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Hard drive failures are never fun, but they are a fact of computing life, whether you’re using a Mac or PC. Sometimes rides can last for many years before they go bad, and sometimes you wind up up with a drive that breaks after just a few months of normal use. Regardless of when it happens (and it will), we are going to focus on the most simple method to retrieve crucial files and data from the failed drive.
In its simplest form, you are essentially doing a standard file transfer, but with the time you work against, it’s important to act quickly and make nothing worse, so a simple multi-step plan is recommended for best results. This isn’t perfect and it certainly isn’t guaranteed, but if you’re caught in the early stages of a failure, you can almost certainly get your data off the drive before it’s too late. The focus here is on secondary hard drives; which means backups, external drives, time machine drives, etc., and since your backups can fail, this is a good example of why redundant backups are important to some users. Fortunately, backup redundancy is extremely easy to do with Time Machine and only requires two external drives to be connected to the Mac at a time.
The basic method below may also work for a startup disk, but you may want to boot the Mac from a separate USB boot disk for best results.
Identify a problem with a disk error
Imminent hard drive failures can be identified in a number of ways. In the worst situations, you sometimes hear abnormal sounds from a disc, but usually you get software warnings first. Failed drives can eject themselves randomly, and OS X can give some clear signs that a drive is also malfunctioning; sometimes connecting a drive can be forcibly activated in “Read Only” mode, sometimes Disk Utility cannot verify or repair the drive, and sometimes you are prompted to backupup and reformat the affected drive.
Whether formatting the drive matters in the long run depends on the type of drive failure, a ‘logical failure’ is usually the result of file system corruption, and reformatting a drive makes it work again while a “mechanical failure” means that physical components of the drive have been damaged.
1: Power off and remove the faulty drive
Keep the failed drive powered down, ejected from the Mac, and nothing connected until you are ready to perform the important file transfer. You don’t want to put additional strain or strain on the failed drive by using it more than necessary. At this point, you should be thinking about data retention and recovery, so it’s best to leave the drive turned off until you’re ready to copy files to the new replacement drive.
2: Buy a new hard drive and format / partition
Buy a new replacement drive as soon as possible. These are plentiful and cheap on Amazon nowadays and you can get massive amounts of storage space at great prices. Once you have your ride:
- Format the drive so it’s Mac compatible, this is easy and we’ve shown you how to do it earlier
- If your previous drive was partitioned, do the same with the new drive
Because time is important when drives are going bad, have everything ready on the replacement drive before attempting to copy files from the old failed drive to the new, working drive. Again, keep the old drive turned off until you are ready to perform a file transfer.
3: Connect the failed drive and start file transfers
Once the new replacement drive is ready to use, keep it connected to the Mac. Now is the time to come to power up the failed drive, so connect it to the Mac and start copying your files from the failed drive to the new replacement.
The simplest route, which I like to do, is just open a Finder window with both the old drive and the new drive, select everything on the old drive, then do a normal old drag and drop to start a massive file transfer .
The transfer process can take a very long time, so be prepared to wait. You probably want to just let the copying process begin and then continue your day or night, because waiting for hours is never fun. Don’t be surprised if it takes 12 hours for every 1TB of data transfer, so overnight copying may be the best way to go.
If the failed drive has an automatic backupup the process for moving Time Machine backups is similar.
Important: If Time Machine backups are enabled, temporarily disable them to prevent writing to the failed disk while you try to copy files from it. This can be done through the Time Machine System Preferences, accessible from the Apple menu.
Help out! Copying files from disk failed!
If data copying fails at any point, or if a drive keeps disconnecting itself randomly, you can try copying smaller amounts of files at once, although you will likely still run into problems. If standard file transfer fails, you may need to use a third-party app like DiskWarrior or Disk Drill, both of which cost around $ 100 and are great tools that can recover data from failed drives when traditional transfer methods fail.
File security measures such as FileVault encryption and Time Machine encryption can complicate the data recovery process, but because they convert features off causes a lot of disk writing. It is usually best to leave them on while doing the manual backups.
If all else fails, it is final option would be to go with a professional data recovery service. Such services are never cheap, but if you need to retrieve precious data it can be worth the cost.
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