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I have a hard drive from a field computer that has been out there since 1999. Unfortunately, the company that owned the equipment is now long gone and we can't find any documentation on the hardware or the UNIX system used.

When putting the hard drive into an enclosure, neither Windows XP or OSX recognize the hard drive. OSX in the disk utility returns an "unknown file system"

What are my options to recover the data from the hard drive?

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Have you been able to scan the drive and make sure it is in good shape hardware wise? (DFT, Seatools, etc) – francisswest Mar 13 '12 at 19:02
Try a Linux LiveCD? – iglvzx Mar 13 '12 at 19:02
@iglvzx would a linux on a vm work? – dassouki Mar 14 '12 at 11:01

If you can attach the disk to a Linux or *BSD system, its partition editor ought to be able to give you at least the partition types used on the disk. From that, it's a matter of narrowing down what systems can live on the partition types in question. This list might help.

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Would a linux on a vm work? – dassouki Mar 14 '12 at 11:01
If the VM software can present the disk straight to the guest OS, I don't see why not. – D_Bye Mar 14 '12 at 11:41

Use an OS that is able to read the full raw disk, like any Gnu/Linux distribution, Solaris or a BSD and then run the strings command with the raw device as argument, eg (with Linux):

strings /dev/sdc | less

This will likely give clues about the boot loader, volume management, operating system and file system type used.

As you mention Unix and not Linux, it is very possible that the machine wasn't using a BIOS and thus was not using an fdisk partition table but some custom label like Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and other Unix do.

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awesome..thanks a lot. – raj gupta Jul 18 '13 at 10:41

There are a few things you can try. In order of ease:

  1. Perhaps the enclosure is unable to support the drive for some reason. Try connecting the drive directly to a computer.

  2. Try a data-recovery program like Undelete360, PhotoRec, or TestDisk to search the drive for files.

  3. Use a dedicated partition program like EaseUs Partition Magic or CloneZilla. These program will know about more file-systems than Windows and should be able to give you more information about what is going on with the disk.

  4. Open the drive with a hex-editor such as HxD. You can then view it at a low-level to see if there is anything of interest as well as dump the entire contents to a single file which you can then examine as desired.

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