Recovering Data From a Bad Hard Drive

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An interesting How-To – Damir Lukic

By BAD I mean bad-sectors.

Anyway, what I had here – an IBM 60GXP drive, 40GB capacity, which developed a bunch of bad-sectors, and since all partitions were NTFS, they were unreadable by plain DOS. And, if you try to get into Windows with this drive – nope, impossible, sorry!

So, what now? First of all – a good idea, some software, much patience, and of course – luck.

I was lucky, and the drive was partitioned onto 3 smaller partitions. After all, I managed to get the D and E partitions readable and recovered data from them – about 7GB of data. Pretty good, because the guy who asked me to help had his important files on D drive. Lucky for him and of course – for me.

A Good Idea

You can’t boot into Windows, because the bad-drive is making those horrible sounds (‘czzzzzzt czzzzzt czzzzzzzt’). You’re left with DOS environment. What to do now? Well, DOS could be useful sometimes, and I just love it because of this. And, there are some utilities that can read NTFS from DOS, so, first of all – get some software.

Some Software

What to do now? DOS can’t read NTFS, we all know that. The trick is to get some utility that can read it in a DOS environment. I’ll leave you to find that on your own, because there are many of these utilities which have to be purchased to use (like NTFSDOS PRO for instance). This is pretty bad, but if your data is valuable (more than $300), consider this as a solution.

Another solution is to use WinPE (preinstallation Environment), which is free; the only problem is how to get it. And, it has all the utilities you need. AFAIK, it can be found in almost every service shop, so try to look for it or ask Microsoft.

Check out this page. I haven’t used WinPE, but I’d like to hear from someone who used it.

What To Do Now?

Get a backup drive. Use a drive which capacity is near the capacity of the bad-drive, or if you know how much data you need, find some drive that’ll suit you.

With the utility you own, run a checkup (something like CHKDSK) on the drive (don’t mount partitions yet!).

Be patient, very patient!

It’d be clever to put the bad-disk on some machine that won’t be in use by someone, and leave it do its job. This process is very long and depends how much data you want to get out – for me it was about 15 hours to check and repair 3 partitions.

After the drive has been scanned, repaired and so, just mount the partitions and copy the data on your backup drive.

How To Use NTFSDOS PRO? (A Guide)

First, get a bootable diskette (Win98 startup for instance). Make a NTFSDOS PRO diskettes and boot from a floppy with the Win98 boot diskette. Put the second NTFSDOS diskette and run NTFSCHK /A (or something like that, try NTFSCHK *). It will test all the partitions on all drives connected to controllers.

This process will last very long, so leave the computer on as long as it takes. After you’ve checked those partitions (NTFSCHK will try to repair them during the process), use NTFSPRO from the first diskette to mount those drives.

Now, it would be wise to have the backup-drive attached to the controller. NTFSDOS will mount volumes and you could access your data.

I suggest that you disconnect all the other drives after you created those diskettes, just leave the bad-drive and a backup-drive.

Before the whole process, you’ll need some software located in OLDMSDOS directory of your Win98 CD:

  • EMM386.EXE


  1. Make a directory UTIL on a backup-drive. Write ‘md x:util’, where X is the letter of your backup-drive.
  2. Copy all of those utilities to this UTIL directory.
  3. Put a PATH variable pointing to this directory. Write ‘path=x:util’.
  4. Start DOSKEY, which will let you use you up-arrow to get all commands you’ve written before, it could be useful later. Just write ‘doskey’.
  5. Run SMARTDRV to enable disk-caching (it speeds up very much). Write ‘smartdrv’.
  6. Go to the first partition you need to get data from.
  7. Copy all directories you want. Write ‘xcopy /s directory x:’, where Directory is the directory you want to backup, and X is the letter of backup drive.
  8. Repeat 5) and 6) until you have copied all the partitions.
  9. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to flush the cache, and unmount the NTFS volumes.

  10. Power-off your computer, and get your backup-drive with your valuable data, copy it on several locations (including CD-R/RW), and be happy. Very, very happy.

This is the exact procedure I used to recover data from that bad-drive. And, from time to time, I just wanted to restart my computer and say that I couldn’t do it, but something stopped me every time.

Now, some advice from the first hand:

  • If you have anything valuable or important on your computer – BACKUP immediately!
  • NTFS is the most secure FS for now, but you can’t read it from DOS, and that’s bad. So, if you want to avoid disasters – make a few partitions and use the latest partition to store valuable and important data – and write down the address of this article for future use.
  • BACKUP your data, the more sources you have, the less damage you’ll see!!

  • If you don’t have the will or money for those utilities, consider WinPE, or consider formatting the partition for your important data under FAT16/32 file-system. And, again – use the last partition you have for storing important data.

That’s it for now. Hope I helped someone.

Damir Lukic


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