Disaster Strikes!
March 6, 2004 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Disaster Strikes! I just managed to wipe out my C: drive with all my data -- is there any way to recover it, or will I just have to get very very drunk tonight?

Here's what happened: my laptop's drive was partitioned (with PartitionMagic) into the main OS drive and three others that held data -- pictures, music, my novel, sites I built, and so on. I was having trouble with my OS, so I used Norton Ghost to copy a disk image of C: back onto the drive. Problem is, Ghost didn't see the partitions and OVERWROTE THE WHOLE DAMN DRIVE. So now I'm staring at a nice clean empty drive with nothing but WinXP, and all my data's gone. I feel like throwing up.

Sure, I have backups here and there, but some are more recent than others, and I'll never be able to reconstruct the whole thing. If there is any way, or any software, that might help retrieving some of the lost data, I would ecstatic.
posted by muckster to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Here are your options:

1. You can attempt to restore the partition table using something like fdisk. When I say "restore," I mean duplicate as exactly as you can remember it. This has worked for me on a couple of occasions with mixed results. I usually get some data back but not all of it.

2. Buy a copy of R-studio and a 2.5" drive adapter. Remove the laptop harddrive from the laptop. This is usually rather simple, but it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Sometimes the keyboard can be lifted up to remove the drive, sometimes it's in a weird bay sort of thing on the side, sometimes it's under a plate on the bottom of the case.

Plug the harddrive into a desktop computer and install R-studio. It's a pretty bullet-proof piece of software. I've used it to restore some pretty heavily damaged drives. They have a demo which will let you look at the data but not recover it so you can see if it will work for you before you buy it. If you're not too comfortable mucking around in someone else's desktop, you should be able to install the laptop harddrive/2.5" adapter assembly into an external drive enclosure which would make the whole thing a touch simpler at the cost of a little more cash.

3. Take it to Data Doctors. They can almost certainly retrieve the data, but expect it to be very, very expensive (a few hundred).

Good luck. If you have any questions about the procedure I described above, feel free to email me. The address is on my user page.
posted by mmcg at 4:02 PM on March 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, mmcg. Do you think any of the more basic recovery packages, like Undelete or Active File Recovery, might help?
posted by muckster at 4:07 PM on March 6, 2004

Active File Recovery might be a good solution, but I can't guarantee it since I've never used it. Undelete doesn't look like it will do what you want it to, since their feature page doesn't mention volume recovery. The full-blown R-studio is only twenty dollars more than AFR, so if I were in a buying mood I would probably go with that one (plus, I recommended it, right?).

In any event, try the demo of both. You can try running them on the laptop itself without removing the drive, but every time you install a program, move files around or basically any time you write to the disk you are potentially destroying some of your lost data.
posted by mmcg at 4:17 PM on March 6, 2004

I can definitely second R-Studio NTFS.

A few months ago, I had a massive hard drive crash, partition table etc lost and the drive apparently empty. The drive had enough life left in it, though, that I could actually recover all but 4 or 5 of probably 700 files and get them off of the drive and to a safe place.
posted by hincandenza at 5:16 PM on March 6, 2004

mmcq gives good advice.

Generally speaking, it is really hard to destroy data on magnetic media. One has to really try and it tends to involve multiple writes and erases, passes with strong magnets, or physical destruction of the media. This doesn't mean it's cheap or easy to get that data back, but that it can probably be recovered.
posted by rudyfink at 5:42 PM on March 6, 2004

In this case, the likelihood of recovery may be very small, even with the fancy restore programs. Ghost overwrites with a raw image of the drive, bypassing any file system. There may be a chance to recover data in the empty portions of the drive, assuming that Ghost didn't zero them out when writing its disk image.
posted by zsazsa at 7:39 PM on March 6, 2004

I was thinking about that, zsazsa. Hopefully Ghost doesn't take the time to write zeros to the drive, but with the "Clone Drive" operation (which is what was done here) I'm not too sure.
posted by mmcg at 8:24 PM on March 6, 2004

Sorry to jump in with my own issue, but it is related.

I have an external firewire HDD that died on me because I did not give it enough breathing room (heat failure.)

Is there anyway I can get the data off the drive myself or does it have to go back to a recovery service?
posted by gen at 3:10 AM on March 7, 2004

There's a chance that the controller inside the enclosure was the only thing that was damaged in which case the drive itself can be removed from the enclosure and connected directly to a computer. Try removing it and connecting it in a different manner. If that doesn't work, a professional recovery service is your only option.
posted by mmcg at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: Well, it was a long night, but it looks like you guys saved my butt--or most of it, anyway. I installed R-Studio on the drive itself (I know, I know, risky, but I couldn't wait), and after hours and hours of scanning, it managed to retrieve what looks like most of my data. Some of it may have been corrupted, and some files are renamed or have capitalization issues, so it'll be a while before I sort through the mess, but all is not lost. Hooray, thank you all, and a special toast to mmcg!
posted by muckster at 12:57 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: In fact, as I browse through the TONS of stuff I would have lost, I realize a simple "hooray" doesn't quite cut it: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
posted by muckster at 1:14 PM on March 7, 2004

Wow, what a happy story! mmcg deserves all the luck and happiness that can come his way. Sorry for the chatty comment but I couldn't resist.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:53 PM on March 7, 2004

Of course, there is no reason why you should not go out and get very drunk anyway, but now it will be a happy drunk instead of morose.

gen, I have had some success with HDDs that have failed by placing them in the freezer for a while and then mounting them and copying the data immediately. Long shot, but maybe worth a try.
posted by dg at 9:46 PM on March 7, 2004

You can pick up cheap laptop to ATX IDE adapters at places like Frys Electronics (west coast) for under twenty dollars.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:09 PM on March 7, 2004

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