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Laptop data recovery and proactive protection

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Eugenio Marongiu)

When a laptop that contains valuable information displays the “blue screen of death” or won’t boot at all, companies often turn to recovery processes to try to retrieve the data. However, recovery of laptop information through a recovery specialist should be considered a “last resort” due to the expense of the recovery process and the time involved. The smartest approach is always to render recovery unnecessary because precautions were taken to back up any data on the device and to protect the laptop from harm.   

Recovery as the “Worst Case” Scenario 

Older laptops ran on hard drives which were easier to take out and plug into a recovery system. You simply pulled out a few screws, opened the compartment that the drive was in, and unscrewed the hard drive. Modern laptops with solid state drives (SSDs) are built to be as slender as possible, so they have that right aesthetic and can resemble larger tablets. It’s exceedingly difficult to crack one of these open, as they’re effectively sealed. Opening these machines may requires pulling out the rubber feet or other parts, and then hopefully you can access some screws. But when the whole device is only three eighths of an inch thick, there’s not much room to maneuver even if you do remove the case.

These devices are less and less accessible to the average person that wants to upgrade their machine or perform a recovery. SSD powered laptops are certainly more durable in terms of surviving shock from falls or other incidents, but they aren’t easily self-serviceable.   

The O/S used by many laptops is also complicating recovery efforts. For example, Microsoft is taking a similar path as Apple by preventing tools and utilities from working on Windows 10S, so using a recovery tool might be blocked by the O/S.   

If a company absolutely has to recover data from a SSD laptop, then it’s best to send it to a specialized shop that has the right technical expertise to safely open and connect with the laptop. Such a firm will have various connectors and sockets that work with the proprietary connector on the laptop. There various new interfaces for storage media and some devices may not use a universal SATA port any more. Also, with an SSD or flash based drive, hopefully the actual flash being used is not soldered onto the board and permanently attached, which is another stumbling block that will require further specialized equipment.   

And if the data is encrypted, then there’s a whole other layer of complication that might not be surmountable. Recovery firms will have some tools that can boot the system off of an O/S such as perhaps LINUX, where they can try to access the drive and save files off somewhere else.   Recovery is not cheap. A qualified firm will charge pricing based on the complexity of the problem. If they only need to fix logical corruption errors, but they can read the drive, then it might be perhaps $1,500. When the laptop is dead, with no power and no spinning drive, then the costs goes into the multiple thousands. Ultimately, it’s much better for workers to proactively take steps to save manage their data so that recovery just isn’t necessary. It’s similar to the mobile device, where if internal memory is lost it should not be a big deal, as the user can rely on the constant background syncing and simply purchase a new device.   

Here’s several best practices for protecting laptop data: 

Sync Directly with the Cloud 

Mirroring your laptop’s data with a cloud service provides an instant way to protect content, photos, video, and any other valuable information. Cloud services are very inexpensive, even on the corporate scale, and provide a clear “risk/reward” of protection. Storage firms such as Western Digital are offering services such as “My Cloud” which are paired with external hard drives and provide users with personal cloud storage as well as the redundancy of the drive. You can also sync your laptop with Google while setting up your Android phone to backup data to the same location.   

Boot in Safe Mode 

If the laptop is not functioning properly but it’s still bootable, then use “Safe Mode” to open the OS. If you can access the operating system, then you can plug in an external hard drive and simply drag-and-drop the needed files to make a copy. Remember that the content on the laptop holds the most value, not the machine itself. If the laptop is outside of the warranty period, you’re very likely better off pulling the data you need and then disposing of the machine while you shop for a new model. It’s another reason why laptops should be considered tools to perform tasks, not storage devices.  

Do Not Wait to Purchase a New Model  

New laptops are inexpensive, and even the price of SSD drive-laptops are falling. They’re primarily for running programs, so focus on the processing speed and your preferred operating system when picking a laptop for yourself or a corporate group. Listen to the warning signs of imminent laptop failure such as clicking noises or uncommonly slow operating speeds. Both are signs that the internal components are headed towards failure. Don’t try to get a few extra months or weeks of use out of the machine, especially if you rely on it for business.    

Handle with Care  

While SSD drives are supposed to be sturdier than traditional hard drive laptops, both are certainly not crash proof. Avoid dropping your laptop and try to keep it in a soft-sided case in transit. Avoid spills by keeping drinks away from the laptop and any other situation that might expose it to water or excessive dirt. Even the best recovery services will have difficulty pulling information from a waterlogged drive, especially if it’s been exposed to damaging seawater.   

Employ Security Measures    

Laptops that are lost are stolen are targets for data theft unless they’re protected by a PIN. This will stop most criminals from getting into your information, and you can go another step and use encryption to make all of your data useless for someone else as you’re the only one to possess the encryption key. You should also think twice about letting someone else use your laptop as they might accidentally delete some of your files or perform some other function that disrupts its normal operation.   

Protecting laptop data requires a proactive approach that involves keeping data safe in the cloud, understanding when to get a new machine, and keeping the device out of harm’s way. Remember that recovery is an expensive “last resort” and is an avoidable outcome if you follow best practices. 

David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology     

Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

David Zimmerman
David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International, Inc., has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for 18 years.