Data Recovery -

Here at MacUpgrades we have been dealing with Mac data recovery since 2005. Over the years we have rescued data from more drives than we care to count. These have been in all states of repair, some with very little damage, some requiring extreme measures. Over this time we have come to know the Mac HFS+ file system inside out; where Mac OS X puts user information and the tools which work well on Apple Mac Hard drives and, sometimes more importantly, those to avoid. We are experienced with Apple Filevault systems of encryption, including whole disk encryption and the special procedures which are necessary to recover data from these drives (we will need your password) as well as all the usual iLife Apps (iPhoto databases, iMovie Projects) and Pro Apps (Aperture Master Vaults and FCP X Projects).

We know how important your data is to you and we will treat your failed drive with the utmost respect. We have a process that we work though with each failed drive, starting with the least invasive possible. This involves getting as much data as we can at each stage. We can even take that to opening up the hard drive and replacing damaged components if needed.

We use industry standard clean bench technology if ever a drive must be opened and have special low level firmware and disk imaging tools including the Deepspar Disk Imager and the PC3000 to ensure that when we access data it is safe and that we are not repeating work already done to get back your files. We use sophisticated RAID systems to protect your data whilst we have it and prevent your privacy being compromised. We do keep your data for 14 days after a recovery is completed to protect against accidental loss before it is securely erased.

We take in bare hard drives, or when used in conjunction with our other hard drive installation services we can replace your existing drive, get your machine back up and running - then follow up with a data recovery quote after.

How to know if you need data recovery

This is not always straightforward and depends on your knowledge of the Mac Operating system.

A failing drive can exhibit in a number of ways, strange noises,  very slow access, regular instances of the spinning wheel (sometime known as "the beach ball"!). But most of the time we get calls when the Mac starts up giving a flashing question mark. This means that the Mac cannot find a bootable system - commonly a sign of some kind of Hard Drive failure.

If you get a flashing question mark the first thing to do is to boot from another device - whether that be an installation CD, via internet recovery (2011 and later Macs hold the Command+R on boot), or via an external hard drive / USB stick (hold the "alt" key at startup to select a volume with an OS on it). Once booted up you need to open disk utility and see if the computer can recognise the hard drive. If the drive is greyed out or is named incorrectly it is a sign of corruption - which may be caused by a physical problem with the drive.

If you are thinking about data recovery you need to think about what your data is worth to you, and to think about what is or what is not backed up. Remember that you may have automatic services like "Dropbox" or "iCloud" with some of your data already safe. Providing a list of the files you need can sometimes save time and expense. Below we hope to give you an idea of what may be involved in recovering your data as well as a guide to the usual cost brackets.

Work out if you have backups of your important files, and what you don't the more information you can give us the better.

Important things to know about data recovery

  • If you have a hardware problem with your hard drive; running any software tools on the defective drive will make the situation worse. Software tools which on a work file level rather than LBA sector level will keep trying bad areas again and again trying to recover the data - this can result in further head or platter damage. If the data is important and valuable then it is not worth the risk.
  • Data recovery takes time, a lot of time. We prioritise every data recovery job but in some cases it can take a long time. There are very few steps which can be taken to speed it up. If you have any backup of your data then we recommend you start working from that whilst we have your drive. We have a high success rate on drives but you must prepare for the worst and make arrangements to begin getting back up and running.
  • Data recovery is not always successful. Hard drives are incredibly delicate devices with tiny components. The data itself is stored on thin metal covered ceramic or glass platters which can shatter or become scratched beyond repair.
  • Do not attempt to open a hard drive without detailed training and special tools- there is nothing in there that you at home could do anything with that would give you any more chance of getting your data back. It takes many, many hours of practice to be able to open drives and move components successfully.  Even here at MacUpgrades opening a drive is a last resort - when all other possible data has been extracted.
  • Please only send us complete drives, please package them in at least 2-3 inches of packaging round each dimension.

Things to let us know

Data recovery takes time, a 500GB drive has near a billion individual sectors of data - some of which contain your important data and some which don't. The more specific information you can provide as to the directory structure of your drive and the location of your desired data the easier, faster and potentially cheaper the process will be - the more information we have the better the result and potentially the lower the cost.

Let us know what you have tried, or what has happened to the drive.  In circumstances of physical damage such as fire or water having prior knowledge of these facts can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful repair.

If you have opened the drive or tried replacing any boards / screws or firmware.

Expected costs

Each data recovery job is unique, and pricing depends on the complexity of the work, and the in most cases the volume of data or drive.

Here at MacUpgrades we start by doing an evaluation of your drive. Our evaluation service is £50 + vat. This pays for inspection of the drive by our trained data recovery experts to ascertain the level of damage and gauge the complexity of the repair.

For the sake of providing example costs it is portable to put situations into approximately one of four categories.

  1. Software recovery - this occurs when there are no physical problems with the mechanism, but the data has become corrupted. Most usually on HFS file systems it is corruption to the Catalog B tree - this is tree like file structure which stores the name and the physical sectors over which a file exists. Without this information the file system does not know that files exist. In these circumstances we would use software tools to piece together the files from the raw data. Cost around £100 + vat.
  2. Hardware recovery - non invasive. This is the most common type of recovery we do - where there is some physical damage to parts of the hard drive but not all, resulting in very slow reads to the drive (may exhibit as the spinning wheel in OS X when trying to browse a file / directory structure). In these cases we use low level system tools to recover data sector by sector to a new drive. By altering the specific parameters of each individual read cycle it is possible to recover data that in OS systems cannot do. Cost around £225 + vat.
  3. Hardware recovery - invasive. This is the most expensive level of recovery. This is where the physical damage to the drive requires parts to be replaced. This could be the head assembly, a platter swap or hot swapping of controller boards. Before we ever open a drive we will attempt to recover any sectors that can be done before we open a drive as above. Opening a hard drive is done in clean bench conditions to minimise particulates to the drive and requires a high level of expertise. These sort of component swaps are not always successful and in some cases can render a drive unrecoverable - we will discuss these options with you if you fall into this category.

    Labour component £450 + vat, this does not include the cost of any parts needed.

    When we need to swap out components in hard drives we need to match drives exactly, to within a few weeks of productions. Many elements need to be matched in order to find a donor. When you look at head replacements for example you may need several donor drives in order to get a complete recovery. Donor drives vary greatly in price but are normally around £100 + vat per drive.

  4. Beyond repair - Sometime you see drives where there is either smashed or hugely scratched platters - in these cases data recovery is not possible. In these cases we would return your drive back to you.

Things you can do if you don't want to pay or cannot afford data recovery

In some instances your data may not be worth paying for data recovery, or you may not be able to afford the recovery. In these instances there are some things that you can try at home which may result in some data being recovered - all these software solutions have a high risk of damaging your drive further but they might help you. You will need another hard drive to move data to (hopefully) and to boot from.

  1. Reduce strain on the drive.  Boot your computer from another hard drive via firewire / USB.
  2. Check "Disk Utility" and see what information is displayed for the internal drive (look out for a grey icon, or no sign of the drive at all).

    If the drive greyed out but correctly named it may be worth running the repair disk option.

    If the drive is labeled incorrectly such as Disk1s2 then don't run the disk repair.

  3. If your drive is mounted (appears in Mac OS X Finder application), prioritise which data you want to recover and go after it in order, and in small pieces - it puts less strain on the drive and you will be more successful then just trying to copy the whole drive.
  4. If your drive does not mount you will need to look at software solutions. The two pieces of software we have found to work best are :  Data Rescue and Pro Soft Drive Genius. There are lots of others out there but we have found these to be the best in our opinion. If there is a hardware failure then using this software might work, or it might kill your drive.
  5. If you are Linux savvy you can use a free tool (often found in the ultimate boot cd) called MHDD to try and clone data off in a low level way - this is not easy and has elements of risk.
  6. How to Proceed

    Contact us to discuss your specific situation - you can send us an email using the form below, or call us on 01223 833 412.

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