Inaccessible Hard Drive Recovery Case Study: Boot Device Missing

The client in this data recovery case had an inaccessible hard drive on their hands. When they turned on their Lenovo laptop, they received an error message. Their computer told them this: “Default Boot Device Missing or Boot Failed. Insert recovery media and hit any key, then select Boot Manager to choose a new boot device to boot or recovery media.”


Inaccessible hard drive error message: “Default Boot Device Missing or Boot Failed. Insert recovery media and hit any key, then select Boot Manager to choose a new boot device to boot or recovery media.”


Inaccessible Hard Drive Recovery Case Study: Boot Device Missing
Drive Model: Western Digital WD10JPVX-75JC3T0
Drive Capacity: 1 TB
Operating System: Windows
Situation: HDD spins up and is recognized, but is inaccessible
Type of Data Recovered: Pictures, Quicken documents
Binary Read: 18.2%
Data Recovery Case Rating: 10


The client removed the Western Digital hard drive from their laptop and investigated it, connecting the drive via USB adapter to another computer. The drive spun up just like normal, without making any frightening or unusual noises. The computer even recognized that they’d plugged a hard drive into it. But that was about all the computer could detect about the drive. There was no way to mount or access the device. The user unplugged the hard drive and got in touch with our recovery client advisers. Soon enough, the inaccessible hard drive reached our data recovery lab.

Boot Device Missing – Accessing an Inaccessible Hard Drive

There are many reasons why an inaccessible hard drive might be failing to function. There could be a logical issue, or a firmware bug preventing the drive from working. Any component of the drive could have failed and caused the hard drive to have trouble booting up or detecting on another computer.

And the mechanical failures that can stop your hard drive from functioning don’t have to be dramatic or catastrophic. A hard drive’s read/write heads, for example, can fail without you ever hearing the dreaded “Click of Death” (but if you keep trying to push the drive, you could make the heads’ condition even worse, putting you in even bigger trouble).

When a hard drive fails the way this client’s drive did, with no obvious symptoms pointing toward a clear culprit, it takes a data recovery professional to figure out what happened. Fortunately for our client, our data recovery lab has more than its fair share of data recovery experts.

Whatever was affecting this inaccessible hard drive, an evaluation by our data recovery engineers would bring it to light. Once our engineers had taken a close look at this drive, we knew why it had failed—and what we could do to get the client’s data back.

This hard drive’s problem lay within its firmware. Hard drive firmware is somewhat like the operating system in your computer. Without an operating system on your hard drive, your computer’s functions are rather limited. The O/S manages the all sorts of things so that your computer can… be a computer.

Likewise, hard drive firmware manages your access to data on the drive’s internal hard disk platters. Like with any O/S, things can go wrong and you can end up with a kernel panic—with much more severe consequences.

Inaccessible Hard Drive Repair – Fixing the Firmware

When your O/S becomes corrupt, you can usually fix or reinstall it without much worry about losing your data. But it’s not so easy when it comes to your hard drive’s firmware. Just like a hard drive’s read/write heads or hard disk platters, HDD manufacturers don’t want anyone touching the firmware of a hard drive other than themselves. It’s very complex, and certain parts of it vary from drive to drive. Sometimes manufacturers allow users to update their drives’ firmware, but the process is heavily guided and restricted to avoid giving users too much access to such a sensitive part of the drive.

The only way to access hard drive firmware and fix the problem is to “trick” the drive into thinking it’s on the factory floor, where the manufacturers program the firmware. This requires special hardware and software tools you’re not likely to find outside of a professional data recovery company. Inside of a data recovery lab, though, is a whole other story.

We have in our data recovery lab highly skilled data recovery experts who’ve studied and analyzed hard drive firmware for years. With our specialized tools, we can explore an inaccessible hard drive’s firmware, diagnose the issue, and fix the problem to get the hard drive in working order again. Occasionally a hard drive will have a more serious issue that must be fixed after repairing the firmware, but in this situation, the hard drive ran just fine after we repaired its firmware.

After reading 18.2% of the sectors on this previously inaccessible hard drive’s platters, our engineers had fully recovered 100% of the user’s files. None of the recovered files suffered from any sort of corruption. We rated this data recovery case a perfect 10 on our ten-point scale.