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Data recovery is the process of salvaging data from failed, corrupted, damaged, or inaccessible media (hard drive, flash drive, external drive, etc.). Data recovery is performed when the media itself cannot be accessed in a normal way.
Sounds simple enough right? Well, it's not., and not all data recovery services are equal.
Many companies immediately run tests upon your hard drive without considering your files or place it in an external enclosure to try and copy files. While a failing hard drive can cause an operating system to become corrupted or malfunction, a corrupt or malfunctioning operating system is not necessarily caused by a failing hard drive. An an operating system (especially Windows) can fail without the media being physically damaged at all, and performing tests upon a failed or failing hard drive can cause further irreparable data loss unless the proper precautions are taken which includes employing equipment normally only used in digital and forensic investigations. This process ensures maximum retrieval of data and reconstruction of important damaged files.
In trying to retrieve deleted files, many shops install data retrieval utilities upon your machine. However, installing software directly on a system which was used to delete the files in retrieval attempts, i.e., to your Windows operating system, causes deleted data to be over written and lessens the chance your data can be retrieved entirely.
Some companies bill at data recovery rates which are more costly when they should only bill for data transfer. Removing the hard drive from your computer, placing it in an external enclosure, and transferring data to a new drive or computer is not data recovery -- it is data transfer.