File recovery on Windows XP
September 18, 2008 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Accidentally unplugging my external hard drive during use seems to have erased all the files in that directory. How can I recover them? (Windows XP. Easy and free preferred.)

I was downloading a few files with bittorrent. I tugged the cable to the external drive. I got errors about inaccessible files but that's happened before so I didn't think anything of it. I plugged in the drive. When I went to access one of the other files in the directory, I saw that it was completely empty. Hundreds of files gone. The rest of the external drive appears to be fine.

Searching google for file recovery gives way too much information to sort through. What should I do?

posted by stuart_s to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pandora Recovery found 1 file. I didn't even recognize it. I'm trying PC Inspector File Recovery. It's doing something mysterious which it claims will take more than 12 hours. In several seconds it claims to have "found" far more files than I suspect could possibly have been lost. I guess I'll see in 733 minutes but no sooner because all it's giving me is a counter of "lost files found".

It seems like it should be easier than this. It happened quickly and I noticed quickly so there should have been very little opportunity for file corruption. Is there a better way? Is anyone familiar with PC Inspector File Recovery? Am I going to get my files back with the old directory structure?

744(!) minutes to go...
posted by stuart_s at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2008

You... *might* try running one of the simple stupid built-in Windows utilities for disk issues, like chkdsk. Pop open a command prompt and try "C:\>chkdsk E: /F" - where E: is the suspect disk drive. This will unmount the volume and kill all handles and run a full disk check and repair any errors or inconsistencies.

It's possible that this will repair the directory structure and your files will be accessible.

It's also possible that this will make everything worse and your files, which may now be recoverable, may be lost to the sands of time.

Which is to say, be careful.
posted by kbanas at 12:00 PM on September 18, 2008

If the drive is formatted FAT32 you may be able to simply restart the computer while the drive is plugged in. Sometimes Windows will find local FAT volumes that need fixing and automatically run chkdsk for you.
posted by odinsdream at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2008

I've used the unfortunately named GetDataBack software for both FAT and NTFS recovery. It costs money, but if the other techniques presented here don't work it's worth a try (additionally, they offer a free version that will check for your files but won't let you save them until you register it, so you could verify that it can find your files prior to purchase).

Before taking that step, I would definitely reboot your system and try the drive in another computer if that option is available to you. Be cautious using repair tools before recovery tools, particularly if this data is critical. If it's extremely critical, find someone who can make a bit-for-bit copy of the drive prior to running anything else on it. Good luck.
posted by j.edwards at 1:18 PM on September 18, 2008

Not sure if it would work in this instance, but it wouldn't hurt to try Recuva.
posted by arco at 1:37 PM on September 18, 2008

I had the same problem happen to me where windows saw nothing on the drive, what ended up working for me was dual booting into Ubuntu and Ubuntu was able to read the drive and then all I had to do was copy the files to the desktop and back to the drive again and that seemed to work.
posted by lilkeith07 at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2008

arco:Not sure if it would work in this instance, but it wouldn't hurt to try Recuva.

Came here to say this.
posted by deezil at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2008

One issue that might affect recoverability is disk caching. That is, sometimes windows will use a cache and a delay-write to make things a little faster. Sometimes you see this when you try to Safely Remove Hardware and it won't do it yet, even though you don't have anything accessing that drive. If you get that 'delayed write failed' message from windows, then that data is gonners.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:33 PM on September 18, 2008

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