It seems that in any industry, there are those who want to invent and those who want to commoditize these inventions. One person creates a new technology or service, and another (or sometimes the same person) then quickly finds a way to turn it into profit.

This is not a new phenomenon. This process is good and bad, and different industries have varying levels of success. For example, you could hire a plumber to fix your toilet, or you could learn to Do-It-Yourself. There are many videos, books, and kits that will teach you how to do this. Obviously, not everyone will be able to pick up a book and be proficient; there is a natural inclination which can be more valuable than mass-produced instructions.

This same thing is true for technology. Now more than ever, there are companies like WIX who are trying to convince people that web design is easy, and you can just Drag-N-Drop to create a web page. Companies have been doing this since the web was born. Granted, great strides have been made, but you won’t see features like this in a WIX site.

So – what do you want to do with your technology? If you just want to have a blog to have one, sure, go ahead and use WordPress (I fear my tongue may cause my cheek to rupture at any moment). If you want to push the envelope, then you’d better get your hands dirty with HTML, CSS, and some server-side language. Considering W3C had to split CSS3 into modules in order to make any progress on it, how can anyone believe that a pre-made website builder will possess features that haven’t even been completed yet?

Let’s say you do want to make something new, something great, and something that really sets you apart. That’s great, and the world needs more people like you! If you want to have an intelligent design process that runs circles around the competition, you’d better make sure you’re using some custom tools. If everyone is working with the same recipe, the only difference is the ingredients – so make sure you’re not shopping in the same store as your competitors!

We all have files we care about on our computers. Maybe it’s pictures of your kids, work documents, school documents, whatever. I won’t go into too much detail about how you should keep your files backed up. Obviously if you had done that, you wouldn’t be reading this. All I’ll say on that front is that I use BackBlaze for a mere $5 a month for unlimited backups and I’ve been very happy with it. Feel free to use the link I provided to give me credit for referring you.

So, you need to get your files for one reason or another. Places like Data Doctors offer services “starting at $350”. I don’t think this is reasonable at all for the type of service that will probably be provided for that rate.

To put it into perspective, in many cases you can go buy a cable for $8 to $15 on Amazon.com or Newegg.com (examples here, here, and here) and start copying your files from your old drive within minutes.

I’ve never gone to a commercial solution for data recovery because I always felt the price tag was too high.

When it comes to your data, you have a few choices. It’s all about trade-off. Let’s say you lost the pictures from the last 6 months and the minimum to get them back is $350. Another scenario is that you just lost every picture you had, or the schematics for your super secret spy-place, and the minimum to get it back is $350. In the latter situation, the cost seems much more bearable.

The most important thing to remember is that there are different levels of “brokenness” with hard drives. For example, just because your operating system (Windows/Linux/Mac) doesn’t boot does not mean your files are lost. It’s more likely that there is a problem with the operating system and that your files are fine.

Here’s a short list of the types of problems and how they can be fixed.

Fixable by Software

  1. OS won’t boot
  2. Accidentally deleted files
  3. Accidentally broke apart a raid
  4. Hard drive is showing first signs of failing

Fixable by Hardware

  1. Hard drive is past first stages of failure
  2. Hard drive has been physically damaged
  3. Hard drive doesn’t spin anymore

As you can see, many of these problems can be fixed with software. All four of these can be fixed with time, and the $8 to $15 parts I mentioned above.

If your OS won’t boot, it’s just a matter of getting the drive and plugging it into the USB to SATA (or IDE) cable and connecting it to another machine. Yet another option is to use a Live Boot CD and run it on the computer itself if you’re running low on spare computers. Something like Ubuntu works fine for the simple stuff, or BackTrack for the more advanced stuff.

For the issue of accidentally deleting files, if you’re running Windows it may be as easy as using a FREE file recovery software like Recuva. The key to recovering files you’ve accidentally deleted is using an un-delete utility AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Every file that is moved or written after you delete something you didn’t mean to reduces your chances of recovering it with a utility like this.

The way I see it – data recovery places are the new version of what car mechanics were labeled as. You go to them looking for help, and they try to judge just how much they can take you for. Don’t be a victim! With a little time and effort you can save yourself a lot of money and also learn some new things along the way.

One word of caution though is that it is important to act quickly with data recovery. Also, as with things in life, it is important to know when to ask for help. Depending on what your situation is, your best option may be to not try to fix it yourself and go to an expert for help.

There are countless articles online written by very talented people that can help you recover your files if you’re willing to put in some work.

At the end of the day, you are the one who gets to judge how much your files are worth. My only hope is that after reading this article, you realize that you may have a cheaper and more self-sufficient option the next time you have some troubles with your files.

If you try to P2V a Windows 8 OEM machine You're gonna have a bad time.

I won’t get into the Holy War that is choosing the right virtualization environment for you. All I’ll say is that virtualization is GREAT, and it can make certain things much easier for you!

About the time I was going to write this blog post, I came across this article: http://justaskweg.com/?p=1093. I wish I had found it sooner because it explains (in great detail) some of the things I’m about to write about here.

Here’s the basics: OEM manufacturers seem to like using GPT partition tables on machines these days because it allows them to create multiple (proprietary) partitions, at least one of which is probably a recovery partition for the Windows operating system installed on it.

What’s the problem with this? Well, most virtualization software that I am aware of at the time of this writing do not directly support booting to a GPT partition table without some editing.

In short, you’ll probably have to convert your GPT partitioned drive to an MBR drive

There are plenty of ways to go about this, but I’ll give an overview of the way I used because I prefer VirtualBox.

  1. Get an image of the computer you want to P2V
    • I like Disk2Vhd because it lets you create a hot-image that VirtualBox can use right away
  2. Create a VM
  3. Mount your VHD
  4. Optionally mount another drive to copy partitions to (unless you have a reliable way to convert from GPT to MBR on the same drive)
  5. Boot to a tool like GParted LiveCD to perform these partition changes
  6. Mount a Windows 8 repair disk
  7. Let it try to repair automatically
  8. If automatic repair doesn’t work, use bootrec /fixboot and bootrec /fixmbr

Yes, you will probably have to get rid of some of the extra manufacturer partitions they create, you may also have to fiddle with the type of controller you have your hard drive attached to. I’ve seen various articles reporting more or less success with IDE/SATA/SAS.

Best of luck to you!