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Data, Where Art Thou?

Please be aware that this entry is over two years old. Therefore, it may contain broken links, outdated information, or views and content which are no longer completely valid.

As mentioned in my previous blog entries, I was working on getting a fresh installation of XP SP2 up and running on my primary workstation.  For those of you who were interested in the unattended installation process, no, the drivers did not install.  Apparently, the *.inf files needed to be in the root of each driver directory.  I had most of them in sub-directories.  Oh well.

So, after I got most things up and running again, I started to repartition things around with Partition Magic 8.  It wasn’t very successful.  My first mistake was not properly backing everything up before I made changes with Partition Magic.  My second mistake was trying to do too much at once (delete a partition, resize two others, and rename some drives–6 separate tasks in all).

I set Partition Magic to run through this list of tasks and let it run overnight.  In the morning, I awoke to find that the third operation (a partition resize) had frozen at 93%.  As a result, I lost a good chunk of valuable data that I’ll probably never get back.  Sure, I had a good chunk of it backed up (thankfully), but I hadn’t done any backups lately for that drive, so I lost a lot of my newer stuff.

This whole mess resulted in coming up with some rules of thumb when using Partition Magic:

1) Backup everything you want to keep that is on the hard drive(s) that you are repartitioning.  Even if it’s to a temporary location, such as a spare hard drive that you were planning on using later.  Or, maybe borrow one from a friend if you have to.  If something goes wrong, at least you’ll still have your data somewhere if you don’t already have a permanent backup solution in place.

2) Unless you have a good reason, convert all of your partitions to NTFS.  NTFS is less likely to “break” than FAT32, and it’s more likely to recover data from an NTFS file system if it does break.  The conversion process is painless.  At a command prompt, simply type: CONVERT  X:  /fs:ntfs    “X” being the drive letter for the partition you wish to convert to NTFS.  Two situations where you may want to keep FAT32 are when you’re running a dual-boot Windows/Linux box (where the FAT32 partition is used to share files between the two Operating System platforms), or when you’re running Windows 9x Operating Systems dual or multi-booted with NT-based Windows Operating Systems.

3) Defragging is a good idea. This will make some disk operations go faster, plus it will make it more likely to recover data in the event that something goes wrong.  I’ve had good success with a shareware program (there is a 25 limit use on the program), called “Directory Snoop” for deleted data and on partitions that were (for the most part) still intact.  For more serious situations, I’ve had success with GetDataBack and Ontrack EasyRecovery (both of which are a bit on the pricey side).

4) Only perform one operation at a time. This may seem silly if you want to get all your repartitioning done as quickly as you can, but performing multiple tasks one after another may increase the chances of something going awry.  Changing a partition’s size counts as one operation.  Changing a drive letter counts as another, and so on.

5) Never merge partitions containing Operating Systems and/or installed programs. Merging, in general, never proves to be a clean and tidy operation.  I usually delete and resize if I need to perform a “merge”.  If you do try to merge partitions, especially with an O/S or installed programs, they will play host to a whole world of headaches.  Partition Magic will attempt to rectify any references to drive letters when necessary, but often times, references are missed in the registry and/or within specific programs themselves.  The best thing to do is to backup what you need and start fresh, or more-or-less leave things the way they stand.

The point to all of this is there is one thing that is most valuable about a computer.  It’s not that expensive lightscribe DVD burner, or BFG 7800GT, or even that dual-core AMD X2…it’s the data that is stored on the hard drive.  After all, hardware can always be replaced.  Most often times, your data cannot.

(Originally published on a now-defunct blog)