A brilliant tool for recovery of lost data files is what is known as a Live CD. In it’s most basic form a Live CD is a self contained operating system that runs directly from a CD or DVD without installation.
If your computer hasn’t totally gone to PC heaven and you can still get into the BIOS you can set it to boot up from the DVD drive. If you’ve got a really old computer you may not have this option. Once you can boot up from the DVD drive the Live CD will take over and boot up as just another operating system. The beautiful thing is if your hard drive hasn’t totally self destructed it’s more than likely that you can recover most of the data files on it.
Better yet, if the corruption wasn’t due to a mechanical failure but rather some sort of electrical surge it’s more than likely that the drive is still good to go with a fresh installation. Just copy all of your important files onto some other media and then re-install your fave operating system.
Other options involve some sort of data recovery software that work by scanning your hard drive for deleted files. How does this work. Let me explain. When you delete a file from your computer the file is actually left intact. What has really happened is that the files location on the hard drive has merely been removed from the File Allocation Table or FAT which is a simple database of all the files on your hard drive and their location.
It’s very important that you don’t install or copy any large files onto your hard drive before you do the recovery process. Even though the file is still intact, the space that the file is residing on is now available for the operating system to write any new files to. Installing software or writing large files may fill up this space with the new information thus truly deleting anything you may have been able to recover. The best advice I can give is prevention. Get yourself into a regular data backup routine so you never have to worry about how you’re going to recover lost data files.