external hard drive erased when plugged in after a fresh xp install!!!
January 11, 2008 7:27 PM   Subscribe

short history: I started to get blue screens on my outdated laptop so I decided to just buy a new one. My new laptop came, I installed a fresh version of xp, rebooted, and plugged my old external in. I got the "Installing drivers for you new hardware" bubble in the task bar then after opening the external drive none of my files were there, but there was the four following: clean (Windows nt command script) install (folder ) windows (folder.. with a windows installation I didn't do!) $$ rename (text document) 230 gigs gone :( The only thing I can think of is the initial blue screens on my OLD laptop were caused by a virus that had infected my external drive? This had all my school notes, notes on books I've read, photos, backups of my old laptops partitions, all that kind of stuff from the past 3 years. I'm feeling kinda, sick, pissed off, and am wondering what the crap could have happened? Any help on this one would be VERY appreciated.
posted by debu to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First stop using that drive immediately. There may be a chance you can recover the data.
posted by IronLizard at 7:50 PM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: Gonna run some recovery software on it in a few. I just don't understand why everything would erase when plugging in on a fresh install? that's absolutely crazy.
posted by debu at 8:06 PM on January 11, 2008

The data is most likely still there, but the filesystem is screwed up. As IronLizard said, the first thing is to stop using that drive.

If I were in that situation, I would buy another hard drive and do a bit-for-bit copy so that I had a backup, before trying to recover any data. If you're not afraid of Linux, you can do this by booting from the Live CD of most distributions and using the dd command, as per this. For Windows, you'd probably need to buy some special recovery software to do it.

I'm not really sure where to go from there, but Googling for "ntfs data recovery" might be a good starting point.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:08 PM on January 11, 2008

If you end up having to look at data recovery options, I can't say enough good things about a company called Gillware (which I found via references here at AskMe, in fact). Here's an overview of my experience, and I know there are a few other references around here too.
posted by pineapple at 8:44 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I think I have bad news for you. Your new laptop probably has an SATA drive. XP doesn't support these out of the box. Was this USB drive plugged in when you installed XP? Because it probably saw it as the C: drive.
posted by IronLizard at 10:14 PM on January 11, 2008

So, I'm thinking you might just be booting from the external and not even know it.
posted by IronLizard at 10:15 PM on January 11, 2008

Oh, and if you DIDN'T tell XP to format and clean the drive when you installed, you may be in luck.
Sorry for the multiple comments. ADD or something.
posted by IronLizard at 10:16 PM on January 11, 2008

I have seen external drives not assign a drive letter to the correct volume before. In XP you can use "Disk Management" to see if your external disk has a 230gig volume with no letter assigned.

To open Computer Management, click "Start", and then click "Control Panel". Click "Performance and Maintenance", click "Administrative Tools", and then double-click "Computer Management". In the left pane, click on "Disk Management" in the Storage Group.

In the top right pane you should see the volumes connected. There should be the C: drive, and if there is another volume listed below with no drive letter (like E: or F:) beside it, you can right click that volume and select "Change Drive Letter and Paths.." and add a drive letter.

Be careful because you can also format the drives with this utility.

Good luck.
posted by Yorrick at 11:13 PM on January 11, 2008

These answers are all probably incorrect. There is probably nothing wrong with your drive or your data. Don't panic.

As I've recently noted elsewhere, Windows is not good at dealing with USB drives with multiple partitions.

Now that your drive is mounted in a USB enclosure, Windows considers it to be "removable". For reasons known only to Redmond, Windows will only work with the first partition on a removable drive.

It's fairly common for laptops to ship with two partitions on their drives: the first one will be a small "recovery" partition, and the second one will be the boot partition that actually contains your active Windows install and all your data.

If you boot a Linux live CD (the current Ubuntu one will do nicely, as it has full read/write NTFS support built in), you should be able to see both partitions on the external drive and copy whatever files you like to your internal drive that way. Once you're back in Windows, you might want to correct the security permissions on any files copied in this way, since the current Linux NTFS support doesn't respect these, and creates NTFS files with Full Control for Everyone.
posted by flabdablet at 12:55 AM on January 12, 2008

You're assuming the external drive mentioned was put together from the old laptops internal drive.
posted by IronLizard at 1:13 AM on January 12, 2008

You're right, that's exactly what I assumed. Having re-read the question, I withdraw the "probably incorrect" part of that answer, and you should treat my idea as a possibility instead of a near-certainty.
posted by flabdablet at 1:58 AM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster:
"Oh, and I think I have bad news for you. Your new laptop probably has an SATA drive. XP doesn't support these out of the box. Was this USB drive plugged in when you installed XP? Because it probably saw it as the C: drive."

The laptop's drive is still the same in there, I think ironlizard was right, it installed it on my external. From here does anyone have suggestions on data recovery software before I toss out big money I don't have to recovery companies?
posted by debu at 2:02 AM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Since my laptop shipped with Vista and I'm not a fan, I was downgrading *upgrading to Xp and was wondering why the internal laptop hard drive wasn't showing up. Turns out I had to have compatibility mode on in the bios for xp to recognize hard drive. I must have reconnected the external, rebooted with xp cd in, and thought the found drive was my internal instead of external with all my important files on it... oh boy the mistakes you make after a long day of getting vista off your computer :/
posted by debu at 2:35 AM on January 12, 2008

I feel your pain. Something similar happened to me regarding Vista, XP and a lot of important data (disclosure: that's a link to my own site). I recovered some, but much of that was corrupt. So just a thing to be wary of if you decide to dual boot them in the future. Something they don't tell you when you buy these newer PC's is that many new components don't even have XP drivers available, thus rendering many completely incompatible with XP.

As far as your data goes, much of it will have been overwritten by the XP installation but the drive still contains a lot. The problem is recovering it.
posted by IronLizard at 3:49 PM on January 12, 2008

I haven't used it myself, but my brother-in-law (a man of considerable technical skill) has had good results recovering old files from a quick-formatted NTFS drive using Active Undelete.

If your format step took tens of minutes rather than a few seconds, you're probably hosed, even with professional data recovery. A full Windows format overwrites every block on the partition being formatted.
posted by flabdablet at 5:46 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: I ran some software and have been able to recover some (but not many) raw data files, the problem is they're recovered with names such as lkjfdsalfjdllrjlajflajdsfasdfkj.txt I can't afford the price for pro recovery at the moment, but I'm going to hold onto the drive and maybe in the future will. thanks for the responses
posted by debu at 7:49 PM on January 12, 2008

I had good results with a program called iRecover http://www.diydatarecovery.nl/irecover.htm when I had a disk with a screwed up partition.
posted by tetranz at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2008

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