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hard drive "not formatted" error, PLEASE HELP!

by kfranken / November 20, 2006 2:31 PM PST

I am very distressed (understatement - I'm really horrified and depressed) about an apparently freak and unusual occurrence that caused my external hard drive (and all its contents!) to not be recognized in Windows.

I have a 20-month old 160 GB Western Digital external hard drive (WDC WD1600JBRTL) that I use on Windows PCs all the time (and which has priceless and irreplaceable pictures and other files on it.) (This drive is sold/purchased as an internal drive, and I had a university techie staff member place it into a WD external case.) I plugged it into a Mac OS X computer before, so I thought there would be no problems. The other day, I plugged the external HD into a Mac OS X (10.2) via an unpowered Targus USB hub. The Mac screen said nothing - no window popped up like happens after Windows machines recognize a new device. The red access light on the external drive was flashing very quickly as if the Mac was trying to mount/recognize/do something to the drive, but after 5 minutes or so, the red light stopped flashing and still no recognition. I made sure the red light was off before unplugging the external hard drive from the Mac and then plugged the drive into the regular PC I normally use the hard drive on. The drive was recognized, but when I clicked on the drive letter, a window popped up saying the drive is not formatted, would you like to format it now. I knew this was bad, as this had never happened before. I plugged the external drive into another PC and got the same thing. "This can't be happening to me" is what I thought. I have no idea what the problem is or what caused it. Obviously, the Mac did something to my drive, but why and what did it do? I never told it to do anything, and it didn't even seem like the Mac recognized the drive. the red light flashing meant something was going on, but I have no idea what. I did some online research and talked with a few tech folks, and they said they think something obviously went wrong when the drive was plugged into the Mac. It sounds like the Mac altered/corrupted the partition table/file table/file structure. (I never put partitions on the drive. I used it as is out of the box. I just created folders under the main drive letter and put files in those folders.)

I took it into a University Computing Center, and the techies there saw my drive is a FAT drive. They were able to run onTrack Easy Recovery on the external drive. This program apparently just reads the drive and does not write anything to the drive. They said it looks for all data on the drive. I asked how Easy Recovery can see the files on my drive but Windows can't. They answered by saying that Easy Recovery looks at data bit by bit whereas Windows looks for files/folders - the big picture. After 2.5 hours or so, the scan was done, and a list of files appeared. It looked like my files were recovered, as I recognized the filenames. But, that was very misleading. We saw some files been marked by Easy Recovery with a "DX" notation next to the filename. The tech guy said that was a bad thing, meaning the file may be corrupted and not recoverable. We then copied those recovered files to an extra external hard drive. It recovered most if not all of the files themselves, but many of the text files (Word/.doc, and .rtf) were either empty (blank white screen when file opened) or full of squares or lots of junk characters/jibberish. The most important - and priceless - picture files would not open at all. The filenames were there, but when clicked on, the files try to open but just hang there blank. The file size indicates the huge amount of data that is in the picture file, but no picture opens. Some of the original filenames were saved, while others were changed or mangled. Some text files had content that belonged in other text files -.i.e. the filename was wrong. Some of the files were fine, but most were junk. I opened some of the files, and my heart just sank when I saw the pages upon pages of small squares that used to be my Word/.doc/.rtf documents. My pictures of my travels are gone. I'm a Park Ranger, so I have worked at national parks and monuments and taken many beautiful pictures of these places, but now the pictures are gone.

The university computer techies said the Mac should have recognized the hard drive even with the USB hub. They think the Mac changed the FAT/file structure. They think it was some freak and unusual event that caused this to happen, and they have never seen or heard of such a thing happening before. That makes me feel better - that I didn't do something stupid by plugging the drive into a Mac - but I do feel I did something stupid by doing that. But, that doesn't get my files back.

I have not tried any partition repair utilities, as I want to get advice of what to do and not to do before I take any action. I am willing to spend a few hundred dollars on a repair if need be, but I read that it's best not to do anything yourself and leave it up to the experts. So, I'm wondering what I should do, what I shouldn't do, etc.

I would just like to undo or repair the damage and get my files back. I don't want to do anything that might prevent a more successful recovery. If I have a guarantee that my files can be found intact and usable - not jibberish and junk - I'm willing to spend a few hundred dollars and say I've learned my lesson - I need to be more careful about plugging things into computer and I need to backup my files. If there is an easier or cheaper way to try that won't hurt the drive and its contents - and won't harm or prevent recovery future efforts - please let me know.

Countless hours, day, months, even years of work are in those files on that drive. I have got to get them back.

Please help.


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If The Files Are 'Priceless' ?....
by Grif Thomas Forum moderator / November 20, 2006 11:39 PM PST

...then you should be able to use the backups that you surely created...right? Eventually, all hard drives fail... Placing backups of your pictures on a DVD or CD is the only way to be sure that you've got a hard copy of the "priceless and irreplaceable pictures". And then, make backups of your backups, just in case.

As to your options for recovering the files, there are no guarantees...: Since you've already taken the drive to tech help, I suggest going on to the real professional recovery folks.. OnTrack is a good company and should get the job done for you. Click on the link below and contact them:

Hope this helps.


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Data recovery.
by Kees Bakker / November 20, 2006 11:42 PM PST

All I can advise: get a second opinion from a professional data recovery company. Search google or the yellow pages for data recovery or hard disk recovery.

But I really fear everything is gone forever. That's why it's necessary to make backups of things you don't want to lose. It doesn't really matter if they are on an internal or external drive. Having data on only one place is a big risk.

I won't say more, because I'm sure you've realized it yourself by now. Still, it's a fact quite a few people only learn the hard and very unpleasant way.


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Was that a FAT32 volume? If you read my posts I have....
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 21, 2006 3:00 AM PST

Written more than a few times about the danger of FAT32 volumes in USB enclosures. These are not to be trusted. And while I've been rebuked for such a statement, stories like yours continue to pop up.

FAT32 is far too fragile for USB connections. It was barely stable inside the PC with ample evidence of SCANDISK running any time you didn't shutdown nice. The USB connection severed the scandisk on startup so errors can accumulate till the drive data goes absent.

The tools your IT staff used bypass the usual corrupt areas but I want to make it clear here so I'll switch to bold now. Do not repair the volume or partitions. This is far too dangerous to the data.

Instead use tools to reach in and copy out files to other drives or media such as PC FILE INSPECTOR. NEVER write to a corrupt drive. Get the files out first.


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Try this
by ramusson / November 23, 2006 9:13 PM PST

Stellar Phoenix FAT & NTFS

Data Recovery Software for FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, NTFS 5 file system drives

It did wonders for me!

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Ext. HDD..not recognized
by castingRod47 / November 24, 2006 7:16 PM PST

I use a Western Digital HDD as an External and a MAXTOR also..I use the BELKIN Enclosure..the XP OS will recognize those Device immeadiately..Your Hardware is Installed and Ready to USE<<--/
If you do NOT see that message..
Plug your USB cable directly into a Slot(usb)at the rear of the Tower..NOT into a HUB..
I'm quessing an Expansion HUB..1 x 4....I bought one and never use it anymore..
You might need to Un-Install the Driver before Plugging in the HDD and turning its POWER Button ON..
Also its a better setting to USE SLAVE rather than MASTER or CABLE..if my memory serves me WD HDD was set to Master and was not recognized until I OPENED the DEVICE Mangr. and CLICKED Update DRIVER..
I would need to check my NOTES..but believe SLAVE is the setting for XP as an Ext. HDD.

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by kfranken / November 26, 2006 12:27 PM PST

Thanks for the suggestions. Yeah, I think I better send the drive in to the professionals and hope for the best. I'll call them first and see what they say about any chances/percentage of recovery based on this situation.

Re: FAT being unreliable, I have no idea, as I'm not an expert on computers. I'm just an average PC user. I certainly wasn't never warned or aware of this. Strange that stores would even sell FAT32 knowing they were unreliable.

Yes, I have tried plugging the drive directly into a PC, not through the hub. The same problem exists - not formatted error pops up.

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Same thing just happened to me!#@!
by Jeff M M / December 18, 2008 6:35 AM PST

I have a relatively new Western Digital Passport Extenal USB 500 GB hard drive that I use with my Windows XP SP1 laptop. A few hours ago I plugged it into my wifes's Mac. The description of what happened next is exactly same as kfranken's discription. Hard drive did not seem to be recognized by the Mac and now windows says the drive is not formated! I also do not know how the external hard drive was formated before as I used it, as is, out of the box, and did not format it before using it with the PC. I had never connected a PC formated external hard drive to a Mac before, and never will again!

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Here is a thought
by Jeff M M / December 18, 2008 8:42 AM PST

I used Stellar Phoenix Windows data recovery tool to recover most, but not all my files. Most missing files seem to be images.

Here is what I suspect happened with my Western Digital hard drive. The drive has a Autorun program on it. I suspect the first time I used the drive on my PC the autorun program ran, then formated the drive for windows, automatically, then marked the drive as formated so that the autorun program would not run again. But, when I connected the drive to the Mac, the autorun program started, saw that the drive had not been formated yet (as far as Mac was concerned) and acted as it would have if it was a virgin drive connected for the first time to a Mac. Does that make any sense?

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