Hard Drive Recovery Services Review
Why Use a Hard Drive Recovery Service?
The top performers in our review are Secure Data Recovery, the Gold Award winner; SalvageData Recovery, the Silver Award winner; and DriveSavers, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 services.
Data loss is an inevitable reality – your hard drive will fail, and you will be unable to retrieve the data on your own. The problem may be as innocent as an accidentally deleted file or as serious as a hard drive that’s been charred in a house fire. Either way, you don't have to declare defeat. Whether you're worried about losing critical files for your business or you lost sentimental family videos, you can still recover all or most of the data on your hard drive by sending it to one of the best hard drive recovery services we reviewed.
There are two types of data recovery: logical recovery and physical recovery. Logical data recovery is used when you erroneously delete or write over files or accidentally reformat a device. Your data is actually still there; you just can't access it. In these situations, you can use data recovery software to retrieve the files at a fraction of the cost of a service. If the software tools are too complicated for you or they fail to recover the data successfully, hard drive recovery services also perform logical data recovery. However, physical recoveries comprise the vast majority of a service's business.
Physical recovery is required when your hard drive fails because its internal components are worn out or damaged. For this type of recovery, the hard drive needs to be taken apart to diagnose the problem. Sometimes it's as simple as replacing an actuator arm, and other times the data platters need to be moved to a working hard drive. If the service can't fix the drive by simply replacing a part, it has to clone the data to a working hard drive so it can piece the information back together without damaging it. Such recovery needs to be done by skilled technicians working in a certified cleanroom because the smallest particles can scratch and damage the platters, making it more difficult to recover the data completely.
Once the technicians successfully recover your data, they send it back to you on a different hard drive, which you must provide – you either send the data recovery service an external hard drive or you purchase one directly from it. For small amounts of data, typically less than 12GB, many services provide the return media, usually a thumb drive or DVD. You can also request an online transfer via secure FTP, but this is generally limited to data that’s less than 5GB because the transfer is time-consuming.
Hard drive recovery services aren't cheap. While most provide a free evaluation, you can expect to pay a set minimum fee of a few hundred dollars, even if the recovery is relatively simple. Most services don't charge by the amount of data they recover but by the tools and resources required to recover it. This means that your 1TB hard drive could cost less to recover than your 250GB hard drive. Every case is different, but you could end up paying from $500 to over $5,000 dollars, depending on the situation, so be prepared to ask yourself first if the files you want to recover are worth the cost.
In our hard drive recovery services review, we evaluated each company’s procedures and policies for a standard hard drive recovery. If you're in dire need of quick data recovery, every business we reviewed offers emergency, high-priority services, which put technicians to work around the clock on your recovery but at a much higher cost. To learn more, you can read our articles on hard drive recovery services.
Hard Drive Recovery Services: How We Tested, What We Found
Since every data recovery situation is different, it's difficult to evaluate how good a service is at recovering data. Some give you percentages. Others flat-out boast of being the greatest service ever. Every service claims to be capable of recovering all types of data on all types of devices. To cut through the fog of their marketing language, we tested the consistency of their customer service and confirmed their practices and procedures.
The Evaluation Process: Finding Consistent Answers
To recover your data, the service must evaluate your device, whether it's a standard hard disk drive, a memory card or a smartphone. This means you have to mail it to one of the company’s offices. While every data recovery situation is unique, the evaluation process is critical because it’s when you'll decide whether you trust the service. If you don't trust the service, you shouldn’t pay the price it quotes, no matter how good of a deal it seems.
Trust begins with the customer service. This is the voice of the company. As such, we tested the consistency of each service's customer support. To do so, we contacted each one anonymously through emails, phone calls and live chat where available. With each anonymous contact, we asked the same series of questions and compared the responses for consistency – Did they contradict themselves? Did they answer the question? Did they respond at all?
We found that contradictions were rare, though still more common than we expected. The most common problem was ignoring questions. Some companies answered one or two of our questions and completely ignored the rest while they boasted about how great their services are. Many of the services are more interested in convincing you that they're the best than acknowledging what you actually want to know. Either they don't want you to know the answer because it may reflect poorly on the company or they're unaware they aren't doing their job. We also found a significant number of our anonymous email contacts were never answered, which demonstrates a severe lack of professionalism.
Confirming Practices & Procedures: Asking the Service to Prove It
We want to make sure you know what you're getting with a hard drive recovery service. To do this, we sent each company a questionnaire concerning its evaluation process, recovery services and security procedures.
We also asked them to prove it – just because a service’s website says it provides a firm estimate, it doesn't mean it's a guaranteed estimate. If a company claimed to have a guarantee, service feature, security protocol or certifications, we made sure it showed us. If it didn't provide proof, we didn't include it in our review. In addition, if the company didn't respond to our inquiry, we treated it as a lack of proof and docked the service’s rating accordingly.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services with tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The hard drive services had no input or influence over our methodology nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Hard Drive Recovery Service?
After you've gone through the evaluation process and are ready to move forward with a firm quote in hand, it's important to consider additional factors. Is the cleanroom certified? How secure are your sensitive files? What type of support does the company provide throughout the process?
One of the most critical parts of any data recovery process is the cleanroom because the data platters in a hard drive are extremely sensitive to particles. Every service claims to have a cleanroom, but you should always look for proof of a third-party certification. Some services self-certify their cleanrooms, which isn’t ideal because you have trust that they’re actually following through.
For our review, we only considered services that display their certification publically. We also only considered the date listed on the last public certification. Half of the services don’t provide a public certification, and the ones that do often haven’t updated it in years. Ideally, a service should certify its cleanroom each year.
The standard cleanroom is ISO 5 Class 100, which is the type that hard drives are manufactured in. This classification means there are fewer than 100,000 particles per cubic meter. Some services take it a step further with an ISO 4 Class 10 certified room, which has fewer than 10,000 particles per cubic meter. For comparison, a normal cubic meter of space contains about 35 million particles.
Additional Recovery Features & Services
There are many facets of recovery services to consider. The best hard drive recovery services provide progress notifications so you can track your drive. You should also consider the turnaround time, which can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If time is an issue, each company we reviewed offers emergency services, which puts technicians on your recovery 24 hours a day until it's completed, though this comes at a much higher cost. Many services also offer remote recovery for logical data loss – they log on to your computer through the internet to recover your data.
Whether the data you're trying to recover is critical to your business or home videos of your children's first steps, you want it to remain private throughout the recovery process. Identity theft is a real concern whenever your sensitive data is trusted to strangers. Every hard disk recovery service boasts of some level of security certification, but the protocols vary significantly. Some services track your hard drive at all times and store it in a vault when it's not being worked on. Others barely track the hard drives at all and store them in bins on a shelf. Pay attention to whether a service has cameras and how the access points are tracked and guarded.
Help & Support
The best hard drive recovery services assign you to a dedicated case manager. Your case manager is your contact with the company throughout the process and should be willing to answer any questions you have. Services with online portals provide additional access to information and help.
Hard Drive Recovery Services: Our Verdict & Recommendations
When your hard drive fails and you need to send it to a service for recovery, it’s important to feel like you can trust your data to with the company. In our tests, Secure Data Recovery and SalvageData Recovery had the best and most consistent customer service, excellent recovery features, and proven security. Secure Data Recovery is the only service with a certified ISO 4 Class 10 cleanroom. Both services scored high for customer service consistency and have cleanrooms and security audits performed by third parties. DriveSavers also proved to offer excellent recovery services and security, despite lacking consistent customer service – it too often pushed a sales pitch instead of answering our questions.
Hard drive data recovery is expensive. Keep in mind that the best way to avoid a catastrophic loss is to continually back up your data to a second location. You can use data backup software to back up files to a second hard drive or external hard drive. If one hard drive fails, your data is safely on the other. You can also use an online backup service, which allows you to upload and sync data to geo-redundant online servers. For less than $10 a month, you can ensure you never have to rely on a hard drive recovery service to restore your sentimental and important files.