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This is more of a theory question, but what are the reason(s) for a disk to suddenly cause Windows to start saying it "needs to be formatted"?

It happens to an IDE disk that I have in a cheap external enclosure, and I can usually get most of the data back by using software like recuva. It's now happened to an internal disk I have. I'm not looking for software to fix this (although links would be appreciated), but rather a low-level explanation as to what gets corrupted on the disk.

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migrated from serverfault.com Apr 30 '10 at 8:34

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The short answer is it likely has a corrupted "superblock" (Unix terms), FAT (MS FAT terms) or MFT (MS NTFS terms).

Here's a nice article that covers this from a *nix perspective:

http://www.linfo.org/superblock.html

There are two obvious causes, either a bad disk, or a bad case. Given the low prices these days I'd seriously look at just chucking the drive and buying a new drive and case.

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+1, the concepts are all essentially the same. All file systems have a point where they being, if you lose that point, it's all gone. –  Chris S Apr 29 '10 at 14:06
    
@Chris A neat anecdote on that, once had a filesystem that mounted, without errors, as both EXT3 and NTFS, never managed it since. –  LapTop006 Apr 29 '10 at 14:23
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Over the years, I've had similar problems unnumerable times. In some cases, I was able to reformat and reuse the disk, but invariably it wouldn't last much longer.

By all means, start again and check the disk out (perhaps with HDTune), but I'd take it as a sign that the writing is on the wall and the disk is on it's way out.

You could always try another drive, just to make sure it isn't the enclosure, but I don't think it will be.

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