing you to confirm whether the HDD is indeed malfunctioning, or is there a fault in the laptop itself.
To recover data from your laptop’s hard drive by connecting it to a desktop computer, follow these steps:
- Remove the hard drive from your laptop.
- Remove the side cover from the desktop computer’s case.
- Connect a SATA power cable from the desktop’s PSU to the laptop’s hard disk drive. Make sure your computer is powered off and disconnected from the power socket when you perform these steps.
- Connect one end of a 2.5” SATA cable to the hard drive, and the other end to the PC’s motherboard.
- Boot the desktop PC.
- Check whether the BIOS is properly configured to detect the new hard disk drive.
- Copy important data to the other, properly working HDD on the desktop.
You should also take note that some laptops ship with hard drives that use a single connector that transmits both power and data. In such cases, you will have to purchase the relevant adaptor in order to connect the laptop hard disk drive to your desktop PC.
Contact a Specialized Data Recovery Service to Recover Data From the Laptop’s Hard Drive
Albeit a little expensive, specialized data recovery services have the highest success rate in recovering lost data. If the hard drive is physically damaged, always send it to a professional data recovery service to salvage it.
There is no dearth of data recovery services currently, However, it’s imperative you do your research and choose the best data recovery service. Some “nice to haves” when it comes to professional data recovery services include free online consultations, online status updates, and a “no data no charge” policy. It is unlikely.
The process involved in recovering data from your laptop’s hard disk drive using professional data recovery services is as follows:
- Contact the data recovery service using their contact information.
- Send the damaged hard drive to the service using courier services or submit it at a drop-off point. Most companies offer a free evaluation to determine the extent of damage, and also provide you with a quote once the evaluation is complete.
The recovery times vary across different professional data recovery services. Some companies can recover your data in less than 24 hours at an added cost. Most companies, however, take a couple of days at least. It is also recommended that you ponder over whether the data you wish to recover is worth the financial commitment that most professional data recovery services require.
As is evident from this article, there are plenty of ways to recover data from a laptop. But, it is advisable you take action swiftly. The faster you take action, the more data you’ll be able to recover. If you’re a beginner, your best bet is to use third-party recovery software such as Disk Drill or contact a professional data recovery service.
Manuviraj Godara's interest in technology began as soon as he got his first computer. From Googling how to run incompatible games on his PC to writing about computers for a living, the world of technology has never ceased to amaze him. When he's not obsessing over the latest innovations in the tech world, he likes to spend time listening to his favorite music records.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.