So a while ago, I realized I had too many digital pictures on my main laptop and bought a 500 GB external hard drive. I thought I got a good deal. However, for a number of reasons, that has turned out not to be the case. Reason #1 on the list is that the hard drive was working fine one day, and then the next, I noticed that my Picasa screen saver was drawing only from pictures on the laptop’s local hard drive. The external drive no longer appeared in My Computer.
I checked the device manager and it found the external USB disk drive, and said it was working properly, but when I clicked the “populate” button under the “volumes” tab, I got information that the drive was unreadable. Okay, I thought, let’s try some other stuff in case the partition table got messed up.
With a little help, I got a bootable copy of Linux onto a USB thumb drive and brought my computer up with some Linux drive-recovery tools. (A quick note: when I entered “sudo fdisk -l” into a terminal, my external drive showed up as /dev/sdc but I got an error about there not being a valid partition table and I couldn’t force-mount the drive. [Also, if there was a "science" command in Linux, it would be an example of a command that "sudo" actually makes less useful.])
I installed and ran Testdisk. When I came to the bit where I had to select which volume to scan, I saw that /dev/sdc was listed but the reported size of the drive was about half of its actual 500 GB capacity. I scanned it anyway, and Testdisk came up with a totally blank partition structure table. No entries at all: after the table column headings, there was only a few linebreaks and then the message, “Partition sector doesn’t have the endmark 0xAA55.” I Googled around a bit for Testdisk hints, and I haven’t been able to find anyone else who gets a completely blank partition table after a Testdisk analysis. That error message turns up plenty of times, but in the posts I found, there was always some partition or other to select and the message seemed to be irrelevant. A “quick scan” looked like it was going to take my computer on the order of 100-1000 hours to complete, so I declined that option. FAIL.
I also tried PhotoRec, an image-recovery program that came with Testdisk, because hey, I wanted to recover pictures. That found nothing on the drive. On the longest run I let it perform (overnight, and incomplete – again, it estimated on the order of 1000 hours to “achievement”) it told me that my 250 GB working hard drive was full and it had to stop. When I opened up the location where PhotoRec was supposed to store recovered files, there was nothing there. And my 250 GB internal drive had totally unchanged space usage. Go figure. FAIL again.
Finally, I ripped the drive out of its packaging and discovered that the standalone external unit just consisted of a Western Digital 500 GB Caviar drive and a little control board that fed its SATA data and power ports to a USB 2 and power adapter port. Thinking that maybe the fault was with that control board – since the USB port seemed pretty flimsy to me – I yanked the drive out and connected a SATA-to-USB adapter straight to the disk drive. Same results as before. FAIL.
I can only surmise that this drive was shipped with little tiny explosive charges on each of the cylinders, or perhaps on the drive head, and one of the pictures I saved onto the drive the day before it stopped working inadvertently contained the code sequence that self-destructed the entire disk. Unless anyone else has any ideas for me…