Hard drives fail: it's a fact of life, and the reason that you should have a regular backup schedule, either to an external hard drive or online backup service. However, when that fails, you can take certain measures to restore your data. Some methods are safe but costly, while others are risky do-it-yourself solutions.

Connect to Another Computer

Before pulling out the big guns to get your data off of a damaged drive, determine that the hard drive is absolutely dead. If it's not powering on in your computer, it's possible that the cables connected to your hard drive are loose, or that the power supply is to blame. Purchase an enclosure or a USB adapter for your hard drive, remove the faulty drive from your computer and connect it to a working computer as an external hard drive.

Data Recovery Service

For the least risk and the highest cost, a data recovery service can retrieve most data off of a faulty hard drive. These services can retrieve data from physically damaged drives, often by replacing faulty components within the drive. If you don't have a local data recovery service, you can mail your drive to a recovery service. Many services charge an initial fee to examine the drive and an additional fee to recover data. Some services charge their full fee even if the data can't be retrieved.

Repair the Hard Drive

If you're tech savvy and don't mind taking a risk, you can repair the hard drive -- though this method works only if the hard drive is dead due to errors with the printed circuit board, also called the chip board. If your hard drive died due to mechanical failure in the platters, replacing the chip board will not work. To replace the chip board on your dead hard drive, you need an identical hard drive by the same manufacturer; alternatively, you can purchase a compatible chip board online. Note that replacing your hard drive's faulty chip board carries the risk of physically damaging your drive and erasing your data.

Avoid Anecdotal Experiments

The Internet's anecdotal fixes for hard drive problems often promise results with minimal effort or cost. These methods can cause more damage in the long run, though there's always someone who swears it worked for her. The most common method is to put the hard drive in a tightly sealed freezer bag and freeze it overnight. The logic is that if the heads or platters in the drive are stuck, the metal will contract and unstick them long enough to recover data. However, this method can also cause condensation in the drive, especially when it is then placed in a hot computer. Other risky and ultimately dangerous methods include drying the hard drive in an oven or shaking it to get the components moving.