Are you still using a hard drive with a SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) interface and trying to recover data? Or maybe you find an old drive you want to extract data from? If one of these is your case, you’re not alone. In this guide, we help you with SATA hard drive recovery.
Pro tip: Since SATA hard drives are likely to have aged, the hard drive recovery process requires a few considerations. In this guide, we give you a complete understanding of the process and things you should be mindful of when recovering data from SATA hard drives.
Want to skip the theory and jump straight to the recovery part? Click here.
Is It Possible to Recover Data From SATA Hard Drives?
Yes, it’s possible to recover data from SATA hard drives using a data backup & recovery software solution. However, there are a few caveats because SATA is a previous-gen technology, and most computers using it are likely older. Here are factors that affect SATA hard drive data recovery:
Healthy SATA Drives
Having a healthy SATA drive is your best-case scenario. In most cases, it’s easy to recover data from a healthy SATA drive.
However, there’s one caveat to consider. SATA disks are mainly used as internal system disks. If you end up accidentally deleting or formatting files from the drive that has Windows, just running the operating system could result in overwriting of data, especially when the data was on the same partition as Windows. The operating system creates many temporary files as it continues to run, and in the process, might overwrite the files you’re trying to recover.
Things are even worse if you somehow render the operating system unbootable or format the drive that had the operating system. In that case, you’ll need to take extra steps to recover files.
For example, you may need to connect the SATA drive to another computer as an external drive, and then run a data recovery solution on that computer. You can also just reinstall the operating system from scratch and then run the data recovery software solution on the same PC. However, this way, you risk overwriting some of the recoverable data from the SATA hard drive.
Failed or Corrupted SATA Drives
SATA hard drives are prone to failure and corruption just like any storage device. Here are a few common reasons that lead to failure or corruption of SATA drives:
- ⚡ Abrupt power outage: If the power goes out when you’re using the computer and the SATA drive, the abrupt termination of operations can cause the files and the drive to become corrupt.
- 🤕 Physical damage: Exposure to moisture or salty air can cause your SATA drive to erode. If the damage is severe, the drive might fail altogether.
- 🖥️ Faulty Windows Update: Updating Windows might lead to file system corruption, consequently causing your SATA drive to become corrupt.
- 🐞 Virus attack: A virus can corrupt disk data, including the filesystem, which can lead to a hard drive becoming corrupted.
While these are the most common reasons, a SATA drive can become corrupt due to many other reasons. The good thing is, you can still recover data from corrupted hard drives.
Damaged, Broken, or Dead SATA Drives
In cases of severe physical damage, the SATA drive may die and stop working entirely. Several reasons like overheating and problems with the drive’s hardware components can lead to complete failure. Unlike in the case of corruption, you can’t recover data from a dead hard drive, except in a few cases.
Identifying whether your drive is logically corrupt or broken because of physical damage based on the symptoms is a little tricky, but you can use these signs to determine your hard drive’s status:
Signs of Physical Failure
Signs of Logical Failure
You hear or feel vibrations or noises coming from the SATA hard drive.
Your OS’ core files have become corrupt and you’re encountering multiple errors when running the OS.
Your computer takes excessive time to display a folder’s contents when you open it.
Specific files, folders, or programs have become corrupt and don’t function properly.
Your hard drive is overheating.
Frequent BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) errors.
Your computer randomly shuts down.
Scanning your drive with specialized software shows the hard disk has bad sectors, signifying permanent damage.
These are common signs, but often these symptoms can co-exist. For example, you might experience BSOD errors because of physical damage or your computer may run slow because of logical corruption.
A Typical Guide on SATA Hard Drive Recovery
Since SATA drives can stop working and lose data because of multiple reasons, it’s important to take a systematic approach. Below, we explain the process for recovering SATA drive and bringing it back to its normal, operational condition and recover data you may have lost.
Step #1: Check Your SATA Connectors
Check the SATA connectors on your motherboard to ensure the cables haven’t come loose. A standard motherboard can have four to eight SATA ports, but the actual number depends on the motherboard’s size and chipset. You can only check a specific connector if you know which one needs to be fixed. If you don’t know the SATA port number, just check the connectors on all of them.
You can identify the ports by looking for L-shaped ports. The ports are generally labeled as SATA1, SATA2, etc. Once you find the ports, ensure the connectors are tightly inserted into the port. Give it a wiggle (though gently) and tighten the ports. You might even want to remove the connectors to clean any debris that may have been deposited.
Note that you should be extra careful when working with SATA ports because it’s easy to break them.
Can SATA Ports Break?
Yes, SATA ports can break. They’re fairly fragile and applying a little extra pressure can result in a broken SATA port. If you’re trying to clean or reconnect SATA ports, make sure you do it with care. Breaking the SATA port can leave you without power or a signal source (or both).
How Do I Know if My SATA Cable is Bad?
SATA cables can go bad for various reasons including thermal, mechanical, or electrical damage. Often, the cable can become dysfunctional if the pin or cable sheath is damaged. If your SATA cable is damaged, you’ll be able to tell because you’ll likely see several symptoms such as:
- Hard drive not detected: Computer not detecting the hard drive (and it doesn’t show up in the BIOS either)
- BSOD errors: Frequent blue screen of death (BSOD) errors
- Frequent crashes: The operating system freezing randomly and crashing
Step #2: Try to Mount Your SATA Drive
Your SATA drive may not appear in your operating system for various reasons. For example, the drive might not be receiving enough power, may have faulty hardware components, or be formatted in an unsupported file system.
You can address these issues in several ways like initializing the drive, reinstalling SATA drivers, or formatting the drive based on what’s causing the issue.
Why Won’t My SATA Drive be Detected?
A few common reasons that might result in Windows not detecting your SATA drive are:
- Physical damage: A bad cable or broken hardware component can render your hard drive undetectable.
- Filesystem corruption: Most common reason leading to filesystem corruption is the abrupt termination of a file writing process when the filesystem is in a volatile state.
- Outdated or corrupt drives: The driver for your SATA drive may have become outdated or corrupted. You can easily fix this by installing the latest driver.
Step #3: Recover Data from Your SATA Hard Drive
Recovering files from SATA drive is possible, and it’s also easy when you use a robust data recovery solution like Disk Drill. Disk Drill is one the best data recovery solutions out there and your best bet for SATA hard drive data recovery — read our Disk Drill review here.
Disk Drill is a great choice when your SATA service has an unstable connection or keeps turning off repeatedly. Disk Drill pauses the scan when the drive disconnects, but automatically notifies you when the disk appears in the system again so you can continue scanning.
Even if you can’t boot from a hard drive, you might want to try connecting it to another computer and scanning it using Disk Drill. Below, we walk you through the step-by-step process of using Disk Drill for SATA data recovery:
Step 3.1: Download and Install Disk Drill
Download Disk Drill and install it on your PC. The free software lets you recover up to 500MB of data. However, you might want to try installing Disk Drill on an external hard drive to ensure the data on the SATA drive doesn’t get written over.
Step 3.2: Scan the SATA Drive
Launch Disk Drill after you’ve installed it. You’ll see a list of internal and external drives on the home screen. Select the SATA drive and click on the Search for lost data button to start the scan.
Step 3.3: Select Files to Recover
Once the scan is complete, you’ll see a list of recoverable files. You filter the scan results based on the file type (such as Photos, Documents, etc.) using the left sidebar, or based on the file extension by typing the file extension in the search bar at the top-right.
After filtering the results, select the files you want to recover by checking the box to their left. You can make sure you’re selecting the correct files by previewing them by clicking on the tiny eye icon that appears when you hover over a file.
Step 3.4: Recover Files
Click on the Recover button at the bottom after selecting the files. You’ll need to select a location for recovering the files. Ideally, you should recover data to a different drive (than the one you’re recovering data from) to ensure you don’t overwrite data on your SATA hard drive.
When you’ve completed the SATA hard disk recovery process, you’ll find the recovered files in the location you chose in step 4.
Step #4: Contact a Professional Data Recovery Service
In some cases, a data recovery tool might not be able to help you. For example, if your hard drive has been severely damaged physically, your computer might not be able to access the hard drive at all. If that’s your situation, consider reaching out to a professional data recovery service. They’ll have the experts and equipment required to physically recover data from your disk, and they’re your last resort.
Arjun is a freelance writer with experience writing about data recovery. On a normal day, Arjun spends his time helping people recover critical data from their Windows devices. He’s also a tech ninja, codes HTML and CSS, and has received an honorary mention as the family’s go-to tech help during get-togethers.
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.