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Recover data from a hard drive with massive uncorrectable bad sectors. v1.6


It’s your worst fear. Your PC won’t boot and you have no backups and all you hear coming out of your computer is the repetitive sound of your PC trying to read a bad sector from your hard drive.

This guide is not for a hard drive with just a few bad sectors, but one with so many uncorrectable ones you are willing to try anything.

Most of the time, if a hard drive has bad sectors, you can use tools like Spinrite, or Hard drive Re-generator, to fix the few bad sectors that are found and pull your data off the drive. Other times there are so many bad sectors it seems like all hope is lost.

A customer recently brought in an OLD Gateway desktop with a 50GB hard drive that wouldn’t boot. Upon scanning it with Hard Drive Re-generator, it found and fixed over 60,000 bad sectors. When running it again it said it found only 200. So while some bad sector immediately returned or some didn’t get fixed at all, it did seem like the majority weren’t there anymore.

I then booted off a BartPE cd and thought I would try a chkdsk /f c: to repair the file system . It got about 75% thru and stopped. This was expected.

So now we have a drive that has so many bad sectors they can never all get fixed, we can’t repair the file system because of them and with a corrupt file system, Windows can’t read the data on it.

At this point the hope of getting all the data off the drive is gone, now we just want to see what things we actually retrieve off the drive. With the following method you COULD get all of your files back, but it is most unlikely.

The following is done as a last resort, when all hope is lost.

First, I hook a spare hard drive up to one of my repair workstations as well as the bad drive. I boot a copy of True image off a USB stick and tell it to make a sector by sector copy image file of the bad drive. We use the sector by sector image mode instead of the clone option because the clone option hates corrupt partitions and dirty NTFS file systems and would almost instantly fail. Once you start the sector by sector copy it should get just a little ways (depending on were the bad sectors are located) in and for obvious reasons says it cannot read X sector, this is expected. It gives us the option to ignore all bad sectors. Obviously if we ignore sectors some of the stuff won’t get copied, which is ok because at this point we are just trying to get anything off the drive.

Depending on the size of the drive, this will take some time. Once it’s done, remove the bad drive and hook up another good drive. Then restore the image back onto the good drive. Now go back into Bartpe and do a chkdsk /f c: .In the case of the image copy of the 50GB hard drive, the chkdsk took 3 hours to complete. The NTFS file system of the drive was HIGHLY corrupted. This time the chkdsk should complete without issue and most of the file system should be accessible for data recovery.

In the case of the 50GB hard drive, even after the 3 hour chkdsk completed the hard drive was still inaccessible. I then used data recovery software on the drive.

Using this method I was successfully able to retrieve his WAB Address Book file containing 703 contacts.

Hope this helps!

Edited by warwagon
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I just used this process last night. Took about 12 hours+ to complete, but I was able to get all data off a users drive that had a MASSIVE amount of bad sectors, including emails and contacts from Windows Live Mail that had never been backed up.

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1)  Restore from your backup instead

2)  Have fun finishing off the dying drive while the restore is taking place

 

Seriously, I no longer have much pity these days for those who still insist on not having backups.  If you can't be bothered, it can't be that important.  Other people's files are even less important to me.

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1)  Restore from your backup instead

2)  Have fun finishing off the dying drive while the restore is taking place

 

Seriously, I no longer have much pity these days for those who still insist on not having backups.  If you can't be bothered, it can't be that important.  Other people's files are even less important to me.

 

They had a backup but it was from Aug, 2013 and Zero backup of email and addresses.

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They had a backup but it was from Aug, 2013 and Zero backup of email and addresses.

 

This does not make me change my stance.

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Using this method I was successfully able to retrieve his WAB Address Book file containing 703 contacts.
 
That doesn't sound like a true happy ending.

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I think a lot of these old-or-no backup situations would go away if Microsoft put a decent backup utility into Windows. Something straightforward like Time Machine.

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One time the city water department brought me a laptop running Windows XP and some special Water department software. The hard drive had MASSIVE bad sectors and they had no idea how they were going to reinstall their critical software they needed for the water department because the software was so old they didn't even know where they were going to start.

 

So first I did everything mentioned in this guide and got an image of the drive made. Did a chkdsk /f c: from a bartpe and  after it repaired the file system was able to see the directory structures and the files. Then I reinstalled Windows onto a spare drive. Then copied the contents of the old drive over writing the new window install. Then the computer booted up with some issues. Did a sfc /scanow repaired some corrupt system files. Brought the entire Windows install back to life including full functionality of their software. Just talked to one of the guys there a few weeks ago and they say the laptop is still running great.

 

I then imaged the drive again.

 

After I fixed the laptop I told him, its a miracle I got this running again....

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About an hour into this process and have not incountered the "Cannot read X sector" warning, but when I do, I assume you select the option to ignore all bad sectors?

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About an hour into this process and have not incountered the "Cannot read X sector" warning, but when I do, I assume you select the option to ignore all bad sectors?

 

correct.

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I see 3 options for restore, what type: 1. Image restore (disks or partitions).  2. sector-by-sector restoration of disk or partitions.  3. restore specified files of folders?

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Current state:

I followed your instructions, went ahead with Image restore (disks or partitions). Booted to Windows XP with Hiren's BootCD, from CMD ran "chkdsk /f c:" and got the following error "Corrupt Master File Table. CHKDSK Aborted". Also note the drive in XP is detected as 0 Bytes.  Please advise.

 

 

History:

 

That error was my initial issue on a Seagate HDD with one partition (NTFS), no O/S only data is returning the error "Corrupt Master File Table". Prior to following your instructions I CHKDSK /F on the drive, but no progress indicator is displayed even after 13+ hours.

 

Tried to repair the MFT with TestDisk, but that failed too.

Running Seatools there were 73 Bad Sectors identified and "repaired". I've tried a Linux Live CD but the drive cannot be mounted due to missing MFT. Ghost and Redo backup did not work either.

I tried GetDataBack, but the application scans for less than a second and only displays 7.5GB of approximate 150GB of files the 400GB drive. One odd thing I noticed with this app is if I scan FAT32 it takes 1.5 hours and discovers 80k files, but displays nothing to be recovered.

I also ran HDD Regenerator in hopes to fix bad sectors, but aported half way through to try your method.

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After ignoring all bad sectors was the image copy able to finish?

 

Also when you restore the image onto a different drive, make sure you also do a sector by sector recovery.

 

Like I said this is a last ditch effort. Never said it would be successful! :D

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I never had to ignore any bad sectors, no warning came up during image copy and it was sucessful.

 

I didn't do a sector by sector recovery either, I choose the first option which was "Image restore (disks or partitions)". Will that make a difference in result, should I recover the image sector by sector and try again?

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I'll do two backups on a drive that comes in with failing sectors...

 

First, always ignore dead sectors, backup sector by sector.

 

Immediately, start a new backup, sector by sector with a retry cycle set per sector (Acronis does this). If it spends 30 minutes on one sector and can't recover it, skips it. This will take many days but sometimes I can remake a computer that wouldn't even boot before work (after transferring this backup to a new hard drive and repairing the files) - if not, the first backup is there.

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I like to use Roadkils Unstoppable copier for this kind of thing.

 

Windows does have a good enough backup solution built in but nobody seems to use it or know about it! Well at least that will keep making me money :p

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I never had to ignore any bad sectors, no warning came up during image copy and it was sucessful.

 

I didn't do a sector by sector recovery either, I choose the first option which was "Image restore (disks or partitions)". Will that make a difference in result, should I recover the image sector by sector and try again?

 

 

Did you do a sector by sector backup?

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Last week, I got an XP machine in with a bad hard drive. S.M.A.R.T warnings were going off. Mostly in sector relocation. The drive would not boot, and the partition was unreadable.

 

He had lot of documents and pictures that were of course not backed up.

 

So I tried this method as a last resort.

 

True image took about 1 hour before the process of cloning would even start. Took about 20 mins per screen. The actual cloning took 4 to 5 days.

 

Once it finished I ran a chkdsk /f c:

 

the documents and settings folder was missing completely but all of his stuff was in the found.00 folder under another sub folder

 

I got back all of his photos, music and documents, emails, favorites and desktop. Total amount recovered 17 GB.

 

He told me when he came today, that he was loosing sleep over his data being gone. He said there was some photos of his dad who had passed away.

 

He now has all of his data back on a new computer PLUS he is now setup with an external hard drive doing nightly backups.

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Warwagon what software did you use? Did you hook the drive up internally or via USB in a caddy?

I honestly thought hard drives in such a state were beyond the point of having anything recovered off them

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Warwagon what software did you use? Did you hook the drive up internally or via USB in a caddy?

I honestly thought hard drives in such a state were beyond the point of having anything recovered off them

 

Hooked it up via Sata to my repair computer and booted a copy of True Image 2013. It took 20 or 30 mins for True Image just to initialize the drive.

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Great.. Heart warming how you got the poor guys precious pictures back. I've used true image 2013 to restore backed up OS images but never this. Will give it a whirl when I next come across a fubar drive :)

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+warwagon

Do you run HDD Regenerator from windows, or do you boot it and just let it run on its own ?

Because when i boot up with Regenerator from my laptop it dosent find any sectors  >>> http://screencast.com/t/jVbxTmh2yT

 

but when i use HDD Regenerator in windows it stops at some point and says it cant fix the bad sectors in wondows..

any advice ?

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They had a backup but it was from Aug, 2013 and Zero backup of email and addresses.

If they had linked to a service like Google mail it could have duplicated the contacts at least.As for the images you recovered the owner should have really made a back up online theres plenty of free services like Dropbox or even Imgur to host them.

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+warwagon

Do you run HDD Regenerator from windows, or do you boot it and just let it run on its own ?

Because when i boot up with Regenerator from my laptop it dosent find any sectors  >>> http://screencast.com/t/jVbxTmh2yT

 

but when i use HDD Regenerator in windows it stops at some point and says it cant fix the bad sectors in wondows..

any advice ?

 

 

I usually run it off a spare PC I have setup for this exact task. I boot from it.

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