My daughter’s laptop decided a week or two ago that it was a good day to die, and so its hard drive refused to mount. The symptoms were basically those of a startup file problem, so I hoped to be able to refresh the system and move on, but unfortunately it soon became apparent that the hardware itself was at fault – and there was no backup available.
In the past I’ve run a disk utility against errant drives and salvaged what I could, but my usual utilities were unable to get the drive to mount, so that approach was a no-go. I decided instead to try a program new to me which has received good reviews, Data Rescue 3. I ran a demo version briefly to see if it could recover anything, and managed to pull a small file out of the drive. On the strength of that I purchased the full package and aimed it at the failed drive, trying to get a clone of the entire disk, warts and all.
The software immediately reported it had found a problem – slow reads – which suggested the drive was about to fail. OK, I knew that, but at least the software knew something was wrong, and I told it to keep going. About 24 hours later it had processed slightly over 75% of the drive, but somehow, magically, the disk appeared to have mounted – though a system message told me that the system software – not Data Rescue – couldn’t repair the disk, and that I should immediately try to recover as many files as possible. So I did.
The disk directory opened up, and I tried to copy a folder. The system tried to copy, but couldn’t get a handle on the files to be copied – the disk was just in too bad a condition. Oh well, I’d just have to work through Data Rescue. Which was no longer reporting any progress.
Perhaps it was in the middle of a very slow read.
I waited, but the block count which is the underlying progress indication remained unchanged. I waited some more, but there was still no progress. I cancelled the program, but it refused to quit, kept going even though no progress was being reported, and the lights on the recovery drive continued to flash – which should have been a clue. Figuring Data Rescue had simply crashed, I forced the program to quit and tried to restart it. It refused to start, telling me that background activities were still going, and I should try to log out and log back in. Instead, I restarted the system – my second mistake – and fired up Data Rescue again. Wait – where was the 75% of the disk I had already recovered? Evidently in abandoning the process I had left the disk image incomplete, and my system had deleted it, recovering the space on the recovery drive. And so, I made my third mistake, and told Data Rescue to begin again. What I should have done was undeleted the previous disk image first, and tried to recover files from that, but by starting over I over-wrote the previous disk image, making recovery from that image impossible. And the new image is being created from a disk which has had more time to go bad – dying even as Data Rescue was working on it – and no longer contained as much good data as before.
So far, after three days of work, Data Rescue has been able to recover only 30 Gb of “good” disk space – which does not mean good files! – and has slowed down dramatically after getting only 28% through the recovery process. It now projects that it will be weeks, if not months, before the disk is fully processed, and I am considering stopping the cloning and working on what currently survives to recover what I can.
Lessons learned: don’t mess with a disk while recovery is underway; try to recover from partial copies if that’s all that remains; and – for my daughter – back up regularly. In which regard, I will say that I myself do backups, but if the backup and original drives fail together, I’m still dead in the water – so I should review my processes.