valeu, after searching around quite a bit for which cloning software to use, I was continually directed right back here to hddguru's raw copy tool. Nice
The one thing I am unsure about is if the cloning process itself will write any data to the drives, as I didn't notice any type of write blocker or read only feature. This is terrifying to me, as I realize that any data overwritten could potentially be lost forever. I made one clone of the 2.5" drive and hopefully that will be sufficient.
So the first recovery software I ran was Recuva. Normal scan took like 30 seconds and did not retrieve anything.
Deep scan took 1.5 hours and didn't retrieve anything - just completely blank, found zero files. This is for the 2.5" drive which may be slightly less likely to have the files I am looking for. I kept OS and SQL database stuff on the M2 ssd on that machine. Desktop Sticky note program should be on the same drive as the OS, desktop notepad file should be same drive as OS, and .dat file was from a downloaded application - this may or may not be on the drive I just cloned/scanned - as I tried to keep most programs there.
Trying easeus next, and then R-studio, but not expecting much if recuva found absolutely nothing during a deep scan.
Will ask some local companies tomorrow about their process and services before just flying back to USA and getting trusted professionals to work on things. Any advice moving forward?
This data is fairly important and I am willing to go anywhere in the world to have it recovered.