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Oops, I accidentally unplugged my USB hard drive, now I can't access it.

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 2, 2010 6:51 AM PDT

Oops, I accidentally unplugged my USB hard drive, now I can't access it.

I've run into a super-crisis! While creating a bootable Ubuntu USB (for my uni course), the creator needed the USB to be formatted. I had my flash disk as well as my family's external hard drive (used for storing all our digital photos, etc.) both plugged in. After accidentally clicking on the wrong drive, I panicked and stupidly pulled the USB cord connecting the external hard drive. Now whenever I plug in the hard drive into any computer, the various OSes want to format the hard drive. Is there any way I can recover the many precious files on the hard drive?

--Submitted by Brendan L. from Sydney, Australia

Sounds like the drive has started to be formatted as EXT3 --Submitted by darrenforster99

Partition recovery --Submitted by darrenforster99

STOP!! --Submitted by Zouch

Disk recovery tools, take it to a pro or experienced amateur --Submitted by chlpatent

Unable to access USB hard drive --Submitted by GEO2003

Thank you to all who contributed!

If you have any additional suggestions or advice for Brendan, please click the reply link and submit it. When submitting an answer please be as detailed as possible. Thank you!
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File Recovery Software

There are lots of programs out there designed to recover lost data. Here is a free one: There are also pay versions of different titles. Hopefully you'll be able to restore the data. Another option might be to get Acronis ( and make a complete image of the affected hard drive and then from there you might be able to mount that image file as a virtual drive with the Acronis software and recover the files that way. I think there are also programs that can repair the file system of the drive and make it directly readable but I can't think of any titles of hand.

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Recovery of hard disk
by Andreas1292 / July 3, 2010 8:05 AM PDT
In reply to: File Recovery Software

There are probably several software out there but the only one i've used is easeus data recovery. This will be your best option in my opinion.
Using the software you'll be able to recover all your files and transfer then onto a pc. Just make sure the pc has enough free space.
After the recovery, you'll need format the external drive hard disk then transfer the files back to the external.
That's all to it.

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Fixed unrecognizable USB drive
by zhumir / August 1, 2010 3:31 AM PDT
In reply to: Recovery of hard disk

I realize this is kind of a late entry, but I just fixed my problem. I also used Easeus data recovery.

Problem: My 200 GB USB external drive became unreadable/unrecognizable by windows (XP SP 3) explorer. I used Easeus Partition Master 6.0.1 HE (completely freeware) to reassign a drive letter to the lost partition. When I did this the drive was instantly usable again! but of course it said that the drive us empty. I figured that becuase the process was so quick, little change was actually done to the data on the drive. Therefore my hopes were high for recovering information.

I then used Easeus Data Recovery Wizard (I think I got it from GOTD but there are other compareables out there I'm sure). The scan took several hours, (I used the "thorough" option) but I was able to retrieve my most important lost (not initially deleted) files and so far my drive is still working.

Good luck.

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Recovery Software
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R-tools is one of many good undelete products

I have found R-Tools to work as advertised. Since your system asks to format the drive, we assume that the drive is physically visible as such. The recovery work can be tedious.

See R-Tools at
My only connection with them is as a paying user.

R-Studio utilities recover files
Deleted without Recycle Bin, or when Recycle Bin has been emptied;
Removed by virus attack or power failure;
After the partition with the files was reformatted, even for different file system;
When the partition structure on a hard disk was changed or damaged. In this case, R-Studio utilities can scan the hard disk trying to find previously existing partitions and recover files from found partitions.
From hard disk with bad sectors. R-Studio Data Recovery Software can first copy the entire disk or its part into an image file and then process the image file. This is especially useful when new bad sectors are constantly appearing on the hard disk and remaining information must be immediately saved.

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Oops, I accidentally unplugged my USB hard drive,

There are commercial programs designed for just that experience.

One of the best ones I have seen is one called GetDataBack Fat, and NTFS versions. It has many times recovered from drives just like that. One of the things I liked about it, is that it appears to make more of an effort to recover the intact folder names as well. This is one of the best ones I have seen. If you have a flash drive, then use the FAT version, if you have a hard drive, then you probably need the NTFS version.

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Spinrite to the rescue

Don't format the drive, don't even try to save anything to it.

Download a copy of GRC's hard drive data recovery software Spinrte Plug in your drive and run it on the volume. It will attempt to restore any damage you've done to your drive.

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by estefan202 / July 3, 2010 9:33 AM PDT
In reply to: Spinrite to the rescue

spirite is an effective utility to recover errors in a hard drive, but spinrite will not recover from a reformat. physical or logical errors on a hard drive, not the formatting process though. I have spinrite 6

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SpinRite v6 won't access a USB disk
by otr_man / July 29, 2010 12:27 AM PDT
In reply to: spinrite

I too have used SpinRite v6 in the past. My experience was that it could access the hard disks on my Windows ME system (FAT32 partitions, on two 80GB hard disks), although it couldn't fix them; but it was not able to access a USB disk at all.

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More Importantly!!!!!

I see that most of the replies are suggesting all the file recovery programs one could ever need. However, your unfortunate accident points out another extremely important part of this story that needs stressing. NEVER put all your most important files in one place. Spread them around over several storage mediums such as external hard drives, optical media and thumb drives or SD cards. And keep at least one backup off site, like in a safety deposit box. I've seen Businesses that have lost their hard drive and had never made a backup. Good luck!

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by IceEmQuick / July 9, 2010 11:53 PM PDT
In reply to: More Importantly!!!!!

I'm a home user and I use what people call an overcomplicated system, but it is one system that has saved my butt many times. I use the Thermaltake Dock that allows Internal SATA drives to be plugged into it as one of the components. I then I have 2 extra drives of the SAME EXACT size of the drive to be backed up.

Once a week, I use Acronis 2010 to CLONE the disk onto one of the backup disc's that I plug into the Thermaltake dock. The most recent gets put into a fire proofsafe, the one that is in the safe gets moved offsite into my Safety deposit box at the bank.

Some call this overkill, but I have had a drive die on me, and instead of going out and buying a new drive and attempting to restore from a backup file that can get corrupted, I just open my case and replace the disc that crashed or could not be fixed with one of the cloned disc's and restart.

The total time to do this is about 5 minutes minus the changes that have occured in those 3 days.

I had to use this once and it was great.....

I was able to run software over the failed drive and found that one of my programming attempts to write to direct memory caused me to write to the NTFS block and corrupt the data, but the drive is healthy and is now in the backup rotation.

I have considered a 3rd drive that gets prepped every month by cloning it, booting off of it and running sysprep, incase the hardware changes enough that it Windows needs to reconfigure itself.

Backups are important.... The time it can take to start from scratch and install the software you had can take many hours let alone the lost work you had.

I also use Acronis's Online Backup which stores up to x number of versions of documents and files on the computer. Its just another layer of protection so that if something happens, i know I can have the latest documents down to the hour on my machine in minutes....

Overall my recovery time from a complete HD crash would be a max of about 10 minutes.....

Ask yourself, what would you do if your HD crashed???? How long to get back to where you are now EXACTLY???

When you look at the cost of the ThermalTake Device, and the price of internal HDD's, and you see that you can hot swap, it really makes a difference compared to using an enclosed disc where you are locked in to size.

Cheers, and good luck.


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Thermaltake Dock for Backup
by JTHannon / July 10, 2010 2:15 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup

Do the backup drives have to be the same size, or can they be bigger? My hard drive is 111 Gb, & I can't find the same size for purchase.

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Yes the Hard drive may be the same size or bigger.
by Armchairplum / July 13, 2010 9:31 PM PDT

Not Smaller as you obviously cannot get a full copy of a 111gb hard drive onto a 80gb NO MATTER WHAT YOU TRY.

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by liguorid / July 12, 2010 3:35 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup

May be overkill but this incident is a reminder that important files should not reside in just one place!

I keep photos on a raid NAS server (2 mirrored drives)and burn backup copies to DVD occasionally. Storing backups off-site is a good idea, but I'm not sure I have any data I would care about if I lost my house and all my worldly possessions.

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USB hard drive disappeared.

When this has happened to me in the past, I did a reboot with the USB port plugged in during the reboot, and walla it was there.

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System Restore or Device Manager
by scottyyaa / July 9, 2010 9:47 PM PDT

That happened to me when I unplugged one of my devices when it started downloading something that looked suspicious.I just pulled it out.

The device would not be recognized .. I did a system restore and was running again.

Or look in device manager. right click on your device and go from there, delete that one and reinstall, or scan for hardware changes.

There are some options with a double left click also. Let me know !!

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Is the data really lost?

I know much less about this sort of thing than most of you, so this comment may be completely unhelpful.

BUT, I see that the other answers presume that data was erased from the hard drive. However, Brendan said that he quickly unplugged the connection to it, so I wonder whether the hard drive was really changed. Could it be that what he needs is simply to "convince" the relevant programs on his computer to forget the earlier instruction about reformatting the hard drive?

If so, how could he do this?

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by GEO2003 / July 2, 2010 4:01 PM PDT

That is a great question - but your statement of simply convincing Windows or any other utility to just disregard the previous instructions is not that simple.

When you intstruct Windows or any other utility to execute a Format command - they will begin as soon as possible.

Meaning - that Windows or any other utility will see that there was Data on the drive and pop an authorization window to proceed.

So Brendan had to autorized the command to proceed because he thought it was the correct drive he was formatting.

There is where the problem lies, in Windows or other utilities you have choices on how to format - Full Format or Quick Format.

A full formatting of a drive goes through the entire process of formatting each sector on the drive - This allows Windows to mark bad sectors on the drive on the formatting process, so that no information is store on those sectors - This is a safe machanisim built into possibly all operating systems.

A Quick format - Only erases the first sector - and that sector is the one that contains the information that tells Windows how to read the drive, how many partitions, how many directories, how many folders and files and lastly, how much of the drive is free or used from the full capacity.

Given that this informations is absolutely necessary to access a drive, the format command starts at the beginning of the first platter and continues until it finish.

He pull the plug, but I don't think it will make much difference since as soon as the first sector is erase, Windows or any other utility can't read what is on the drive.

The exception here - is as I stated on my previous post - to un-delete the Master File Table - you need an application that can be run ouside of Windows, which would have the ability to mount that drive and recover the MFT.

The boot sector contains information that Windows uses to boot your computer - Both a Boot Sector and MFT are created by Windows at the very beginning of the drive - The MFT keeps track of all the folders and files on a drive.

Given that he was not using the external USB as a boot drive, he has to repare the MFT of the external drive.

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Even bigger problem with it being a linux install
by darrenforster99 / July 3, 2010 7:27 PM PDT

Geo2003 you have made a very good point about the different formatting methods.

However there is one other major problem with the above question.

As Brendan was trying to install Ubuntu linux on the drive it wouldn't have formatted the drive in a normal "windows format" way, even a full format can quite often be recovered if it is formatted normally.

But as Linux uses it's own file system it has most probably started formatting the drive as EXT2 or EXT3 file system, this is a totally different form of file system and will wipe out most of the recovery data which many recovery tools use. This is similar to using the Windows FDISK command and altering the partitions and is quite often irreversible.

There are some tools out there that can still recover data from this type of format, but normally they are very expensive and usually only used by things like police forces for recovering incriminating evidence.

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Unable to access hard drive.

There are plenty of data recovery tools around to help you with this. Personally I use Get Data Back by Runtime Software. Hope this is not treated as an advert because that is not my intention. Search the 'net if you are not sure.

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That is a serious problem.

When you executed the command, it was faster then you pulling out the USB cable - so in my experience, you may have deleted the first sector of the drive that contains the directory and file structure of the hard drive - This is called the MFT, or Master File Table.

If my assumption is correct, you are going to need an application that can run outside of Windows with a bootable CD/DVD.
I bought Partition Commander 10.1 from Avanquest a few years back and never had the need for another application. This application lets you do what ever you want with internal and external drives, but it works outside of Windows because it allows you to create a boot CD/DVD - from there you have several options such as recovering the MFT, Partitioning the Drive, Reformat the Drive, etc.

Here is a description of what it can do:
Partition Commander - Safe, Easy, Reliable, Secure!

Separate and Protect Your Important Data!

?Divide a single hard drive into two or more partitions
?Copy, move, split and merge any partition without losing data
?Step-by-step wizard guides you through partitioning process
?Undo feature any partition step
?Powerful safety features protect you against system failures while partitioning
?Recover any delete partition ------ THIS IS THE ONE I AM REFERING TO.
?Fix computer startup problems
?Runs directly in Windows

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Screen freeze

I have used wireless and corded mice and they continue to freeze. I have to vigorously move the mouse to get it to work. The freeze only lasts a couple of seconds until i activate the mouse. HP compouter. Windows 7. Pavillion dv 4-2160us. The computer is only 6 months old. I drive an external wide monitor from it. Help!

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Oops, I accidentally unplugged my USB hard drive, now I can'

A similar incident occurred when I messed up a thumb drive that could not be recognized when plugged in. I used the free edition of Paragon Back Up and Recovery and was able to restore its use. CAUTION: I do not recall if it reformatted or not. You may want to attempt to recover the data on it first then once reformatted hopefully you can re-load it all. Of course check CNET for a copy of the program...I personally would be in the poor house without them.

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Asking to format the hard disc

Try this and see whether it will help you
load up in safe mode (tap F8 on boot up) choose normal safe mode (rather than with command prompt or networking)

If asked load in as administrator

once loaded in locate problematic drive in my computer (double click on it and it should open)

next go back to my computer and right click on drive selecting properties

go to security tab and click on advanced to change permissions

Then click on owner followed by edit

you should have a check box on the bottom of the screen to replace owner on subcontainers and folders tick it and click ok

all subfolders will be reset to you as owner and will be able to open it I believe this to be a problem with vista and on.

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This one worked for me....

I had this problem on a Vista machine. The system kept trying to format my drive when I tried to access it. The solution was to leave the drive plugged in, shut down the computer completely (normal shutdown), then reboot. On reboot, the system would detect the drive and give me normal access to the contents. On the machine I was using, this happened often, and the same, although tedious, solution would work each time. Give it a try.

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Retrieving files on a messed up USB drive

Hey there,
Yes, you can retrieve the files. There are a few ways of doing this. Consider all of your options first.

You can go to the download area of CNET & search for File Recovery. It's free & works quite well. It even works on formatted drives. But I don't suggest formatting unless that's your last option. I have done so, with compact flash cards & have been 93% successful in retrieving all files & images successfully. This is where paying extra for quality comes into play. The better drives can take a bit more abuse consistently.

I have tried a few other freebies & you get what you pay for. I would suggest searching for programs that have a fee, that is, that you buy, as they are going to put the time into making the software work right (for the most part).

Anyhow, the second step would be to find a company that retrieves files if you don't feel comfortable in doing it yourself. They usually charge by the hour or by the size.

Overall, this can be a very long process, depending on how much needs to be retrieved & how bad the drive is. I've only had one error like that, but it was on a data DVD (that is, it stopped during a copy). It takes more than seven hours to retrieve a few megs of useless data.
SSD's & drives are different, most of the time, you can pull off all of the data (pix, files whatever) easily.

Just don't save back to that drive, or you will/may end up writing over other files. Copy it to C, even if you want it someplace else, as it's the "safest" drive to use when pulling files out.

Good luck, & above all else, pace yourself & don't hurry it along. Also, only download programs from reputable download sites. Only you know how valuable your stuff is.

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I recently had a hard drive fail. The bearings or something like and the OS got corrupted and format failed. Bought new HD's and used a free recovery program with great success. I don't remember which one though. It was either Recover My Files or Recover Lost Data. I used both but don't remember which worked best.
Best Luck

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Your problem

Sorry to say, but the only thing you can do is to buy a software that you can undelete your missing files. A very good one is system mechanic,you can even boot your windows with this CD and when you open this program, making sure that you connected to your Explorer; and let this program doing is work. Then find the deep analize; and it will check your windows and if your lucky it will prompt you to go in the program in the undelete all files. For me, it's your best shot to try. Thank you

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Try checking for solution has some good partition and recovery software. Some is freeware and some is low cost. I think that most of it is for various versions of Windows. You did mention that you tried accessing it on other OS's. They are really helpful. They also have a few forums, similar to this one, where they and other users contribute.
Between this group of smart cookies and theirs, almost any type of issue can be resolved. Good Luck.

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file restore

download the "file scavenger", select and apply it on the external drive with problem. If u now can see the files that disappeared, u will have to buy a copy of the file scavenger to restore the files.

Buy or borrow another external harddrive with sufficient capacity, and restore the files to this.
Format then the old drive and transfer your pictures back.

Regards Torben Skriver Denmark

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