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I'm trying to recover data off an old internal laptop drive now residing in a USB caddy. The hard-drive is pretty knackered and started giving warnings about impending failure, so I would rather not boot from it.

It has three partitions, one of which does not mount automatically, but I can mount it and see the files in the terminal. The other two mount automatically on /media/ACER and /media/5E93-A93D when I plug the hardrive in, but I can't see any files on them - they appear empty in Nautilus/Thunar and the terminal. I know there are two FAT32 filesystems there, one with Windows XP on, and another that I used for My Documents. As far as I remember they were both nearly full.

They show up on system monitor as being completely empty. When I open GParted I get this confusing table:

GParted screenshot showing weird partition usage amounts (can't post images sorry)

The 'Sized', 'Used' and 'Unused' columns don't add up. This was after I mounted 'PQSERVICE' partition on '/media/sdc1', which mounts without any issues (albeit not automatically).

I have tried using ddrescue to get the files off, but I could only get it to output a single file (I was after a directory structure), and the file that it did output was completely empty, so I guess ddrescue can't see anything there either.

What's going on?

Additional Details

The hardrive is 60GB Seagate Momentus 4200.2. Caddy is a £20 unbranded thing that my girlfriend bought at Maplins.

This harddrive comes from an old Acer Aspire 1682WLMi. It came with Windows on the 'ACER' partition, nothing on the '5E93-A93D' partition (I used it for data), and the 'PQSERVICE' was not visible under Windows. It is my understanding that FAT32 partition cannot be bigger than 32GB, and I suspect it was cheaper for Acer to simply partition the drive in this way rather than use NTFS. It has at one time been a dual-boot system, but I took that off.

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1 Answer

If you suspect that the drive is failing and you want to recover as much data as possible and have 60GB free, then ddrescue is your best bet. The instructions here should help:


While I would suggest reading through that entire page, the basic steps you'll want to do are:

  1. Unmount the partitions.
  2. Use ddrescue to take a copy of each partition (/dev/sdc1 to /dev/sdc3) to somewhere on another disk. See the above link for suggested parameters.
  3. Mount the images via loopback with a command like mount -o loop,ro -t vfat sdc1.img /mnt and then copy files from there.

By recovering the files out of an image of the file system, you won't receive read errors. However, your image may be missing some data depending on how successful ddrescue was.

You can run ddrescue repeatedly to attempt to recover more data, but I'd suggest trying to get an initial image of all three partitions before doing so.

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Hi James thanks for the reply. I have created images of the three partitions and placed them on another external drive. I mount one of the strange empty-appearing using mount -o loop /media/F/ddrescue/sdb3/file3 /media/sdb3/. It still appears empty. If I use Autopsy then that doesn't show the files either, but when I click $OrphanFiles in Autopsy's File Analysis section, the external disk spins like crazy and looks like it might be doing something. I also still do not know why none of the files are appearing for these two partitions. –  sennett May 15 '11 at 18:48
If you don't see any files in the volume, the first thing you could try is take a copy of the volume and run fsck on it and see if that can repair the damage and recover anything (try to keep an pristine image of the disk when doing any operation that modifies the contents). If that doesn't work, you may have to rely on data recovery tools mentioned on the wiki page I linked to. –  James Henstridge May 17 '11 at 0:27
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