The top performers in our review are SalvageData Recovery, the Gold Award winner; Secure Data 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 systems.
Data loss is an inevitable reality. Your hard drive will fail. Your data will be irretrievable on your own. It can be as innocent as deleting the wrong file and as serious as recovering a hard drive from a charred computer after a house fire. Either way, you don't have to concede defeat. Whether you're worried about 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 situations – logical recovery and physical recovery. A logical data recovery occurs when you've erroneously deleted, written over or accidentally reformatted a device. Your data is actually still there. You just can't access it. For these situations, you can use data recovery software to retrieve the data at a fraction of the cost of a service. If the software tools are too complicated or fail to recover the data successfully, hard drive recovery services also perform logical data recovery. However, physical recoveries are the vast majority of a hard drive recovery service's business.
A physical recovery is required when the hard drive fails because internal components have worn out or been damaged. For a physical recovery, it's necessary to take the hard drive apart to diagnose the problem. Sometimes it's as simple as replacing an actuator arm. Sometimes it requires moving the data platters to a working hard drive. If the service can't fix the hard drive by simply replacing a part, it has to clone the data to a working hard drive so that it can piece the data back together without damaging it. Performing such a recovery requires 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 have successfully recovered your data, they send it back to you on a different hard drive, which you must provide. Either you 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 less than 5GB because the transfer is time-consuming.
Hard drive recovery services aren't cheap. While most services 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 the data. This means that your 1TB hard drive could cost less to recover than your 250GB hard drive. Every case is different, but your recovery costs could be $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 the hard drive recovery procedures and policies of each service for a standard hard drive recovery. For when you're in dire need of quick data recovery, every service we reviewed offers emergency, high-priority services, which puts 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.
Since every data recovery situation is different, it's difficult to evaluate how successful 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 from 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
In order to recover your data, the data recovery service must evaluate your device, whether it's a standard hard disk drive, a memory card or a smartphone. This means that you have to mail it into one of its offices. While every data recovery situation is unique, the evaluation process is critical, because this is where you'll decide whether you trust the service. If you don't trust the service, you won't pay the quote they provide you, regardless of the price.
Trust begins with the customer service. This is the voice of the company to you. As such, we tested the consistency of each service's customer support. We contacted each service 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 issue was ignoring questions. Some companies would answer one or two of the questions and completely ignore the rest while they boast of how great their service is. Many of the services are more interested in convincing you that they're the best without acknowledging what you actually want to know. Either they don't want you to know the answer because they think it will reflect poorly on them or they're unaware they aren't doing their job. We also found a significant number of our anonymous email contacts were left without a response altogether, reflecting a severe lack of professionalism.
Confirming Practices and 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 service a questionnaire concerning its evaluation process, recovery services and security procedures. We also asked them to prove it – just because their website says they provide a firm estimate doesn't mean it's a guaranteed estimate. If they claimed to have a guarantee, a feature to their service, a security protocol and certifications, we made sure they proved it. If they didn't prove it, we didn't include it in our review. In addition, if they didn't respond to the inquiry, we treated it as a lack of proof and docked their 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.
After you've experienced the evaluation process and you're ready to move forward with the recovery process with a firm quote, 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 aspects of any data recovery process is the cleanroom, because the data platters in a hard drive are extremely sensitive to particles. While every service claims to have a cleanroom, we made sure that they showed us proof of the cleanroom certification. Just as wearing a stethoscope and a white coat doesn't make you doctor, showing pictures of a lab on a website doesn't mean it's clean. If a company doesn't have a third-party certification for its cleanroom, you can't be certain that the environment is ideal for opening up a hard drive.
The standard cleanroom is ISO 5 Class 100, because this is the type of cleanroom that hard drives are manufactured in. The classification means that it has less than 100,000 particles per cubic meter. Some services take it a step further with an ISO 4 Class 10 certified room, which has less than 10,000 particles per cubic meter. For comparison, a normal cubic meter of space contains about 35 million particles.
Additional Recovery Features and Services
There are many facets to the recovery services to consider. The best hard drive recovery services provide progress notifications so that you can track the recovery process. You should also consider the turnaround time, which can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. In case time is an issue, each company 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 provide remote recovery, which requires them to log on to your computer through the internet to recover logical data loss situations.
Whether the data you're trying to recover is critical to your business or home videos of your children's first steps, you'll want your data 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 range significantly. Some services track your hard drive at all times and store it in a vault when it's not being worked on. Other services 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.
When your hard drive fails and you need to send your hard drive to a service to recover the data for you, you must feel like you can trust your data to that service. SalvageData Recovery and Secure Data Recovery proved to offer the highest level of customer service consistency, recovery features and proven security. Secure Data Recovery is the only service with a certified ISO 4 Class 10 cleanroom. Both services scored high in customer service consistency tests and proved to 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 pushes a sales pitch instead of answering questions.
Hard drive data recovery is expensive. Before you consider a hard drive recovery service, it's worth remembering that the best way to avoid catastrophic data loss is to ensure that you continually back up your data to a second location. You can use data backup software to back up your data 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 synchronize the backed-up data to geo-redundant online servers. For less than $10 a month, you can ensure that you never have to rely on a hard drive recovery service to recover your sentimental and important files.