How to recover from an oh-shit hard disk moment

I’ve been reading all about Cameron’s saga with his PC rebuild. In the latest installment Cameron needs to contact some old Microsoft buddies because the MBR of his backup disk has been trashed. Unfortunately they couldn’t help him and have given him a bet either way. But maybe I can help, here’s why (Cameron, skip to the end and grab the link).

Earlier this year (yes, its still this year), I was rebuilding my laptop and I was using an external firewire drive to backup some data. Firewire is 100% reliable on my Dell laptop, and to almost all operating systems it just looks like a standard drive. The problem started when I finished the backup and rebooted with the Windows XP CD in ready to do the re-install.

Unfortunately the external disk also mounted and when I was trashing the old partition on the built-in disk I also trashed the partition on the external drive. About one micro-second after it happened I realised my mistake and had a sinking feeling – you know, that feeling you have when you have lost four years worth of e-mail archives.

I find its best not to panic in these situations, especially if you know how the technology works – actually, if you don’t know how the technology works, feel free to panic . . .

What I had done under the covers was delete the partition table, the file allocation table should have still be intact so all I had to do was re-create the partition table and I should have access to my data. The trick is – while I understand in theory what has happened, in practice I had no idea how to fix it myself. So if I went surfing the web and searching newsgroups.

I ended up finding this tool. I purchased it and downloaded the files and then spent three hours trying to get it running off a bootable CD (my Dell doesn’t have a floppy disk drive). Once I had it up and running it was able to find the disk and restore the partition table. I’m fairly confident that it could recover the MBR too.

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