Initial examination:
Initial tests include an overall check of machine's condition, including drives, ports, cables, connectors, hardware and software. Further analysis may include more extensive diagnostics, especially if issue is intermittent. An estimate for repairs will be provided as soon as specific problem(s) are identified.

If machine checks out but drive does not - which is not unusual as ALL drives fail eventually - then our focus shifts to data recovery. If you have a current backup, we can usually get you up and running in no time, depending on replacement drive availability; some solid-state-drive-equipped machines require a specific type of SSD that will have to be ordered. (And, yes, SSDs can also fail.)

Photos, letters, music, videos, docs, email, projects large and small - known as "target data" - these are one-off files that exist nowhere else. They can represent years of work that might be lost forever. We first attempt to recover ALL data in hopes of restoring a complete startup volume, but if that's not possible and we're forced to limit recovery to target data, the process becomes much more complicated.
In either case, recovery requires a proper drive prepped to receive data. This is best done immediately, as sometimes there is no second chance.

If an nCity shop volume is used for recovery purposes, you'll be given the option of reimbursing the shop for this volume and taking possession of it, or see your data erased
(overwritten) from our shop drive after its use. If we cannot recover your data we will know in short order and discuss other options for data recovery with you.

Extended machine analysis:
Other failures may prevent startup or operation too, and some can mimic drive issues. Tracking down computer problems may be as simple as a reset or an update, or it may require testing machine's output, ports, power management, buses, connectors, cooling or other components.

Software tests may involve OS operation and errors,
data structures, settings, drivers, etc. We'll discuss upgrades, System prefs and specs as necessary, check account and security settings and permissions, if indicated.

We will need your login password (or your presence) in most cases.

may include copy, scan and/or repair processes that can take a very long time to execute with precision (often run overnight). Larger volumes = longer times. Time charges apply to supervision and monitoring as necessary, but not to unsupervised run time.

A given system's size, age and hardware/software configuration dictates selection of tools used in troubleshooting. Initial diagnostics are virtually guaranteed to find and fix a variety of minor errors, and any serious irregularities should be quite apparent. Regular maintenance is always a good idea, and an occasional checkup doesn't hurt.

Specific diagnostics:
This entails a more focused look at errors unearthed and problems encountered in testing. In the event of a failed drive, a replacement should be configured and installed, and the process may then move to data recovery. Other hardware faults typically point to replacement of a subassembly. Operational (software) errors and issues are a far more common complaint than hardware failures and comprise the bulk of analysis and test activity.

Problems, of course, range from temporary to terminal; we try to be more than reasonable in both extremes where a quick adjustment is all that's needed, or in the case of catastrophic failure when all we can do is dispense bad news. For the vast majority of cases in between, a diagnosis is required and an estimate for corrective measures will be presented. Various options may be suggested for client's consideration before proceeding. Policies regarding data recovery and privacy are posted, and we do ask that clients read and understand this information as it pertains to the problem at hand.

Physical damage, mechanical failure
Attempting to rescue information from a crashed or damaged drive can be a long and complicated endeavor, and there are no guarantees when trying to recover data. We will try every avenue at our disposal, but attempting data recovery comes with a price tag whether the attempt produces useful data or not. Prior to recovery from a mounted drive, we have no idea if a block of data contains intact files or corrupt gibberish - recovery process is the same in either case. Success can only be evaluated after recovery.

On the other hand, if drive failure prevents data access or recovery, we'll know in short order. In that case, clients will be referred to the legendary heroes at DriveSavers.

The process
Be prepared for some down time. Bring your computer to our shop - leave all cables and peripherals at home - and we'll see if we can get it up and running. This allows us to eliminate computer issues that might mimic a drive failure.
  • Mechanical failure is the first determination. If the drive passes mechanical tests and mounts, data recovery can usually proceed in-house.
  • Bare drives require a compatible host machine and/or bridgeboard to allow access. Shop minimum charge applies, even if you "just wanna see if it still works."
  • A secondary storage volume (drive) will be required if recovery is to take place, usually a hard disk or SSD of similar or greater capacity. This volume might replace (failed) internal drive, or it may become an external backup if internal drive passes all tests.
  • In extreme situations, we may be forced to ignore OS and commercial app software and focus on retrieving irreplaceable (unique) target files.
  • A signed, written agreement is required prior to attempting volume recovery. This agreement explains the process in greater detail and absolves nCity of any knowledge of, or responsibility for, whatever data may or may not be present or recovered from client volume.
Possible outcome
Despite having complete confidence in the quality of tools at our disposal, there are so many variables that data recovery must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Because we have no knowledge of the subject drive or device (beyond the fact that it isn't working), our only approach is to treat it accordingly and make no assumptions as to its current or prior condition, with no assumptions made regarding viability of its contents. It might have a damaged or overwritten directory. It could be so severely fragmented that its remaining X% of free space has no two contiguous blocks. Or, we may never be able to identify the exact cause of failure. Drives with huge blocks of data (sometimes identified as a partition) may turn out to contain only a massive quantity of zeros; nothing to recover here, even though the drive showed a large percentage of storage as "used." Because of these and other factors, predicting the _viability_ of whatever data may be recovered is not possible.

Volume contents
The goal is to move all data between volumes in one operation (known as a batch copy). We're not concerned with individual files or what they may contain, only that the volume's entire contents gets to where it belongs and remains reasonably intact. The number of files, file size or condition may cause difficulties, and the names of some files may appear during scans, batch copies, file tests and such, but even these are treated as containers without regard for content. It is in the best interest of all parties involved that the actual contents of a volume (and the individual files it may contain) is neither viewed nor discussed beyond the most general of terms. Please read nCity's Privacy Policy regarding volume content (located on our Home page).

Blinking question mark on startup
This usually means the Operating System cannot be found; causes range from simple to severe. If you've ignored repeated warnings that your "startup disk is almost full" (or turned off the warning) and you've run out of storage space, it's too late now for any easy fix. If it happened suddenly, out of the blue, it may indicate a hardware failure or it might've been caused by OS damage/corruption. Either way, data recovery may be required. You _do_ have a current and complete backup, yes?

Blank screen on startup or wake from sleep
Workarounds include checking/changing System settings, manually selecting sleep/wake cycles, testing sleep function on closing and opening laptops, and (in rare cases), checking your screen resolution settings. If this problem is persistent, there may be a hardware issue involved.

Kernel Panics
These can be related to a specific application or program, a corrupt Operating System, or they may be symptomatic of a hardware issue. In other words, a KP is vague enough that it could be caused by most anything. On older System versions, a KP produced a black dialog box saying you need to restart in four languages. Newer OS versions may restart automatically without showing anything onscreen, in which case the machine will go into an endless loop of startup/shutdown until stopped by pressing power button for 6-10 seconds. If a restart doesn't solve the problem, we'll do our best to track down the cause.

Spinning beachballs, slow ops
This cursor has a legitimate purpose, indicating the OS is busy processing some command, but when you see it too often or for too long it can mean trouble. It may be a sign of insufficient RAM, a full or malfunctioning hard drive, a bus error, illegal command, missing file or a variety of other things, really. If it only happens in relation to a particular program, blame the program and go from there.

Abnormal Startup tones
If you hear a series of beeps on startup, it usually means one or more RAM modules may be loose, failed or out of spec. This is a fairly easy problem to diagnose and fix. Worst case scenario: The RAM is fine, but the socket it plugs into is damaged. Not good. A long, steady tone on startup can mean trouble of various kinds, too. No sound on startup usually means audio out is turned off or misdirected, but it can also mean a hardware or bus failure, or it might be a damaged headphone jack.

Machine refuses to boot or OS installation fails
Brightness turned down to zero, keyboard not connected/paired/working, damaged power button, video card or bus error, drive failure, incompatible OS version, no power/dead battery - the possibilities are nearly endless. You may be tempted to blame the last operation machine completed, or the last program it ran before failing, but this is usually a false assumption. Bring it in for a diagnostic and we'll track down the problem.