Dropped External Drive & the Recovery Process

by jessicaturner on April 24, 2013

This post is the first in a two-part series sponsored by Gillware.

In January, Matthew was looking for a photo on our external hard drive. While doing so, he pulled the laptop over to his couch, thinking the drive cord was longer than it was, and the hard drive crashed to the floor.

Immediately, the drive stopped working. We would plug it into a computer and NOTHING would come up.

That drive had all of our photos on it for the past THREE years.

I remained calm at first. But after plugging the hard drive into multiple computers and the drive not working, I began to freak out a bit.

Then a friend and colleague said that he would look at the drive and see if he could get it to read. I was optimistic. However, after a few days, he brought it back to me at work, saying that he didn’t think the files would recover. He said he could see the files on the drive, but they were all empty.

At that point, I began to cry. And then got a bit hysterical.

You see, I had no back-up system in place. Nothing. Yes, I had uploaded some photos to sites like Shutterfly and Walgreens, but 95% of the photos (particularly those since Adeline’s birth) were NOWHERE but on that drive. (I had gotten especially lazy at uploading photos online since getting a home photo printer.)

Pictures like this.

And this.

And this.

And thousands more. THOUSANDS.

The feeling of losing all those photos was terrible.

I posted about this awful experience on Facebook and had multiple people say that hope was not lost and that I should contact a company named Gillware in Madison, Wisconsin. (Sidenote: I loved that they were located where I went to college and that many of the team members were UW alums.)

I also did specific research on my hard drive (a WD 1 TB drive) and learned that WD recommended Gillware for drive support.

After researching a variety of options, I kept coming back to Gillware. Though I was nervous about shipping my drive to somewhere out of state (vs. using a local company), I just sensed that they were the best fit.  I contacted Gillware to see if they could help with my crashed hard drive. They thought they could – and they offered to cover my recovery fees in exchange for me blogging about this experience, which I planned to do anyway!

I hope that my experience is helpful to some of you, should you ever go through having a hard drive crash and losing all your photos/documents.

The Process

  1. Contact: The first thing I did when I was researching options for my data recovery after my hard drive crashed was to go to Gillware’s website and submit a case. I was impressed that I received a call right away to follow up on my case. Gillware’s customer service is really top notch.
  2. Ship the drive: After I decided to go with Gillware for my data recovery, I shipped my drive. I wrapped it in lots of bubble wrap and sent it via UPS. Gillware confirmed when they received the drive and said it would be about 7-10 days for them to review my case.
  3. Data Recovery: While my case proved to be difficult, Gillware was able to recover more than 95% of my files, which was unbelievable. They sent me a zip file where I could view everything that was totally recovered, partially recovered and not recovered. They also said that if there were any critical files that I wanted them to verify, I simply could reply to my email and let them know what files I wanted them to take a closer look at. I was so impressed by the kindness of everyone I spoke to at Gillware and was SO thankful they were able to recover so many files.
  4. Drive received: After I went through the list and let Gillware know that everything looked great, they loaded the data on a new drive and sent it to me. Here’s a fun video of me opening the box and plugging my drive in for the first time.

Lessons Learned

  1. It’s not if, it’s when: Hard drives crash. It’s not if they crash, its when they crash, so it is INCREDIBLY important to have a strong back-up system. That leads me to:
  2. Back-up, Back-up, Back-up: Tomorrow I will be talking more about back-ups, but for now, just take to heart how important it is to back-up your data and photos. Don’t be like me and just put your photos on one drive and figure that’s good enough. It’s not good enough.
  3. Talk to a professional: Just because someone knows a lot about computers, doesn’t mean they will be able to help you if your hard drive crash. You need to work with a professional service like Gillware if you really want to recover as much data as possible.
  4. Data recovery is not cheap: Data recovery is a very specialized and time-consuming process, which means that it can cost $100s, if not thousands of dollars. So, back-up now and often so you don’t have to pay for it later!

Tomorrow I will be sharing some specific tips from Gillware regarding protecting your photos and data.

Connect with Gillware on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You never know when you might need their service – though I hope you never do! I really can’t recommend their service enough. I will forever be grateful that they were able to recover my photos.

Have you ever had a hard drive crash? Did you lose all your photos/documents?

Post also linked up on Works for me Wednesday because Gillware sure worked for me!

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Iris April 24, 2013 at 6:45 am

I know from experience how scary and sad this can be! We lost our external, back-up hard drive 2 years ago. We sent it to Gillware and they estimated the cost to be in the $2000.00 range to get into the drive and couldn’t guarantee that they would be able to get the pictures and music on it. I couldn’t bear to spend that much money so we had them return it to us. I lost a lot of pictures (wedding, vacations, etc) and still don’t feel like we have a great back-up plan. So happy your files were recovered, I still “mourn” my pictures being lost quite often. :(


Lee at Gillware April 24, 2013 at 10:34 am

Hi Iris,

I’m sorry to hear about your external drive, and thanks for sending it to Gillware. When the cost of data recovery doesn’t fit the current budget, we recommend keeping the hard drive somewhere safe — the difficulty of recovery will not change if the drive just sits on a shelf, and advances in techniques may bring the cost down as you wait. The figure you mentioned is above what any typical single hard drive recovery would be for us now, and we charge only if we succeed. Please let me know if we can help in the future, or you just want to talk over the case again; we’d really like to see you get those photos back.


Iris April 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Do you have an email? We just found the quote. It was $2200.00 in November of 2010. I could give you the case#.

Thank you


jessicaturner May 1, 2013 at 5:55 am

Hey Iris – you can email Lee at lsensenbrenner@gillware.com. Hope they can help and that prices have come down. :)


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

That’s awful about your photos.

One of the cool things about Gillware (and something that I appreciated when exploring a variety of options) is that they actually show you all the files they are able to recover BEFORE you pay anything – did you know that?

So you would never be charged $2k and then not get the files you wanted. I’m wondering if you maybe sent your drive somewhere else?


Miranda April 24, 2013 at 7:43 am

I am so happy to hear about this company! I had a hard drive fall last summer. It has 5 years of pictures on it. I have had 3 friends look at it and they said I’m going to have to take it to a professional. I have not had the extra money to do it but I will look into this company. I cry when ever I think about it. I just have hope that at some point I’ll have the money and someone will be able to get them off of there for me.


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I would definitely send it to Gillware to have them take a look at the drive. They actually send you a file viewer to show you everything they can recover before you pay anything so you can determine if it is worth the cost. Going through all the photos on my recovered drive there were so many images I had totally forgotten about. I’m so thankful that there are smart techs out there who can help when hardware fails!


Lee at Gillware April 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

Thanks for the great blog and video, Jessica! We’re happy to have been able to help!


Lacey April 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Dealing with this same problem right now. External hard drive stopped working, then my laptop’s hard drive crashed very shortly after. THOUSANDS of pictures lost of my young child and not sure if I will be able to ever get them back. I also don’t have thousands of dollars to recover them, but I’m willing to spend some money to try. I don’t live in the US though, so this company is probably not an option for me.


becca h April 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Thank you so much for posting this information!!! Approx 7 years ago, I lost all pics of my daughter from her first 8 months of life and my husband and my first 7 years of marriage prior to that. I was fearful of sending it away and spending thousands without knowing if they would be able to get anything, so I am thrilled ot hear that they will show me what they can recover and then I can choose to spend the money if I want. I am so excited to see if it’s possible to see these photos! The only pictures I have are from 2 Shutterfly & Snapfish books that I made right after she was born so I am super thankful for those right now!!!


Stephanie Click April 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm

My external hard drive is sill ok, but I use Smugmug as my online backup. I think I pay $40/year and it has every digital photo that I’ve taken since 2002. THOUSANDS of photos. I prefer Smugmug, because I can download the original from the site (similar to Flickr.) The best part is that they have an honor system … should your hard drive crash – they will send you disks of every photo stored on their site — free. The fine print says that as long as no one abuses this system, they will keep it in place! (I upload to Smugmug on the last day of every month. That way I can keep up and it’s only a once a month job!)


Sarah April 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this information, Jessica. I have an external hard drive that backs up automatically, but have spent the last two months backing all of my photos up to Shutterfly…finished this morning actually! :) My third layer of protection is that, I back up by month/year to dvds and store them at my folks house as a back up to my back up’s back up. 😉 NOW, the part I’m struggling to work through is this….how to back up and make dvd’s from my home movie clips hanging out on my hard drive? I have yet to find a good solution and would love your input!


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I don’t have a good system myself, but I am looking into various options. I think if you upload videos to YouTube, you can download them to your computer, so that might be an option.


becca h April 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Just know that anything you upload to Shutterfly or Snapfish, if you want to download the full res version back to your computer, you have to pay for each one, I believe it’s $0.39 per print. This is disappointing in my eyes as they were my pics to begin with and I purchased their products using my pics, but it is what it is.

I bought an external hard drive and keep everything there, but have heard a lot of good feedback about Carbonite. Looking forward to Jessica’s post about the options she’s found!


becca h April 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Wow, just had to say how quickly they got back to me! I just wrote the previous email 12 minutes ago and I just got off the phone with them after submitting an online quote request – already impressed with this company!



jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm


Would I ever lead you astray? {wink}

Hope they can help!


becca h April 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm

You never have :)


Anna April 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Yes! I had all my files of my baby girl (15 mos worth) on my laptop when it crashed. I was so grateful when my work tech company was able to retrieve it. Bless them! They put everything on an external hard drive for me so I could move it to a new system (though it was so much, it was too much to be put all in one spot again). I dragged my feet getting it saved somewhere (and getting a new laptop, just used an old work one), and when I went to access a few pics for a new post about 6 weeks later, the drive showed up blank. I’d don’t nothing to it and it just died!! Went right to Best Buy (where it was purchased) and the tech told me “these have a shelf life of 2 days to 20 years and sometimes they just die.” He had no idea that this was nearly a year and a half of MEMORIES, and little compassion. I haven’t set foot in the store since. A friend looked at the drive and said it was hopeless and I should seek professional help. Was quoted $1500 :(. I’m still holding the drive, 2 years later, hoping for the day it can be fixed for less. Thank The Lord I’d put many of the images on my blog or Facebook, but I lost every video (had copies of first crawl and first walk…again, thank you God). Still feels like a piece of my heart is missing! I’ll contact Gillware for sure to see what they advise. Thank you for this post. I’m just so glad you were able to find a remedy! I have used Carbonite ever since with total success, just FYI. ~Anna


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Definitely contact them. It certainly can’t hurt – especially since they will show you what they can recover before you have to pay anything.


Sami Cone April 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I lost EVERYTHING in a hard drive crash last summer and had given up…need to give them a call.


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

You will love working with them, Sami. Really top notch customer service and awesome results. :)


Julie April 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I can relate! When I upgraded my computer a couple years ago my computer (Mac) started reformatting my external hard drive. Instead of pulling the information off of the hard drive, it was deleting everything. As soon as I realized what was happening, I called Apple in tears.. PLEASE help! Thankfully, I was able to recover almost all of my photos. Of course, instead of having one copy of each photo, I had SEVEN (in some cases). There are still duplicates on my computer to this day, but I was able to spend a couple weekends completely focused on reorganizing the pictures. And, more importantly, I got my pictures back.

Today, I have a much better system and maintain a second backup hard drive in my office, just in case something happens to my house. I feel so paranoid, but until cloud storage becomes cheaper, it’s the best (and most cost-effective) way to preserve digital files.

Photographs are not just pictures: they’re reminders of good times, of happy memories, and serve as a time capsule for your friends in family. They are so precious. Glad you were able to get your photos back!


Kelly April 24, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Thanks so much for this post, Jessica! I am so thankful for you that this story had a happy ending! I live in WI and am so glad to know about this company– and I hope I never need to use them! I’m looking forward to your future posts with backup suggestions and I’m going to go work on organizing and backing up my photos right now!


Kelly C. April 24, 2013 at 8:30 pm

So happy it all worked out for you! I had a WD 1 TB hard drive that I knocked over and the same thing happened. Luckily, it was our backup drive, so everything was still on my laptop. But, it did make me wonder if I need a backup of my backup.


Faith April 24, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for posting this! I have a broken hard drive sitting on a bookshelf. Maybe all hope ISN’T lost! :)



jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm

YAY! I spent a lot of time researching options. I think you will be really happy with Gillware’s customer service. I hope they can help you.


Betsy April 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Thanks sooooo much for this. I have an external hard drive that got dropped and is inaccessible. I had a friend who is a computer tech check it out and he said it’s a door stop. I will have to check this company out as I had thousands of hours of music, videos and hundreds of photos on it. Some were pictures of my mom who died in 1997 that I have no physical copies of. Would love to get them back. Even if recovery is not financially achievable now, I know there is hope for some point in the future. Thanks again, Jessica.


jessicaturner April 24, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I would definitely have them look at it. And, like Lee from Gillware said above, recovery costs can come down as technology improves. What a gift it would be to have those photos back of your mom.


Shelbie April 24, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I’m in the same boat with the dropped external HD. :( Happened almost a year ago now and I was quoted $1500-2000 to try to retrieve the files lost. I need to check out Gillware to see what they have to say about the project. All of my son’s first year+ are on that drive and most of those precious photos were never printed so they are just lost. I try not to think too much about it or I just get so upset all over again. My question to you – since it sounds like our situations are similar – what would it have cost to have all of your photos retrieved if you had to pay for the service? I’m just trying to get a feel for what I am looking at so that I can plan to get the photos back. I know it will happen at some point because not having our family photos and especially the first year of my son’s life is just not an option for me. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on back-up systems. I no longer keep photos/documents that mean anything to me in just one spot. :) Thanks again for sharing!!


jessicaturner April 25, 2013 at 6:27 am

The recovery would have been $600. Hope you can your photos back!


Alida April 25, 2013 at 12:42 am

I’m so glad you could recover those precious photo’s. When my eldest son was born, we took his first still-in-hospital photo’s on a film camera (just before going digital). In the blur of 1st time parenting we submitted an empty film spool for developing and was VERY upset that all the photo’s came out blank. Months later my husband discovered the actual film spool and had it developed. I opened the envelope as a surprise and just started crying when I saw those new-baby photo’s.


Keely at Gillware May 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I’m so glad Gillware was able to help you out Jessica, and I’m glad I’ve found an amazing new blog! Everyone’s a winner! Now, I can get my craft on!!!

PS Too many exclamation points?


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