General Question

RareDenver's avatar

How can you re-install a file system to a hard drive without formatting it?

Asked by RareDenver (13143points) August 15th, 2010

I’ve got a 1TB external HD and after copying some corrupt files to it the whole thing is a bit knackered. The FAT32 file system no longer shows which I’m guessing is why Windows thinks it has 0 bytes of a capacity of 0 bytes. Is there anyway of getting back the FAT32 file system without formatting the drive? I really don’t want to lose the data and I have been quoted a price of £100 for data recovery, plus the cost of a new Hard Drive if needed. Obviously if all they are going to do is something I could do with the help of fluther I would rather keep my £100.

I’m using Windows XP sp3

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16 Answers

Enforcer's avatar

I would need the PC in front of me but you could try an FSCHECK (chkdsk in windows).

If you are unable to run chkdsk I have had success with Acronis utilities for recovering partitions (assuming the p-table is corrupt and not the FS).

You can google for file system repair tools.

If you have access to a linux bootable USB or CD you could try to force mount it in Linux. Linux lets you do things Windows can’t

If your file system is completely corrupted beyond repair you have no choice to reformat or comb through the Disk manually (I’m sure there is commercial grade software for this).

That is just a random list of things to try.

Tobotron's avatar

Yes actually, with any luck… get Ubuntu from

the instructions here are very very easy to follow, but if you already know how basically you just need to burn the .iso of ubuntu to a blank cd or dvd disk, put the burnt disk in your cd drive and restart, (you should have your PC boot by cd drive 1st before your internal HD) which is F2 key normally when your computer first starts up.

Then TEST/TRY ubuntu, this won’t install it it just runs off the cd, its a bit slow like this but it will load and most things will work straight away like the internet, firefox etc.

Now plug in your external usb HD and ubuntu will almost certainly be able to read it and if damaged will notify you…you can recover your data now to a usb stick, another external hd, or the internal hd (just make sure you put it in a folder in windows where you can find it! eg Desktop)

I’ve done this loads of times for companies before on drives so corrupted windows was not even bootable, its the industry standard for a quick recovery and it is so easy!

Let me know if you need any help!

RareDenver's avatar

@Tobotron that sounds good, I assume loading the .iso to a virtual drive would work too? Does this only work for stripping the data from the HD or would I be able to re-install FAT32 this way also?

Tobotron's avatar

you can’t use the this method in a virtual machine as all mounting to a virtual machine is done via the host, in your case windows which can’t read the external hd…linux is much better at mounting troublesome drives, loading it the method I described is faster and easier and will most likely mount first time…

As far as your second question goes yes, once you’ve recovered your data in ubuntu you go

System>Administration>Disk Utility

you will see all your drives here, easy to understand no short names just brand name and size etc, from here you can recover the drive/re-format it to any format you like then it should work again…
however when Iv done recovery for business sometimes the physical HD was in bad condition in which case ubuntu will tell you, you will be able to get your data but maybe not fix it however I doubt it, its not that common, il post a screen shot for you in a second…

RareDenver's avatar

@Tobotron thanks for all that, the only issue is I need somewhere to strip my 700GB (ish) of data to, so I guess I’ll at least have to fork out for another HD.

Tobotron's avatar

there is a repair option you can see on the screen-shot you could try that first, (button called check filesystem) won’t do any harm then you wouldn’t need to fork out, but yeh you will need somewhere to transfer your stuff if not. Give it a try at least then you will know if more desperate measures are called for haha.

RareDenver's avatar

@Tobotron I’ll try that tomorrow evening and let you know how it goes, thanks a lot for the help.

Erulin's avatar

You could always hook up the harddisk to a PC that still has an operational OS and have that OS check it… I fixed quit a few that way when I still worked as a IT’er

jerv's avatar

There are quite a few ways, but all of the ones that I can think of right now are more art than science and thus hard to relay.

However, @Tobotron and I are on the same page; a live Linux distro on a stick or CD/DVD is an important tool.

Blondesjon's avatar

I am going thru the exact same thing right now. If you don’t mind, @RareDenver, I have no problem with reformatting. The hard drive simply won’t let me. Help?

RareDenver's avatar

@Tobotron screenshot This is what I get when I connect the HD. I have a feeling this is bad?

Tobotron's avatar

ok getting to stuff that’s a bit tricky now, there’s only two possible way’s I found of fixing this without getting beyond what I think we could do…first off go Applications>Accessories>Terminal

now enter sudo e2fsck /deb/sdb1
(to copy this code in the box use the mouse or ctrl+shift+v)

if that doesn’t give you anything try this; same way… fsck.vfat -tr /dev/sdb1

Failing that some methods I’ve never tested dl this then by going to my computer you could force windows to show the drive by ticking the drive letter…

Also some people say if you take out everything else thats usb, even though mouse etc and plug the HD into the back of your computer not the front that that can work?!

Either way Il try those, there not too time consuming, all else fails prob best to send it off or find someone that knows more than me!

RareDenver's avatar

@Tobotron It’s all getting a bit too technical for me and I’m worried I might fuck it up even more so I’ve given it to these guy’s They are local to me and seem pretty straight up, and cheaper than PC World which is where I got the first quote.

Thanks so much for your help though, it has been much appreciated and I’m sure it will help @Blondesjon with his problem.

Tobotron's avatar

@RareDenver good call I think thats the right measure to take, sometimes you gotta pay some one lol…just make sure your HD is reliable, and formatted correctly…!by them! and your machine is checked for viruses etc (although its prob not a virus). I keep all my data/music, film life on an external too, wouldn’t ever wana loose it all!

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