Recovery of data from damaged optical discs, such as scratched or cracked CDs and DVDs, may not always be possible. Even if you take all possible measures, sometimes you may only be able to recover a portion of the data. The likelihood of data recovery depends on the quality and extent of damage, capabilities of the data recovery software, and measures taken to lessen the damage. In general, scratches from the center outwards are less harmful than scratches that follow the spiral, and larger cracks are more harmful than smaller ones. If the crack is substantial, the disc's data will usually not be recovered.
Try to repair the disc, even marginally, for the data recovery process. If there are scratches around the crack, minimize the extent of the damage by lessening the scratches. Use a whitening toothpaste, an optician-rated polish or a cleaning agent such as Brasso to wipe the surface of the disc over the scratches. Use a small amount and gently work on the scratches until they appear to be fading. Dry excess fluid with a soft, dry cloth, going from the center outwards in slow, smooth motions.
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Hold and position the edges of the CD along the crack to align the disc. Keep a perfectly level alignment and apply a CD-shaped adhesive label on the non-recordable side of the disc. After applying the adhesive label, check that the disc is level along the crack. Alternatively, you can also use tape along the length of the crack; make sure you only use a single layer, otherwise the disc will become too heavy on one side and not balance when inserted inside the player.
Set the rotation speed of your CD player to its lowest possible RPM (rotations per minute), from its software. If the CD spins too fast, its label or tape may come undone inside the player, damaging internal components. With its scratches improved, and its crack taped, a broken CD will have the best chances of yielding data on a slow RPM player.
Download and install a data recovery software such as "CD Recovery Toolbox", "Unstoppable Copier" or "Multi Data Rescue." These tools are widely available for download, for free or for a small charge, from different software banks. Download at least three pieces of software, because often, one program may be unable to recover data from a damaged CD, while another is able to. As of 2010, "CD Recovery Toolbox" and "Unstoppable Copier" can be freely downloaded, and "Multi Data Recovery" costs $40.
Insert the damaged disc into the computer's CD tray. Use a CD writer if you have one, because writers are more precise. Load and initiate the program; if the software is able to read from the disc, it will show the contents of the CD. Select the files and folders you want to recover and advance by clicking "Next."
Save the information on the hard disk drive and make backup copies on new CDs. If the program is unable to recover data, use one of the other downloaded programs. In general, if two or three data recovery programs are unable to recover data, it means the CD is too badly damaged to be able to yield any information.
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You can increase the likelihood of a successful recovery by using the same drive that was used to write the disc. If you cannot recover data using any of the recovery tools, take your CD to a music store with a CD refinishing machine. The refinishing process may enable the disc to be read.
Some CDs' data will never be recovered. Always make a backup copy of important information.
Don't place a cracked CD in a drive unless you're willing to take the chance of the drive being destroyed when the CD comes apart inside.