Photo credit: Flickr user wackystuff, https://flic.kr/p/pwcRe1
Photo credit: Flickr user wackystuff, https://flic.kr/p/pwcRe1

When you discover you’ve lost data, you’re likely not thinking “How will I choose a reputable data recovery provider to help me with this situation?” You’re probably thinking something more along the lines of “I NEED MY DATA BACK NOW!” We know that losing those pictures of your kids or that report that’s due in a week don’t really make you a more rational thinker in the heat of the moment, so we’ve put together a quick guide on how to shop for data recovery.

Step one, breathe. Step two, read on.

When searching for a data recovery provider, you need someone that’s reliable, likely to succeed and fairly priced.

Your two main options for data recovery are software tools or in-lab data recovery.

Software is cheaper, but it only works in certain situations. Your hard drive needs to be functional and recognized by your computer, even if the information is corrupt or the operating system is failing.

However, there is no guarantee that software can successfully recover data, especially if your hard drive is inaccessible or displaying signs of mechanical failure. Software is unlikely to work if the hard drive is not being detected in the BIOS, the drive is fully encrypted or the drive is part of a RAID configuration. Signs of mechanical failure include clicking, beeping or grinding noises, or the drive falling offline.

In these cases, it’s best to go with in-lab data recovery. But how do you choose the right lab? Like any other business, you can usually tell its quality by reading online reviews, consulting with the Better Business Bureau, and asking others in the field such as local computer repair shops or your hard drive’s manufacturer.

It’s also important to be wary of statistics labs throw around on their websites, especially success rates. There is no independent organization in the industry that verifies success rates, so you can’t believe everything you read. If a lab says they’re 100% successful, is it because they only accept easy cases and don’t count the rest?

Another red flag when choosing a data recovery lab is a diagnostic fee. You should never pay any upfront fees when sending a drive in for data recovery. Think about it: If a lab charges an evaluation fee, they can fail at every case they receive and still make money. Those that don’t charge upfront need to be successful to stay in business.

Speaking of success, you should be the one to define what “success” is in the case of your data recovery. Success should be when a lab gets back the files that you want back. You should know the cost of success in advance, and be able to see what was recovered before paying. A lab could recover 98% of your data, but it’s not a success if the missing 2% is what you needed in the first place.

Finally, like software data recovery, DIY data recovery techniques should be avoided. The Internet is full of people with crazy data recovery methods, but if you’re going to try them, you should be willing to lose all your data in the likely situation that it makes the situation worse and your data is unrecoverable even by professionals.

Data recovery requires a cleanroom and trained technicians. There are only a few good labs nationwide, so don’t be scared off if you don’t find the right solution right in your backyard.

The bottom line is take your time, and do your research. Don’t get pressured into anything. If the data can wait, it won’t become any less recoverable if you store the drive in a safe place until you can afford the cost of recovery. Make sure you’re confident in your decision and find the right lab for you.