It said F: drive! I swear!
November 11, 2011 6:37 AM   Subscribe

A windows drive mapping error has ruined my day. Please please please tell me there's some way to recover my data.

Hi. Please help me not throw myself out a window. Before anyone asks: I'm working on an HP EliteBook, 2Gb of RAM, 250 Gb hard drive, Windows XP Pro, SP3. I am a full-time telecommuter, and work for a company whose IT department is very kind but also staggeringly incompetent in a number of ways, data backups being one of them. Last time I tried to work out a VPN connection issue with them, they accidentally wiped half of my files.

Here's the convoluted, weird-assed story of what happened:

I needed to scan a document yesterday. In my home office set-up, I don't have my scanner hard-wired into my work computer, so I just pop an SD card into the scanner, scan directly to that, then pop the SD into my laptop and pull the scan from there. For some strange reason, my laptop didn't recognize the SD at first, but I rebooted, and then it did. The computer recognized it as a new device, I got the usual Windows "what do you want me to do with this" box, selected the option to browse the files in Explorer, as I've done many times before.

Except instead of showing the usual four or five throwaway directories that are usually on that drive, it showed about a half dozen directories, including my main work directory. It still showed the removable F: drive in the address bar, complete with the little blue SD card icon.

This was odd, but I attributed it to having downloaded Dropbox earlier in the day. I thought I had configured Dropbox to only sync one highly specific directory, but when I saw this I assumed I had messed up the configuration, so what I was seeing was a mirror or copy of the stuff that was on my hard drive. I couldn't figure out where the scan was stashed, so I tried to wipe the SD card and start over. It started to delete stuff, but stopped when it came to some file that couldn't be deleted without first connecting to the server. I tried again, same message.

I was under deadline, so I said fuck it, dug up a USB cable and just scanned directly to my laptop (which, really, I should've done from the beginning. Hindsight.)

So this morning, I go into my work directory and see that a bunch of files are gone, baby, gone, and I'm hoping there's some magical way to recover them, since they're not in the recycle bin. A few salient points:

- Even this morning, if I plug in the SD card, it still shows up as F: on My Computer, but it shows my work directories. If I drill down into the F: drive, it still will say "F:\CompanyName\Curent Projects\ABC." My CompanyName directory has *never* been on the removable F drive; there's no way all of my files could fit on a dinky little 8Gb card. This is what leads me to believe it's a mapping issue, but I've never heard of Windows displaying one drive letter in the address bar when the user is actually in a totally different drive.

- I'm reasonably certain there isn't a backup copy of these files on my work server. As I said above, my IT department is remarkably inept, and since I've had major VPN issues in the past, I don't even try to connect to the server anymore to synchronize files.

- I don't even know a complete list of what files are gone. I'm in a situation where I'll only know what's gone if I have a reason to go look for it.

So basically, my questions boil down to: 1) Has anyone ever seen / heard of this phenomenon before, when Explorer will show it's in F:\ but it's actually in C:\? and 2) Am I completely fucked?
posted by shiu mai baby to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I'm a little confused, let me see if I have this correct:
1) You have a bunch of files on C:\

2) You had an image file on an SD card, and you rebooted with the SD card in the laptop, as F:

3) After rebooting you see all your files that should be on C: as being on F:?
There are a number of steps that I think pretty much everyone should do when they have a touchy situation going on with data on their hard drive
1) Take the drive out of the system.

2) install it on another system as a slave

3) Make a full backup of the entire drive image
That way there is little risk that you'll make the situation worse then it already is.

Anyway, it sounds to me like your files are fine, but windows is screwing something up. I think that if you were to load your hard drive into another machine as a secondary drive, you shouldn't have any trouble extracting them like you would off a USB stick.

You could also try burning a Knoppix LiveCD or DVD on another machine (don't burn it on the machine with issues) and booting your laptop off that. Knoppix won't touch the contents of your underlying filesystem until you specifically authorize it to mount the drive read/write. So you could boot off the CD, check your C: drive for the files, and then copy them to a USB stick.
posted by delmoi at 6:51 AM on November 11, 2011

Hi Delmoi,

It was actually a PDF, not an image file, but that's a minor technical point. I rebooted, but I didn't reboot with the SD card engaged, because if I do that, this laptop treats the SD card like a boot disk. But yeah, rebooted, engaged the SD card, and files that are located on C: show up as F:. More specifically, it's files that are in the My Computer directory, which is good, because at least I didn't inadvertently wipe a bunch of system files.

The slave image solution sounds good, but this is the only PC we have in the entire house. I'm assuming I can't image it to a G5, correct?
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:57 AM on November 11, 2011

I'll second delmoi's confusion.

If your work directory is actually a partition, it's possible that windows has gotten a bit confused with the drive allocations.

If you go into "Computer Management" and then into "Disk Management" you should be able to see all the partitions that are on your machine. Perhaps the work partition, or the SD card needs to have it's "Drive Letter or Path" changed so something that's not in use. (right click on the partition for the option.)

If your work directory is a mapped network drive with caching/offline enabled, you'll just need your IT guys to remap the drive. Either way get your IT department to make sure a fresh backup is done first.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:58 AM on November 11, 2011

Forgive the basic question, but how do I access "Computer Management"?

Also, I doubt it will help at all, but here's a screen cap of what I see when I load up the SD card. The blacked-out bar is my company's name, added there just to keep my RL on the DL.

As you can see, it definitely shows the SD card and the F: drive in the address bar, but -- and god, I wish I had noticed it yesterday -- on the left you can see the storage space on it, which is significantly larger than the actual 8Gb card that's in that drive.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:25 AM on November 11, 2011

Forgive the basic question, but how do I access "Computer Management"?

Control Panel > Administrative Options (I think)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:41 AM on November 11, 2011

Ok, I got to the partition map. The good news is that, here, at least, it appears that F: has the right information associated with it in terms of drive size.

However, before I change the drive map letter, it warns me that changing the map may cause some programs to no longer run. I'm pretty sure that, since Windows was confusing F: with My Documents, I should be ok, since I don't install programs to My Documents, but I wanted to check first before committing to that change. I'm not going to screw things up more by changing the drive letter, correct?
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:09 AM on November 11, 2011

Sorry! That previous comment should've linked here instead.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:10 AM on November 11, 2011

Take an image backup of your laptop drive if possible.

I am still not clear what the situation is so take the SD card out, write protect it and place it another machine and see what is on it. With the SD card out, reboot XP and see what is in your working directory. Report back on both observations.

If your working directory is in its own partition which is not C it may be possible IF you boot with the SD card in situ that that partition was recognised after the external SD card rather than before. But that seems very unlikely.

Oh, and buy an external drive and back up your f***ing computer, just because you think your IT dept are incompetent is no reason to emulate them.
posted by epo at 10:24 AM on November 11, 2011

Just a thought, do we have the full picture? Are there any other external drives or network shares we should know about?
posted by epo at 10:26 AM on November 11, 2011

That is weird. It's almost as if there's junctions or shell shortcuts pointing you back to your C: drive (either that or the F:\ folders are actually copies or backups of your C:\ folders).

Easy way to test:

1. Change the name of a file on your C:\ drive that's also showing up on F:\
2. Navigate to F:\ and check to see if the filename changed there too. If so, it's a shortcut of some kind.

Possible Remedy:
1. Make a folder on your desktop
2. Copy/backup everything you'd like to save off the SD into that folder
3. Reformat F:\
4. Copy back only what you want to keep on the SD card.
posted by samsara at 11:57 AM on November 11, 2011

I think Static Vagabond has it, your F: drive normally is a mapping to a drive on your work server that is in "Offline files" mode. I think that what happened was when you inserted your SD card, Windows tried to map it to F: and didn't succeed, since F: is already mapped to your offline files share. I can see from your second screen shot that you already have a C:, D: and E: drive, so Windows will try to map a new disk to the very next free drive letter, which (in its confused state of mind) is the F: drive. However the F: drive is not *really* available as you are using it in offline mode. To my way of thinking this is a bug in Windows, and I have seen it quite a few times in the past.

Try this fix - with your SD card inserted, run Computer Management and right-click on the stripey F: partition, and select "Change Drive Letter and Paths". Then click the change button and in the drop down list, select a different drive letter (G, H, whatever). Check explorer then and see if you have a G: drive, and if this drive contains what you think should be on the SD card. If not, reboot and then check (this is Windows after all!).

A caveat though - when you've deleted stuff from what you thought was your SD card, I think what you've actually done is deleted stuff from your offline file cache. Next time you connect to the network, Windows will obediently delete these files from your network drive as well, and they will no longer exist (unless your incompetent IT dept has backed them up). Hence I would be very careful about reconnecting to your work network until you've spoken with your IT guys. If this is a drive mapping then it should be a relatively simple task for these guys to backup the folder on the server, let you connect to the network, let Windows do its thing, and then copy the files back to your folder on the server (and from there, to your offline file cache on your laptop).
posted by humpy at 4:56 AM on November 12, 2011

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