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I have a little problem with my computer, and I've gotten myself stumped. So I figured I'd toss it out to the readers, see if you fine folks have any suggestions. (Any along the lines of "get a Mac" will be summarily ignored.)

I have several hard drives in my computer. It became a habit of mine that as I filled one, I'd just buy another and toss it in. I currently have five in there, with over 600GB of storage.

One of them is a Western Digital 120GB drive. It's my "media" drive, with sound and video clips.

And recently, it misplaced something: its file structure.

Right now, it comes up as "unformatted," and wants to format it. I'd rather not, as I'd really like to get those files back.

Does anyone have any suggestions or hints for getting these back? Preferably free?

Comments (36)

I have a solution for you J... (Below threshold)

I have a solution for you Jay -- check your email.

uh...the Wizbang one.... (Below threshold)

uh...the Wizbang one.

If your WD drive came with ... (Below threshold)

If your WD drive came with a utilities disk, you might be able to use it to fix it. If you don't have the disk you could probably download the tools from Western Digital.

Ironically, the only time I have ever experienced a drive problem like that was with my old Mac. I used Norton Utilities to fix that. Oh, and had it happen with a Seagate drive on Sun server at work. Oh what a disastrous day THAT was.

Kick it, Jay Tea. It alway... (Below threshold)

Kick it, Jay Tea. It always works for me.

Western Digital utilities a... (Below threshold)

Western Digital utilities available here for free:


Sounds like the directory i... (Below threshold)

Sounds like the directory is munged. This happens with Macs as well - it's a problem with the file structure of the drive. DO NOT reformat it. I'm sure that there are Windows utilities to repair a directory - there are for Macs.

I would recommend trying to... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I would recommend trying to contact a professional to recover the data. It will be costly (probably at least $100 if not more) but it is a lot surer thing than randomly trying utitlies which you dont know what may or may not work. It may have a virus that caused the problem or a failing hard drive sector. If that data is important to you I would recommend having someone who does it for a living than fiddling with it yourself.

Jay,I've had two W... (Below threshold)


I've had two WD drives go out on me. I lost a bunch of data the second time. There are data recovery specialists but the price is more like $1-2K. By the way, the guys I talked to told me they made most of their money off WD drives. If you have any more installed, I'd think about replacing them.

First before you do anythin... (Below threshold)

First before you do anything else make a exact raw copy of the dats. Then even if the you hose it up further you still have the raw data.

It sounds like you have a corrupted File Allocation Table. There are a lot of file rocevery tools out there but these guys allow you to use a demo copy to see if you can view the files. If you can you can probably recover them.


I always swore by WD drives... (Below threshold)

I always swore by WD drives, as they once had a reputation as the best. Enough so that in the early days you'd pay a $20 premium to get the brand.

I started having enough bad experiences with them that I started trying to make a point of using Maxtor, the only brand that never let me down based on a largish sample size (as opposed to a sample size of one IBM drive, one of the first 7200x drives, which cost me a lot of data eventually, and sounded like a jet engine in the meantime). They became hard to get, with my supplier carrying basically Seagate, WD, and Samsung. Samsung at least used to be a clone of WD such that WD utilities were what you used for it. I had experience with one Samsung, on a machine where it needed the overlay utility to allow the machine to see the whole drive, and that drive is still going strong. Meanwhile, Samsung has gone from "who?" to being a more commonly encountered hard drive brand.

My hardware supplier tells me Seagate all the way now, even though I have personally had bad experiences with (albeit strictly older) Seagates. Thing is, those bad ones were mainly a single batch (bought a whole case) of 4.3 GB drives, and most of them had an overlay applied and were put in old machines that had previously contained drives between 250 MB and 1 GB in size, then used hard, in a place with unusual electrical issues.

Anyway, Seagate has the longest warranty and may indeed be the largest drive manufacturer with good reason. I've fled WD and come around to them, or would be willing to try more Samsungs.

As for the problem, the only way I have ever recovered from an apparent bad drive was to fdisk it, or to move it from master to slave because something had made it incapable of being properly recognized as master anymore. You might try that if it seems remotely relevant. Otherwise I'd go with some of the other good-sounding advice above.

And if you're already convi... (Below threshold)

And if you're already convinced you're screwed, try running fdisk /mbr to clean up the master boot record. No idea if that might help, but it's the kind of thing I'd do in case, before giving up on the drive entirely.

Jay:You can also try... (Below threshold)

You can also try SpinRite, from Steve Gibson. I've used it before to recover data, and it's worked well. It can do some non-destructive evaluation of the drive to tell you what's going on, as well.


You do have to pay for it, but it's not excessively priced, and GRC does have good tech support as well (but he does ask you to very politely RTFM first...)

OK, don't get a mac. Suffer... (Below threshold)

OK, don't get a mac. Suffer with the unwashed masses and the rest of the slaves on the Gates plantation. And you know what I'm talkin' bout!

Do NOT format it. You don'... (Below threshold)

Do NOT format it. You don't need a professional.
Forget making a raw copy (I'm not even sure how
you could do this).

Get Norton SystemWorks and run Norton Utilities.
You'll probably get most, if not all, of your files


Disk problems transcend platforms. I just had a
Western Digital 120 fail on my Mac. I replaced it
with a Seagate 300.

Maxtors, huh? The last one ... (Below threshold)

Maxtors, huh? The last one I put in lasted 4 months. The Maxtor it replaced lasted 12 months. I'm kinda down on Maxtor at the moment.

Anyway, get an image of the drive before you do anything heroic. Symantec's Ghost works well for this. If you have a copy of the drive, you can't hurt yourself, and it's a lot easier on your stomach.

Norton Disk Doctor may help, but only if you've got a copy of the drive tucked away. You might also get yourself a copy of Bart's Universal Boot CD from the web. Download an image and burn it to a CD. Change your BIOS if necessary to permit a CD boot. Then run chkdsk on the affected drive. It will either work or it won't, but you can recreate the drive from your image copy.

Spinrite may also be able to repair things, but the same caution applies: have a backup image.

I think Chad's on the right... (Below threshold)

I think Chad's on the right track, that sounds like File Allocation Table trouble.

You could try this:

The repair function might get your drive back to displaying your data. Or Spinrite...always a good recommendation as well. Try the free thing first though.

3 month old powerbook, 80 g... (Below threshold)

3 month old powerbook, 80 gb toshiba hard drive came installed. The Finder starting lagging pretty bad so I ran Drive Genius. Don't ever run Drive Genius. It doesn't seem to be too good at what it's supposed to do.
My hard drive is now in the hands of a company called Drive Savers. I'm looking at a cost up to $2700 if they recover everything from the drive and charge accordingly if they only recover some of the data, etc.
They've recovered damaged drives for me in the past but you have to weigh if they content on the disk is potentially worth that much to you.
Good luck.

I have had to recover files... (Below threshold)

I have had to recover files from users' computers in the past, and I highly, highly recommend R-Studio.


You'd probably only need R-Studio NTFS or R-Studio FAT depending on what format your drive was. It's not free, but the free demo will tell you what files it _can_ recover.

These are free and found through pricelessware.org, though I've never tried them.

PC INSPECTOR™ File Recovery 4.x

Drive Rescue v1.9d

Nuke it from orbit.... (Below threshold)
not Tony:

Nuke it from orbit.

Where's Kevin?... (Below threshold)

Where's Kevin?

If you can't repair the di... (Below threshold)

If you can't repair the disk and "must" recover them manually I recommend you download a linux livecd like Mepis or Helix and use them to recover. Put simply, boot off the live cd, open the file manager and mount the bad drive, copy/paste the files you want into one of your other drives.

I would recommend your target drive be formatted in FAT32, while most *nixes can read NTFS ok they sometimes choke trying to write to it unless you take special steps to get it done.

I have recovered data from *many* crashed hard drives this way. Use google to find the download locations for the nix disks.

Hi Jay Tee, Have h... (Below threshold)

Hi Jay Tee,

Have had numerous similiar promblems. My wife has 20 PCs in her Internet Cafe here in Pucallpa, Peru.

Some Suggestions:

- Install the damaged drive as a Slave use Setup to have the System recognize it.
- Have anther drive installed with enough empty space to receive the recovered data
- dont defrag or check for Bad Sectors
- I have used Easy Recovery by ONTRACT and also
- ZAR - http:www.z-a-recovery.com
- its been amazing how much data these can recover
- Either or both of these should already be installed on C:
- I use Norton but it wont actual recovery severely damaged HD. You might get lucky and it will fix any damaged FATs etc.

Hope this helps,

Mark Baker

P.S. I am an avid fan. Wisbang is a regulary routine during the day and helps keep me informed down here in the Jungles of Peru

OnTrack Easy Recovery... (Below threshold)

OnTrack Easy Recovery

Great product and does a good job.


Jim Hall

JimK has it right. Get Spi... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

JimK has it right. Get Spinrite 6.0. Other than sending the drive to a professional data recovery company, Spinrite is your best bet. The developer is Steve Gibson, a guy who is a true expert in the low level details of how hard drives work. What's more, Spinrite 6.0 will keep such things from happing unexpectedly in the future.

Jay, please let us all know how this turns out.

Another vote for Spinrite!<... (Below threshold)

Another vote for Spinrite!

You might check the status ... (Below threshold)

You might check the status of the disk with the Windows Disk Management utility. Information is available at http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/Windows/XP/all/reskit/en-us/Default.asp?url=/resources/documentation/Windows/XP/all/reskit/en-us/prkd_tro_wncb.asp

Before you run any recovery utilities you should first pull the drive from your computer and make a backup of the disk image in another computer. You then can use data recovery tools or computer forensic software to analyze the copy of the drive and recover files. Encase is a commercial forensic product but there are several open source tools for imaging, analyzing and recovering the data.

Until we have more details on what you find or detail error messages it is just speculation on what commands to run as part of the recovery.

What file system? NTFS?<br... (Below threshold)
Dave S:

What file system? NTFS?

long story short: make an E... (Below threshold)
thes quid:

long story short: make an EXACT image of the drive. A unix progran called "ddrescue" can do this easily. you'll be imaging onto a blank drive, have one handy.
THEN run a data recovery program on THE NEW DISK, writing all recovered data to a third disk.
I recovered 95% of a drive that had both SMART status failing AND a hosed directory with this method. email for details.

GxxxxExxxxTxxxxxAxxxxxMxxxx... (Below threshold)

GxxxxExxxxTxxxxxAxxxxxMxxxxAxxxxC... sorry, absolutely the best piece of advice!

Would have just run chkdsk ... (Below threshold)

Would have just run chkdsk from Recovery mode first to see if that helped... If not, then fixboot, and then fixmbr... If nothing then, I would run it as a slave to see if it would work.. If not, then use some of the utilities mentioned here... If they don't work, try to copy an image of the drive to another...

If none of that works, you're going to have to have a pro suck the data out of it.

I'm going to have to disagr... (Below threshold)

I'm going to have to disagree with most of the folks here. You ABSOLUTELY want to FIRST make a copy, THEN use whatever tools on it. If it gets more hosed up by whatever tools you use, there's no going back.

I second (or third) the Spi... (Below threshold)

I second (or third) the SpinRite suggestion. For the future, I have one word: RAID. It is easy enough these days to construct a 0+1 RAID. The only requirement (and it isn't really required, but strongly recommended) is that you have matching pairs of disks (e.g. 2x WD 120 GB and 2x Maxtor 80 GB).

SpinRite is probably your b... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

SpinRite is probably your best bet. It sounds to me like your partition table is corrupt, rather than the FAT or MFT (for NTFS filesystems). If the drive shows up as unrecognized in Disk Management, it'll most likely be the partition table.

You may very well get good results by using a UNIX-type OS to image the drive to a spare drive, using DD as mentioned above. OnTrack also works pretty well for file recovery, in case the partition table is unrecoverable.

Switch to a Mac only after you restore the files... ;-)

VirtualLab would work great... (Below threshold)

VirtualLab would work great for you, it recovers damaged partitions, deleted files, etc... try it free:

I have TWO large Western Di... (Below threshold)
Me Too:

I have TWO large Western Digital Caviar SE drives that are doing the same thing on a regular basis. Every couple of days one drive or the other just says it is not formatted any more. This is driving me crazy. I used some expensive software and was able to recover a small portion of lost data once. It passes the lifeguard diagnostic with flying colors every time. What is going on?

Hi, while trying to mirror ... (Below threshold)

Hi, while trying to mirror a hard drive using RAID (how ironic!) I accidentally messed the drive up. The PC crashed and switched off almost instantly when I started mirroring. Now I cannot boot from this system disk and Windows will not even recognise it when I install it as a data disk. Is there any way I can recover data if the drive is not even recognised as a drive anymore?






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