Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


When Good Disks Go Bad - Part 2
by Alan German

 

As noted in Part 1 of this article, the Lost Partition Recovery and Damaged Partition Recovery modules of MiniTool’s Power Data Recovery software are applicable to the partition structure of hard drives. What we need to test these modules is a hard disk with either a lost or a damaged partition.

Here is where Jeff Dubois rides his white charger to our rescue, or – perhaps having tired of flogging two dead horses – hands over a couple of hard drives for experimentation. Jeff’s disks had been busy working in a “Just a Bunch Of Disks” (JBOD) array before being replaced when they started to make strange noises.

The individual drives each had a 1 TB capacity but, as with the SDcard we encountered in Part 1 of this article, Windows’ File Explorer refused to acknowledge the existence of any file system on either disk. Similarly, the Disk Management utility showed each disk as not being initialized and having 931 GB of unallocated space.

One of the 1 TB drives was loaded into an All-in-1 Docking Station which connected to the computer through a USB port. The Damaged Partition Recovery module of Power Data Recovery wasn’t of any help since it didn’t show the drive in the list of available drives and partitions. Consequently, the Lost Partition Recovery module was employed.

The test disk was selected from the list displayed in this module and a Full Scan conducted on the hard drive. Given the large capacity of the drive, the time required for the scan was of the order of eight hours. Needless to say, the computer was left to process the drive overnight.

The results of the scan were somewhat confusing. The recovery software claimed to have identified 201 disk partitions. Now, even though this disk had been in use for some time, it seems highly unlikely that it had ever contained 200 individual partitions. Even stranger was the indication that a total of 257.97 TB in 423,710 files had been found. Now, finding 250 TB on a 1 TB drive seems like quite a remarkable feat!
The partitions that had been located were listed in the form: Partition 1 NTFS, Partition 2 NTFS, etc. Each partition was nominally several tens of GB in size, and contained thousands of files and folders. Not really knowing where to start, the choice was made to look at the contents of the first listed partition. In particular, Jeff was interested in trying to recover some WordPerfect files, so the initial investigation was undertaken in the RAW Files/Word Perfect Document folder.

This proved not to be particularly helpful. All of the files were listed in the form file1.wpd, file2.wpd, etc. The recovery software appeared to have grouped the WPD files together but had been unable to recover the original file names. Furthermore, attempting to open these files revealed a further problem. Some files appeared to have been recovered successfully, e.g. there were a number of letters and the odd software manual that were easily read. However, many files just contained pages of “garbage” (ASCII) characters or could not be opened at all.

Jeff had further specified that the documents he wished to recover were associated with his university law courses and all had filenames in the form LAW*.wpd. Power Data Recovery provides a Find option so this was used to search the recovered information for this wildcard filename.

At this point, a bug (or a feature) was found in the software. Each press of the Find option produced a listing for one file. Firstly, the file $Dir9316/LAWS5903W.wpd was identified. A second search located the file $Dir9335/LawSociety.wpd. However, subsequent Find commands just cycled between these two files, and the process continued in a seemingly endless loop.

However, the really bad news was that even though only two “LAW” files were identified in this manner, both of them contained unreadable ASCII characters. So, there was no useful recovery using this method.

Our problem now is knowing whether the recovery software isn’t doing its job for a hard disk, or if the format used by the JBOD array is so weird and wonderful that recovering individual files from just one disk is really a non-starter.

I happened to have a spare hard drive available, one which I had replaced in a laptop computer with a SSD. Since there was nothing wrong with this disk, I thought it might be useful as a test bed for a partition “recovery”.

One of the partitions on the drive was an old version of my dedicated data partition. For the test, I deleted this partition using the Disk Management utility, did a Quick Format of the partition, and then copied the files and folders for my current data partition from my backup USB drive to the test HDD. The data partition on the test HDD now had exactly the same files and folders that were on the backup USB. Finally, I deleted the data partition once more from the test HDD.

Running Power Data Recovery allowed me to conduct a full scan on the now 8.01 GB, unallocated, partition on the test HDD. The results showed that the recovery software had located “7.77 GB in 10,502 files”. In particular, there were two recovery folders – “#1 (NTFS) 8.01 GB” which listed 4.7 GB in 5870 files, and “#2 (ALL RAW Files”) which listed 3.07 GB in 4632 files. I saved the recovered folders to the main hard drive of the computer being used to run the recovery software.

The first of these folders contained recognizable files and folders from my data partition. However, there were also two additional sub-folders – GB and RAW Files. GB had no files that were meaningful to me; just two folders, one with some empty files, and another with some sort of metadata files. The RAW Files folder contained the sub-folders that we have seen previously, e.g. Word Perfect Document, etc. with file1.wpd, et seq. Since these folders didn’t appear to be useful, I simply deleted them, leaving the files and folders that I recognized as coming from the deleted data partition.

The final stages in the recovery process were to use the Disk Management utility to set up the unallocated partition on the test HDD as a simple volume, assign a drive letter, and to copy the recovered files and folders to this newly-created partition. It was then a simple matter to do a file and folder comparison between the recovered disk partition on the test disk and the backup USB drive to ensure that all of the files had been recovered successfully.

So, the moral of this part of the story is that Power Data Recovery will recover files completely from a “lost” partition in some circumstances, but may be considerably less successful under other conditions. Either that, or I need to spend considerably more time and effort to understand how the software works!

Final Thoughts

Power Data Recovery proved to be useful in a number of instances, recovering lost files from various disk storage media. However, users need to be aware that full scans of large-capacity drives take considerable time, even when using a computer with a fast CPU, tons of RAM, and an SSD as the main drive. Furthermore, the recovery software seems to hog the machine’s resources and can dramatically slow the response for certain other tasks that you may wish to run concurrently. This is especially the case when trying to review the details of the results, save recovered files, and access these files in other programs in order to check their viability. Finally, the scan results themselves are not terribly intuitive. This may not be an issue if the recovered files and folders are in the form that you expect, but the information can be difficult to interpret in some other cases. However, the successes that have been demonstrated by a neophyte user suggest that this software is deserving of a place in anyone’s recovery toolbox. It provides a measure of insurance against data loss, and may well be an exceptionally useful tool for this purpose in the right circumstances.


Bottom Line:

Power Data Recovery (US $89.00)
MiniTool Solution Ltd.
Vancouver, British Columbia
https://www.powerdatarecovery.com/


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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