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I'm trying to access files from a friend's external hard disk which had stopped showing up in 'My Computer' on his XP machine.

I removed the drive (500Gb Seagate SATA drive) and installed it in my Windows 7 PC. The drive is detected by Disk Management but listed as 'Not initialized'. It pops up a 'Initialize Disk' window asking if I want to initialize with either MBR or GPT partitions styles.

If I go ahead and let Windows initialize the disk, will this make the data unrecoverable? What is the safest way to proceed here?

Update
Short answer, 'No, initialization shouldn't make the data unrecoverable' but probably won't make it any easier to recover either.

I didn't initialize the drive but used the free version of 'Partition Find and Mount' which let me mount the drive read only. Copied the data over OK (free version is speed limited so this takes some time).

I tried initializing the drive when I was done and 'F&M' still let me mount the partition and copy data - so it seems that initialization doesn't make the data unrecoverable.

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Could you perhaps put your "answer" into an actual answer below and remove it from the question? That'd be great. Thanks! –  slhck Feb 2 '13 at 23:15

5 Answers 5

No, don't initialize it because you'll wind up with a blank hard drive or an even more garbled one. You might have a drive with failing/failed circuitry or you might just have some corrupted data.

I would suggest first trying to restore the drive's MBR (Master Boot Record), using this or any other instruction sheet you can google. http://pcsupport.about.com/od/fixtheproblem/ht/repairmbr.htm

You'll need the drive back in your friend's computer, and you'll need the XP CD.

If that doesn't work, I think the next step is a data recovery service, though of course, that's expensive. Good luck!

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Thanks Robert. I left the initialization alone and tried 'Find and Mount' which let me mount the drive read only. Managed to copy the data over Ok (albeit very slowly ~ 24 hours to copy 40 Gb). I tried initialization when done and 'F&M' still let me mount the drive and copy. –  pelms May 16 '11 at 22:09
    
P.S. I didn't try the 'fixmbr' method (which has worked for me in the past) as this was an external USB drive and was not being detected at all on the XP machine. –  pelms May 16 '11 at 22:21
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Short answer, 'No, initialization shouldn't make the data unrecoverable' but probably won't make it any easier to recover either.

As noted above:

I didn't initialize the drive but used the free version of 'Partition Find and Mount' which let me mount the drive read only. Copied the data over OK (free version is speed limited so this takes some time).

I tried initializing the drive when I was done and 'F&M' still let me mount the partition and copy data - so it seems that initialization doesn't make the data unrecoverable.

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Yet another note (I haven't enough rep to comment below csrowell's answer)

I was posed this question today, when I attached a SATA disk via a USB adaptor. Unfortunately, 'Partition Find and Mount' did not seem to like the USB interface.

Windows 7 was much happier when I opened up the PC and attached the drive directly to the motherboard using a SATA cable. Both partitions on the drive had been assigned drive letters and I was able to gain access to the data needed.

I hope that this might help someone.

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When you see the disk as "Unitialized" make sure it is not a truecrypt encrypted volume on the disk. That may be why you can't see it. You have to mount it with the truecrypt "Select Device" option.

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Another note - I've seen it before where the disk shows up as "not initialized" and prompts for initialization. I simply eject it and plug it in again and it works fine, showing up with regular drive letter(s).

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