HDD crash and my experience with data recovery company

My computer from 2016 especially after I bought a 4K monitor in 2018, was crashing a lot and this may affected HDD. In mid-2019 I noticed occasional slow boot even if I run Windows 10 on a SSD, while on 1st October 2019 while I had a large number of web scrapers running I noticed that any folder I try to open, it takes 10 seconds for files to show up. I tried to restart computer and Windows no longer booted (it stuck with circling dots screen). I opened computer case and removed dust with vacuum cleaner (don’t know if this helped) then computer booted but My Computer showed only SSD, the two HDD partitions were gone.

First thing that came in my mind was to google “HDD data recovery” and contacted 4 companies. They said to ship us your HDD for a FREE diagnosis in 24 hours, based on my description Master File Table corrupted and data recovery is do-able for €100-200. I choose the most expensive company, because it was the only one offering €10 emergency diagnosis in 1 hour (beside FREE diagnosis in 24 hours).

Next day 2nd October the two HDD partitions appeared in My Computer again but only big partition showed filled/empty space. I tried to copy-paste from HDD into SSD but it showed that takes 10+ hours to copy few GB of data. A friend said that most likely MFT corrupted and I can solve myself by setting CHKDSK to run during Windows boot and restart computer, but Windows 10 boot always got stuck on circling dots… until I unplugged HDD (his advises may worsened situation).

Note: I had 2 TB subscription in Google Drive where I was backuping the 2nd partition (my personal projects) every ~2 months, the last backup was from 22 July and in late September I started a mass updating of my databases, planning to do another backup after finishing (estimated to finish on 3-4 October). I also had a backup of 1st partition from December 2018.

Data recovery service miscommunication

On 3rd October 2019 (Thursday) I took the damaged 2TB HDD and an empty 1TB HDD and ride a train for 60 km to data recovery company, paid €10 for diagnosis that said mechanical defect, standard recovery in 10 days for €260 or emergency recovery in 2 days for €330. I choose emergency plan, they said that attempt to finish by Friday evening.

I told to girl at front desk that HDD contains 2 partitions, a big one and a second one that I want priority recovering, but in the end I want BOTH to be recovered, except music because won’t fit into 930 GB HDD. When I returned home I sent detailed email that 1st partition is 1800 GB (1050 GB full) full of games, music, photos taken by me, plus stuff downloaded from internet, and 2nd partition is 64 GB (20 GB full) contain my personal projects and I need it FAST.

Friday at 16:00 they emailed me that recovered over 99% of data, but I could not reach office by closing time 18:00. I announced my customers that HDD incident had a happy end, and Monday I get my data back and resume business.

Monday I visited them again bringing my laptop, they gave me 1TB HDD to test on their computer, showing me all folders structure intact, music folder and 2nd partition were missing, they said that are aware of 2nd partition, they said to come back in 3 hours while we are copying remaining 150 GB on laptop. I visited a mall and when I returned I saw laptop with music added but my projects from 2nd partition were nowhere. Girl called boys to speak with me, they said that did not worked on 2nd partition… are you a fucking idiot? I clearly told to the girl to prioritize 2nd partition, but stupid girl sent diagnosis paper to guys without mentioning which is 2nd partition and guys assumed that is the big one, they did not even opened 2nd partition, being small they assumed that it contains operating system (which was actually on SSD).

Guys also told me that HDD contains 4 platters and 4th one been damaged, it contained 2nd partition, can try recovering but cannot guarantee success, and will send me data via FTP. Wednesday 9th October I received email with FTP username + password, saying that recovered 92% of the 2nd partition. I don’t know how they calculated percentages, probably based on NUMBER of files, because the 8% unrecoverable were exactly the files I created / edited over last 1 year. Shit happened!

Conclusion: although data recovery guys were fast and skilled (except front desk girl), the severity of HDD damage did not helped recovering most valuable projects from 2nd partition. Most of data they recovered I had anyway in Google Drive backup. The loss would have been much bigger if I did not had 22 July backup of 2nd partition. The only data they recovered that I did not had backuped were my photos from 2019 vacations that weren’t included in December 2018 backup of 1st partition, and a small number of files from 2nd partition.

How HDD crash affected my business

Among numerous people hiring me, the biggest single customer was www.droom.in (one of biggest car portals of India), buying a couple of ready-made databases plus custom requests to scrap certain used cars websites, paying about $3000 since mid-2018. These used cars scraping requests, although high paid by India standards, were a waste of time to create them and nobody else was going to buy them other than Droom.in employee which was threatening me that if I don’t hurry with his projects, he will get FIRED. A single customer was delaying updates of hundreds of customers!

HDD crash made me overloaded by messages from customers asking me when I will do next update of the database they purchased, when I will be available for a custom projects, etc. I put ALL custom projects ON HOLD in order to focus on databases with large number of customers, break collaboration with Droom.in (their pending projects, if completed, would have paid me another $1000). Droom.in employee left job in February 2020 and whoever replaced him no longer contacted me for updates. I imagine that if Droom.in wasn’t taking so much time I would have finished updates for all databases and backuped all my projects as planned, before 1 October HDD crash.

Assuming that I sit 8-10 hours/day at compute × 70 days since last backup, 600 hours of work, of which half of day involved chatting, replying emails, researching stuff on internet, and website work, creating projects or updating existing projects were other half (300 hours), which takes approximately same effort per update so I did not needed to re-do past updates, just do next update on schedule.

Actual work lost and re-done may have been around 100 hours and took 3 months to get back on track and I was available for custom projects again in late December, but ONLY IF multiple people request them. HDD crash produced losses estimated at $3000 USD (data lost + time lost attempting to fix problem myself + time lost travelling to data recovery company + time lost comparing recovered data with my backups). Despite of this, I broke a new record of $ earned from sales of ready-made projects during October, proving that making custom projects on request basis is NOT necessary to finance my living.

I bought Office 365 + 1TB of OneDrive subscription so all my projects, as well as my photos and music will be uploaded into cloud in realtime and prevent data loss in case of HDD crash again.

The 1TB HDD started working slow too in February 2020 and Windows stuck in circling dots screen until I unplugged HDD, proving that computer constantly crashing damaged both HDDs. This time I no longer went to data recovery service, because all my projects as well as photos, music and games was in OneDrive, I used computer only with 250 GB SSD for 2 weeks when I tried plugging in HDD and surprisingly, worked like nothing happened. But I no longer trust this HDD and this computer at all, so I bought a complete new computer in May 2020, instead of HDD I choose two SSD that are supposedly more reliable.

I think that if at 1st HDD crash I was unplugging it and leaving it to rest at least 1 week I could avoid data loss, but this wasn’t possible because all projects I was working at were stored on HDD, following my friend advices to fix it myself just increased damaged. Attempting to plug in damaged HDD after 5 months of resting did not booted.

Example of lost projects

UAE car specifications was the LAST finalized project (on 29 September) just before HDD crashed on 1 October, the database was already uploaded on server so customer could purchase it. I lost database in my computer and scraper, took only 1 hour to re-made scraper in December 2019 when I needed to update database.

Canada car database was nearly finished (going complete by 3 October) made at request of Droom.in for $500, but HDD crash on 1 October made me to lose scraper that took few hours of coding. I decided to re-make it in 2020 due to requests from other customers.

Scrapers for several used cars classifieds websites made at request of Droom.in were also lost. I never re-made scrapers because they no longer asked for updates.

Music Database I made a major update during August 2019, lost it and never re-made it given by low usefulness of this project.

The biggest car database I planned another update by end of 2019 (that had to be done manually) but no longer had time for it, I abandoned this database to focus on databases made via automatic web scraping.

AutoCAD city map, which I worked on ~50 hours during August 2019 was also lost, fortunately I emailed a near-final version to a Philippines architect for advices, thanks to this I did not lost whole work but only last 5-10 hours of work.

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