Trying to recover deleted RAID partitions

I’ve been grappling with a broken RAID setup this weekend. I was given the computer with little more than “it’s broken”, and it’s taken a while to diagnose.

It wasn’t booting. It got so far as ‘listing pci devices’ and conked out. Usually you’ll see an error in such situations, but this one, helpfully, just hung. This was when I discovered the RAID0 setup. As far as I can tell, it came from the store with this configuration, which is stupid. RAID0 sucks. It lets you link multiple drives into one big space, and I think there are speed benefits, but this is all outweighed by the data being dependent on all the drives staying healthy. If any drives fail, you lose everything. Not good.

But the drives were fine: both passed a sector scan without issue. The RAM checked out too. For a while I thought it might be a boot sector thing, then eventually I slipstreamed an xp disc with the required RAID drivers, and the initial install process reported no partitions. Ok – maybe they got deleted somehow. But how best to investigate? Usually this is easy – just whack the drive into another computer, and run whatever data recovery is appropriate. But RAID is finicky, and I was wary. One wrong move and you’ve broken the array and made data recovery infinitely more difficult. I really wanted to leave the drives alone as much as possible.

Eventually I shoved in another drive, installed XP onto it (which wasn’t without evil BSOD complications), hooked up the RAID and ran Active@ Partition Recovery. This took an hour to find two deleted partitions, one of which contained all the user data – perfect! I hit the ‘Recover’ button and Active@ said ‘Please pay for the full version’. Now, I’m sure there’s freeware that can undelete partitions. I’m sure I could even do it manually, if I did the research. But the hell with it – the ‘recover’ button was right there, so I paid the £27 for the full version. This fixed the mbr and boot sectors, and mounted the drive in Windows.

Windows said ‘wtf something is b0rked here’. The partition was back, and Active@ could list its files, but Windows couldn’t quite figure it out. This is the kind of thing which at which Scandisk excels. It usually works very well. But occasionally it’ll break things beyond belief, and a backup is advisable. So I switched to my favourite data recovery program: Restorer 2000 Pro. This little utility has saved me many, many times over the years. It scanned the major partition, and has spent the last six hours transferring all the data to yet another drive.

I’m currently waiting for scandisk to complete. I think it’s adding index entries to every file on the disk. Either that or it’s stuck in an infinite loop. Time will tell.

Charging for this kind of work is always difficult. Half the time is spent waiting for scans to complete or data to transfer – I’ve got through half of The Diamond Age this weekend – but it’s not like you just leave it running, either: there’s always some query that means you have to check it every five minutes (Restorer 2000, for example, has a strop if you try to recover too many directories from the root at once, so you have to be on hand to manually start the process every quarter of an hour). Charging a full hourly rate would obviously be hideously expensive and morally wrong, but you obviously don’t want to feel like you’re wasting your time. You also can’t always predict how long something will take, so you can’t say to the client “I’ll do £x amount of work then give you a call”. It just doesn’t work that way – oftentimes stopping halfway through would mean leaving the computer in an even worse state. I tend to add it up and see what feels reasonable. I’m not going to charge more than the computer’s worth, even if the job has taken that long. I know people who tell me I’m wrong, but most of my work is for individuals with their home computers, and I don’t think it’s fair to charge silly money.

Ho hum. Scandisk is still indexing, and the drive’s chugging. Man, I really hope it’s doing something useful.