Recovery from an External Device with a Damaged File System

(5 easy steps to retrieve files with R-Undelete)

Note: The technique described in this article may also be used to recover data from a reformatted disk.

You may also read our articles:
Get Deleted Files Back
Photo Recovery
Video Recovery
R-Undelete: File recovery from a non-functional computer

The most probable cause for file system damage on an external disk is its improper removal from a computer. All operating systems have a special "eject" command which prepares the disk to be disconnected from a computer. This ensures that the computer is not writing anything on the disk when it is disconnected. If the operating system is accessing the disk when it is removed, the disk's file system may be damaged, and the files on the disk may become inaccessible. The computer will be unable to recognize the file system or may see it as an empty disk. Windows Disk Manager shows such disk as unallocated space, and Windows may ask you to format it when attempting to access it.
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Disk with a damaged file system in Windows Disk Manager

Although it looks like the files on such a disk have been completely wiped out or lost, in most cases, they haven't been. Some or all of your files may still be on the disk, even if the operating system doesn't see them. But R-Undelete is a file recovery program that helps you to "see" those files, find, and recover them. Below we will show how to do that in 5 easy steps.

Before we begin file recovery:
First and foremost: Don't panic! In most cases you will be able to get your files back. You don't have to be a computer expert for successful file recovery. Still, we recommend you to read our article "File Recover Basics" to better understand how file recovery works and what it can and cannot do.

1. Check that the disk has no hardware problems. And if it has, stop any further file recovery attempts by yourself and seek out a help from a professional data recovery specialist. Beyond checking that the cables are firmly connected, any "do it yourself" file recovery efforts may actually worsen your chances of recovering the data if your disk has a serious physical malfunction. Signs that a disk has a physical failure include: .

  • The system does not recognize the device at all, or it appears with an unusual or garbled name.
  • A S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) utility (R-Undelete, for example) warns that a severe hardware failure event has occurred.
  • The hard drive makes unusual noises, clicks, or takes a very long time to spin up and initialize.
  • Bad blocks continually appear on the drive.

All these cases are best handled by qualified data recovery professionals only. They have special equipment, software, and, most important, the required skills to work with such drives. Neither R-Undelete, nor other data recovery software will help you in such cases. Moreover, any further tampering with such a drive will surely inflict more damage to your files. Quite often, such damage will render the files completely irrecoverable

2. Find enough room to store recovered files. They will be copied from the original disk to that place. R-Undelete can save files on any local or network disk visible by your computer.

3. Download and install R-Undelete. You don't have to buy it immediately. You may start file recovery in its Demo mode and check whether R-Undelete can recover your files or not. If you have all reasons to believe that the file recovery will be successful, you may buy it and register on-the-fly without interrupting the file recovery process..

4. Connect the external disk to your computer. It's better to use the fastest eSATA (external SATA) connection, but a USB3.0 will also do. USB2.0 is much slower and more time may require for the file recovery process.

Now we can start actual file recovery:

1. Locate the disk with the damaged file system
Most likely, R-Undelete will show it as a disk without a valid file system.
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Disk with a damaged file system in R-Undelete

We advise you to check its S.M.A.R.T. attributes to be sure that the disk is in a healthy state. To do so, right-click the disk and select Show S.M.A.R.T. on the shortcut menu.
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S.M.A.R.T. attributes for the disk with a damaged file system
Then select the disk and click the Next button.

2. Scan the disk
Select Detailed Scan for lost files and Enable File Types.
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Disk scan parameters

You may also want to select only those file types that are expected to be on the damaged disk. Most likely those are files with music, photos, movies, and Microsoft Office documents. To do so, click the Known File Types button,
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List of Known File Types to search for

Click the Clear All button, and select only the file types you want to find and recover.

We also advise you to save scan info to a file. You may then load it if you have to interrupt the scan process.

When you're done, click the Next button. R-Undelete will start scanning the disk showing its progress. Please note, that it may be quite a lengthy process for large disks.

When R-Undelete finishes the scan, it will show the results.
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Disk scan results
Click the Next button to proceed further.

3. Locate the original logical disk
When R-Undelete finishes the scan, it will show recognized partitions (disks that R-Undelete believes exists or existed on the disk)
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Discovered logical disks

R-Undelete shows them in different colors, depending on which elements of the partition have been discovered.

An existing logical disk or partition.
Both boot records and file entries are found for this partition.
Only file entries are found for this partition.
Only boot records are found for this partition.

If R-Undelete has found several recognized partitions, it&aposs necessary to determine which one corresponds to the real logical disk on which the files resided. Generally, speaking, the following guidelines apply:

  • If you are going to recover files from a disk with a damaged file system, the right recognized partition will most likely be a green one.
  • f you are going to recover files from a previously deleted or re-formatted partition, the right recognized partition will most likely be a yellow one.

This, however, won't always be the case. Also always check the recognized partition's file system, start point, and size. They should be the same for the recognized partition and the lost logical disk.

You may still have selected a wrong partition, but you'll be able to return back to this panel and select another one. And if R-Undelete finds only one partition, it will skip this panel.

When you select a partition, click the Next button, and R-Undelete will start enumerating files on it.

4. Find lost files and mark them for recovery
You may do that by the following ways:

* By browsing the folder tree.
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Files and folders marked for recovery

* By sorting them by file types (extensions) or time stamps.
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Files sorted by their types (extensions)

* Or by direct search for specific files.
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Search for specific files

See R-Undelete on-line help: Searching for a File for more file search options.

Please note that once marked for recovery, a file or folder will remain marked even when you switch, say, from the real folder tree to files sorted by their extension. You need to explicitly unmark a file if you don't want to recover it.

While marking files for recovery, you may also estimate chances that R-Undelete can successfully recover them. Double-click a file to preview it and see the results.

R-Undelete can preview a lot of file types:

Most graphic files:
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File preview for a jpg file

PDF and Microsoft Office documents (even when their respective software isn't installed on the system):
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File preview for a Microsoft Word document

And a lot of audio and video file types (provided that their codecs are installed on the system).

You may see the list of supported file formats on the R-Undelete online help: Previewing Files.

5. File Recovery
Now if you decide that R-Undelete can recover your lost files, you may purchase the license and register it on-the-fly without restarting the program. Please note that you don't have to register R-Undelete if you recover files from a FAT-formatted device (a flash memory card or stick, for example).

When you marked all files for recovery, click the Next button and select a place to store them.
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Place to store recovered files and recovery parameters

If necessary, you may also specify file recovery parameters and options to process bad sectors on the disk. See R-Undelete online help to learn more about Recovery and Bad Sectors options.

Click the Recover button to start file recovery.

When R-Undelete finishes the process, it will display a brief report about its results.
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File recovery results

Now you may go to the folder with the recovered files and view your files. If the recovery was successful, you can reformat the damaged disk and use it again.

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