Thursday, March 25, 2004

Nightmare of a day

Today was terrible.

I had a bright idea that I would install an old redundant hard disk from a computer I never use (that's going to become a Linux router before much longer) into my newest machine so that I can read all my old data off of it to back it up / delete it. Good idea, I thought, get some more hard disk space, clean up some old crap and get back some silly programs and some data that I knew was on there.

I opened both machines (after several minutes of untangling cables and unscrewing bits), moved the harddisk over, something I've done countless times, gave the inside of the computers a little spring clean and put everything back where it was.

Now, my current machine has more than a few disks in it... first there's a 120Gb whopper drive that's my main drive, a floppy (obviously), a CD-RW, a DVD-ROM, a tape drive and then there's a double-3Gb RAID array run off of a PCI RAID card (having used up all of my motherboard IDE connectors).

This RAID/ATA 133 card (an Silicone Image 0680-based model) was the only space left to install the extra harddrive on so I hooked it all up to that, knowing that it can serve the drive as a normal drive in addition to it's existing RAID setup.

I turned my computer on and the new drive didn't appear in the RAID card's BIOS initialisation. I pressed F3 to get a look at it in more detail and the RAID BIOS said that it could only see the 3Gb drives, as they normally were. Very strange. I checked my jumper settings and power and everything seemed fine. Shuffled the drives around a bit with respect to primary, secondary, master, slave and got it to appear in the RAID BIOS. My RAID-mirror array nicely intact on the original 3Gb drives and a seperate BIOS entry for the "new" drive.


While I was waiting for Windows to boot, I began worrying what letter Windows would choose to assign to this new drive (don't want it to mess up my G: drive being Games!). Never mind, I can always reinstall stuff or do a bit of registry hacking to fix that. Anyway, the new drive didn't appear in My Computer.


Went into Control Panel / System and the drive is listed there and working fine, but no drive letter was assigned to it. So I ran Paragon Partition Manager 2000 (a little partitioning utility that I found on a magazine coverdisk). It showed the new drive but with a full-sized "unknown" partition. When it was in the previous computer it had been given 7 partitions, all of them FAT!

It seems that the RAID BIOS had taken it upon itself to try and incorporate this new drive into it's RAID set without so much as asking! In doing so, it had wiped the partition table, some of the FAT and some data.

ARGH! I was not a happy bunny.

What idiot designer thought that it should try to include every drive it sees into a RAID array without confirmation?! This thing was supposed to keep my data safe, not copy my data over anything I fed the card, especially seeing as this card is also marketed as a plain ATA-133 interface as well!

After I'd calmed down enough to go back and investigate, I needed to find a Filesystem Recovery tool. Well, I initially found a few on Data Recovery Specialists websites, some were well-thought-out, i.e. download a read-only version of the software to see if it can recover anything then buy it if you want to actually get your data back.

I didn't fancy having to go into Linux and perform a serious autopsy of this drive... hell... it's been in a computer that I haven't turned on for two years. A little hunting found me a freeware tool to do the job (as almost always happens).

PC Inspector File Recovery came to the rescue. I ran it from my (thankfully) working Windows, set it to look at this mystery blank disk that Windows refused to assign a drive letter to and, after several hours, it came back with 15 partitions it said it had found. Erm... that drive only had 7. Apparantly, sometimes it can pick up "fake" partition tables from things like disk images and suchlike.

Anyway, it seems that the partition tables and FAT's must have been a little corrupted but it managed to see most of my files, with the correct name and size, and allowed me to save any of them onto another harddrive as normal files. It also picked up a few bad sectors on the disk but I was able to safely click ignore and it carried on, skipping over them.

Thank you!

So, now all I have to do is sift through the crap that's on there, decide what's worth recovering and save it, then blank the drive and use it to shift the data burden on my main drives. Next time I want to copy an old hard drive onto my computer, I'll just replace my CDROM and copy the data over, then put it back how it was.

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