Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Data loss and recovery

I really.....REALLY don't know how to start this blog post. Well...I guess I already have then, haven't I?

I lost all my data. ALL OF IT. Like I said, I decided to switch to Windows 7 a while ago and I spent two days getting everything set up Then I had to "register" it. Basically I have a key that only works as an upgrade, meaning I'd have to install WinXP 64 bit and then upgrade it from there, which I didn't want to have to do. So I just 'acquired' a 64-bit Win7 install DVD and installed it that way. For some absolutely stupid reason, I decided to get all my data up and running on it before I registered it. That was mistake number 1.

Then I decided that I was going to keep all of my personal data off on my second hard drive (a 1TB drive), separate from the OS. But instead of having it two places, I decided to only have it there. Mistake number 2. So anyway, I ran RemoveWAT (which worked just fine in my brother's situation, which worked fine on my brother's new PC, who was in the same situation as me). When I tried to boot back up, I ran into a Windows error that I can't remember. Basically it came down to the fact that Windows couldn't boot with or without my data disk.

I could go into a long boring story about all the errors I encountered and all the steps I tried to take to fix it.....and that would mean that I actually cared about documenting this nightmare at the time of it. I did not. This was freaking scary for me. All of my data: all my music, my documents, my programming, my everything was gone. Pictures from 10 years ago. Everything. I did not give a rat's ass about this blog post at the time. All I wanted was my data back. So this post is far, far from complete and does not even begin to express all of my frantic attempts to fix the problem.

Anyway, back on track: my first thought was to boot into Linux, so that's what I did. I tried to use GParted to check it, and then "resize" it to the same size, both with no results. It said it was a "segmentation fault," which I quickly learned was both the nastiest and the vaguest error in the Windows world. I tried some Linux recovery utilities like TestDisk and PhotoRec. I had a little success with PhotoRec, except it only recovered certain filetypes and didn't even name them.

Then I tried to fix the disk. It was beginning to look like data recovery was not an option, but if I now knew that all of my files were there, they were just "lost." I grabbed both my Win7 install disk and the Win7 upgrade disk and after learning that the install disk doesn't have any recovery tools, I turned to the upgrade disk and started Googling for answers on my iPhone. I tried bootrec. Over. And over. And over again. FixMBR? Nope. FixBoot? No way. It didn't work.

So now I'm getting extremely desperate and I decide that the best option at this point is to hire someone to recover my data, and I let it sit (plus, I really hadn't gotten much sleep the last few nights since I'd been working on this furiously, and I desparately needed rest). After some well needed rest, I began to look at recovery people in my area. No offense to those people, but they seemed like they catered to the majority of the Windows userbase: the people who know just enough to get on internet. Certainly not the people who know enough to even simply boot into a Live Ubuntu CD to recover files from a virus. But I thought out of all those people, at least one of them had to be able to actually recover the data, and then I thought, what would they have? Well there's a small chance that one of them may be an experience *nix user that could fix the disk in five minutes. But more than likely, they just bought a fairly expensive recovery program and then use it to recovery data for clients. So then I figured, why can't I just do that?

O started to search for NTFS recovery programs. I found one called 1st NTFS Recovery and I started scanning with it, which would take 6 hours. I decided to also use that time to scan with Recuva, which was already install on my families computer (which I was using at the time, since my Win7 boot was -as previously mentioned- not working). It would also take 6 hours. I tried a ton of different programs, all just that would scan for about 6 hours, and here's my results for each:

  • 1st NTFS Recovery ($100): found everything, including directory structure.
  • Recuva (Free): Found files, but froze when I tried to filter, so I wasn't sure if it got everything. Plus, it did not preserve directory structure.
  • Smart NTFS Recovery ($40): didn't even find anything, if I remember correctly.
  • PC Inspector File Recovery (Free): Same as Recuva, essentially.
  • Pandora (Free): Didn't find anything. At all.
  • MiniTool Power Data Recovery (Free): I did a quick scan by scanning and then stopping it and it found a few directories! But then I ran a complete scan and it didn't find anything.

After running MiniTool, I decided that I could either spend more and more time scanning with software that could not work and could possibly even mess up my drive even more, I'd rather empty out my wallt a tad and be guaranteed to have all my data. so I chose 1st NTFS Recovery. It was really sad because I wanted to use Recuva. I had already decided that I would donate a ton to Piriform if it would recover my data. But unfortunately, it couldn't Well, it could, but the thing is, it found something like 500,000 files (it said 1,2 million, but alot of them were 0 bytes). So if I were to use Recuva, it would recover all those files. Into the same directory. I didn't feel like spending literally 2 weeks to a month going file by file, trying to figure out where they go. Plus, since I couldn't view it in a tree, I couldn't even tell if it had every folder and every file, and I didn't want to take that chance.

So I bought a 1st BTFS Recovery license and started recovering. It worked like a charm, which is great. It took a good long while, but it recovered all of my data. And trying to figure out where to temporarily store ~600GB of data on a 250GB internal drive and a 120GB external drive is no easy task. But I did it....somehow, and I upgraded my Dropbox account to the 50GB because right after my accident happened, I decided that $100 a year is definitely worth it to never have to never have to wrory about that feeling of loss again.

So that was half of the story: my data is recovered! Of course, then I had to worry about getting it back onto my 1TB drive and getting my Win7 system booting again. The first was easily remedied by using GParted in an Ubuntu Live CD. The second was actually easily remedied by the Win7 restore disk with BootRec. (Apparently before it was trying to fix my 1TB drive....) So I then had a functioning Win7 and all my data back! Yay! Happy day! Of course, I had to fix alot of stuff still, but in the end, it was working.

Now take into the account all of this, then add about another 12 attempts (with either Windows or Linux), proably literally 50 reboots, and God knows how many hours of scanning with various programs. Then add onto the fact that my external DVD drive was broken and the very old Toshiba one I was using would decide to randomly not boot, meaning it would take me sometimes 10 reboots to actually get it to just boot into Ubuntu, the recovery disk, or what have you. Then take into account AGAIN that the drive is old so it takes a long, long while just to boot into Ubuntu, and even longer just to get into the Win7 recovery. (Does that seem right to you? Oh well, that's another blog post entirely.)

Time for some closing notes. I would say that I've learned several lessons

  1. Worry about registering before doing hours of crap to set it up.
  2. A "backup" is in two places.
  3. Only have the essentials (i.e., remove the 1TB drive when running RemoveWAT which doesn't need it)

Another closing note is this: I'm really dissapointed in Recuva. I really, really wanted to donate to Piriform, and it almost worked. It just didn't detect the folders, which is one third of recovering data. I'd have to say that the three things it should be able to do (a) recover the files (obviously), (b) recover the names of the files, (c) preserve directory structure. I would so much have rather thrown my $100 to Piriform, but I really can't if it doesn't do the job well enough. In any case, I still love Piriform and I think I always will, I'm just dissapointed in this instance; commercial software beat out freeware here.

Yeah, that's what's been up with me. Of course the one time I can't really blog I have all these ideas for posts. Hopefully I can follow through on them.
-Bry

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