Alexander: A PC crash can make you wonder where all the data went

Q: My Windows 7 PC suffered a main circuit board failure and hard drive damage. I lost a lot of data (photos and genealogical files) because a computer technician could not recover them from the hard drive. I wondered why the technician was able to recover so little data. Why was he able to find some photos, but not all of them? I was also surprised that during the recovery process there were many notices stating that we do not have permission to view the files stored on the disk drive. Why not?

If I had backed up the data, could more data have been recovered from the hard drive?


A: A recent backup of your PC data (on an external hard drive or USB drive) would have made it unnecessary to recover data from the damaged PC hard drive. Additionally, the backup process may have given you an early warning of PC problems by letting you know that some files on its hard drive could not be copied (meaning they might be damaged).

But without knowing more about what happened to your hard drive, I can’t say exactly why you couldn’t recover more data. For example, has the drive been damaged by an electrical short between the main circuit board and the drive? Or has the hard disk suffered a “head crash” in which the disk’s read-write head stops floating above the disk and hits the surface of the disk?

But any damage could have prevented the recovery of data stored on the drive. Here’s how:

Normally, Windows creates a directory for a hard drive that lists where each file is stored. As the hard disk fills up, newly stored files must be broken into pieces that can fit into the available disk space. But even then, the directory can locate where all the parts are.

The success of file recovery from a damaged hard drive depends on the integrity of the directory and stored data. If the directory has been destroyed, disk recovery software faces a more difficult task: it must scan the hard drive for the different parts of a file, then try to reassemble the file as if it were a puzzle. If even part of a file cannot be found, the entire file is probably unrecoverable.

This would explain your data loss. But why didn’t you get “permission” to see some of your own files? In Windows, individual files are stored in file folders. Each of these folders has a security component that determines which users of your PC have access to a particular folder. If disk damage has erased a folder’s security information, your “permission” to access the folder may no longer exist.

Q: I paid to be a premium user of the Microsoft Mahjong puzzle game on my Windows 10 laptop (premium removes ads and gives other benefits.) But after a few Windows updates, the game’s premium option stopped working. Microsoft has been of little help. What can I do?

SHARON FERGUSON, Woodland Park, Colo.

A: Open Settings, choose “Apps” and click “Apps & features”. From the list, choose Microsoft Mahjong, click “advanced options” and then choose “repair” or “reset”. Restart your PC.

If that doesn’t work, go to the same location in Settings and uninstall Microsoft Mahjong. Restart the computer. Reinstall the game from the Microsoft Store ( Restart the PC. If that doesn’t work, you can troubleshoot the premium Mahjong app by following the instructions at Microsoft Casual Games (see

Email your technical questions to or write to Tech Q&A, 650 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city, and phone number.

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