TestDisk: Bringing Drives Back from Mostly Dead

I’ve seen more than a few dead hard drives in my time. Perhaps the most devastating was on my old family computer, which I had taken with me to college. This was long before the words “data protection” had ever entered my lexicon.

The old HP machine had over 8 years of files on it, from my first Napster completely legal haha MP3 downloads, bad MS Paint face swaps, and tons of my writing. One day I booted up to hear some clicking and a text prompt saying it couldn’t load past the BIOS. Back then I could have definitely used a utility like TestDisk.

I had never heard of the free utility until I came across Nathan Beam’s write up. At first I feared it was a Windows only app, but looking at their wiki, the support is almost comically exhaustive. For recovering lost partitions, everything from BeOS to the Wii file system can be saved, which is impressive. Can’t lose that Wii Bowling high score.

There was one feature that definitely caught my eye, and should serve as a PSA for overall data security when getting rid of drives. Two of the marquee features touted by TestDisk could be problematic in the wrong hands:

  • Undelete files from FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2 filesystem
  • Copy files from deleted FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2/ext3/ext4 partitions.

Translation: This completely free app can recover deleted files from any Mac, Windows, or Linux box that didn’t encrypt their disks. There are obvious legitimate uses for this feature, and I can’t knock the TestDisk developers for including it. It’s kind of awesome to be able to recover deleted files. But when it’s time to get rid of old hard drives, even “broken” ones, maybe give it a few passes with a magnet (or hammer) first.

Nathan Beam comments:

So first order of business was to use a Princess Bride reference and ask… Is it “mostly dead” or “all dead?” Because with mostly dead… well that means the drive is still slightly alive, and that means you might be able to take a visit to Miracle Max, in this case a free (as in free) application called TestDisk.

Read more at: Testdisk – Resurrect Data from your Dead Hard Drive.

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.