External Hard Drive Data Loss!
December 8, 2005 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I am turning to the Meta community for help since I am at a loss on how to answer this question. A good friend of mine has suddenly lost a lot of data from an external drive that he keeps on all the time. He has a Western Digital 320GB drive that stores mostly live recording of the DMB. The drive reads as 298GB total size and 78GB free space, but the only folder on the external is showing that there is only 123GB of data being stored (therefore ~98GB of data is missing). He has searched the drive for the folders but they are not showing up. Any idea of what could have happened to his files? Also, would it be safe to shut down the external (since its always on) and see if that fixes the problem?
posted by Number27 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How badly does he need the data? If he needs the data badly, the best thing to do is to turn the drive off immediately and give it to an expert to fix. Data recovery services are expensive; how valuable is the data?

If he only needs it sorta-badly, I'd shut the drive down, enable any write-protection features I could find on the hardware, and then plug it into a Linux box and try to mount it read-only. If that failed I'd find a friend who was an expert at home data recovery.

It's likely the data is still there, just something wrong with the directory index.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on December 8, 2005

Buy [or um.. acquire] Ontrack EasyRecovery Pro.

Since the drive apparently can still be accessed/read, his data is probably accessible via this program. It has worked wonders for me in the past.
posted by twiggy at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2005

It sounds as if there's been big troubles with your partition tables. This means good times for all.

I'd do a few things:

One) Move the drive to another PC. Make sure you have enough space on the new PC, or at least use a new interface port in case it's the USB or Firewire port you were using. Unlikely, that.

Two) Take a look at R-Studios' NTFS product. Download the Trial (onto a working drive, please.) and see if it can restructure your directories and files properly. If it can, then consider purchasing it or "acquiring" a code. It will offload your saved files to another drive and all will be happy. I'm pretty sure this will work with external drives.

Three) Consider DiskPatch. It's DOS-based, low level partition and MBR management, so know what you're doing... But it's powerful and capable. It can find remnants of partitions and guess well enough to restructure them. It's worth a shot at actually rebuilding the drive. (Although I'm not as sure about the external drive case here.)

Four) If you happen to get the drive fully reading again, consider reformatting it entirely and then transferring your data back to it, after you run a few SMART tools to ensure it's physically okay. Most problems with drives like that you're describing are logical and not physical. I burned my partition tables four times on that other drive, and I'm still using it.

Email me if you need any further assistance, especially with the products I suggested.

Good luck!
posted by disillusioned at 9:44 AM on December 8, 2005

You'll want to take the drive out of the enclosure and attach it directly to a computer via IDE/ATA or SATA. Windows has a bitch of a time connecting to drives over USB/firewire when the partition table is damaged.
posted by tiamat at 10:12 AM on December 8, 2005

You may also have luck reading the data from a Linux system; that saved me lots of times when Windows burned its partition tables. Try a Knoppix live Linux CD system; just boot from CD, no install necessary, then mount the drive and see what you can see.
posted by autojack at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2005

Sounds like a spindle or 2 went down on the drive - this happened to me on a WD drive last year. It is hosed. Data can be gotten off by a professional, for lots of $$$, but no recovery program can pull data off of a non-working spindle, if that is the case.
posted by gregariousrecluse at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2005

gregarious, I think you mean one platter. All (current, consumer) drives only have a single spindle.
posted by wzcx at 11:40 AM on December 8, 2005

Uh...I was just testing everyone...exactly - what WZCX said...
posted by gregariousrecluse at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2005

Yeah... but even still, platters don't fail individually—he'd have to mean a set of drive heads failed, which is still unlikely.

[sweeping generalization] Major physical failures in hard drives usually result in some sort of audible, unplesant noise. [/sweeping generalization]

Re-reading your question, I'd say take a look at the drive using the software I suggested—R-Studio, specifically. See what it shows, try to recover if that's a viable solution, and THEN try the shut down idea.
posted by disillusioned at 5:58 PM on December 8, 2005

The same thing happened to me, but with a Seagate drive. I spent $2000 recovering the data from a professional service (Drive Savers) but then I asked around; there are two cheaper alternatives. First, try Partition Doctor--www.ptdd.com. It costs $49, but what happened to my Seagate drive was a corrupt MBR. Remember, this is an external drive and was not booted from, it's a USB drive. Partition Doctor repaired the MBR and all the data was there, with the directory structure intact, which Drive Savers couldn't restore. The other program is Winhex, I don't know the URL, it also is very good, but Partition Doctor saved the day, I only wish I had known about it before spending $2k on a professional service.

BTW, I joined metafilter so I could tell you this. Good karma!
posted by tesseract420 at 6:59 PM on December 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Tesseract, you are a good soul!
posted by Number27 at 7:29 PM on December 8, 2005

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