NTFS formats vanish spontaneously

By Luna M
Jul 12, 2006
  1. Some weird stuff going on here.

    I have 4 hard drives, 3 are IDE, one is SATA. They are arranged thus:

    IDE 1 Master - 80GB Western Digital
    SATA 1 Master - 200GB Maxtor
    IDE 3 (through a Promise 133 Ultra controller card) Master - 160GB Maxtor w/ two 80GB partitions
    IDE 4 (through Promise 133 Ultra controller card) Slave - 120GB Maxtor

    All of these drive have been working fine on my dual boot WinXP Pro/x64 system. XP Pro is installed on C (80GB WD drive), while x64 is installed on E (SATA Maxtor drive).

    However, I woke up this morning to find the formatting on both the SATA drive and the 160GB Maxtor IDE drive had been completely lost. My antivirus finds nothing, nor does AdAware or Spybot. I was not connected to the internet overnight at all. Last night these drives wre working perfectly, in fact I was using them quite a lot. There is no evidence of a spontaneous reboot, or that anything had been messed with from the time I went to bed to the time I woke up.

    I am completely mystified. There is a lot of data on these drives I want to get back. The partitions seem to be in tact, but the formatting is just gone. I can no longer boot to x64. But since the C drive and the 120GB IDE drive seem unaffected, I can still boot into XP Pro without incident, and can access all my files on the 120Gigger.

    I need to recover my information. I have a copy of SpinRite 6.0, but am reluctant to use it unless there is no other way to get at my data.

    Additionally, does anyone have any idea what could cause something like this to happen to two unrelated drives, but not the others?

    All of these hard disks were originally formatted using MaxBlast--I've heard this could be an issue in and of itself. But since they were all treated the same, why aren't they all having problems? I use Eurosoft PCcheck at my work, and all the hard drives pass all the tests (except the destructive write, which of course I won't run). The ONLY thing that seems to be wrong with the SATA 200 and IDE 160 is that it is no longer recognizable as having any sort of formatting (Windows reads it as "RAW"; Maxblast, Eurosoft, and Windows Setup all see it as unpartitioned space).

    Any suggestions would be appreciated. There's nothing on those drives that I can't live without, but it would be a real hassle to ahve to restore it all from backup DVDs.

    For reference, my system configuration is as follows:

    AMD64 3700+
    Soyo Dragon K8USA Ultra Black Label
    1GB PC3200 Crucial RAM
    ATI All-In-Wonder X800 Video
    Sound Blaster Audigy 4

    Once more, the IDE/SATA layout is thus:

    IDE 1 (mobo) - Primary Master 80GB Western Digital (working, has WinXP Pro installed)
    IDE 2 (mobo) - Secondary Master LG DVDR/RW w/Lightscribe
    SATA 1 (mobo) - 200GB Maxtor (partition in tact; format is gone, has WinXP x64 installed, but cannot boot)
    IDE 3 (Promise card) - Primary Master 160GB Maxtor (two partitions, both in tact; formatting on both is gone)
    IDE 4 (Promise card) - Secondary Master 120GB Maxtor (Several partitions, all functioning fine)
  2. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    The MaxBlast software installs a drive overlay program in the MBR, which can be pretty damaging in the event of failure. The purpose of this software is to allow support for large capacity drives that may not otherwise be supported by your drive controller.

    There's no good reason for two different drives to lose their directory structure but keep working partitions at the same time. What you have on your hands is an enigma. If it were one drive, I'd be inclined to suggest failing drive media (perhaps bad sectors), but for two drives... it would have to be based on cosmic coincidence.

    Other ideas I have?... Solar flares? Sunspots?... Not sure. ;)

    As unlikely as it is, I'd like you to check for viruses using another scanner. Try one of the free online ones like housecall.antivirus.com, which is a pretty good one and works in several different browsers.

    Other than that or someone physically going to your computer and deleting your files, I don't have a good explanation.
  3. Luna M

    Luna M TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 19

    There is one thing that I noticed yesterday, which may be of some value (or may mean nothing at all): I did also lose one of the partitions on the 120GB drive (IDE4). I didn't realize it right away because I don't access it often.

    It was the only NTFS partition on a that drive. All the others are FAT32. The SATA and 160IDE drives were both formatted entirely using NTFS.

    C is NTFS, but it of course is the primary bootable IDE device, so it is slightly different from the others.

    So, essentially...

    ALL of my non-C partitions lost their file structure, _except_ the FAT32 ones.

    Curiouser and curiouser...

    I will run the housecall virus scan, as well as pandasoft...between those, my Norton CD, and AVG (installed on my computer), I'll see if I come up with anything...
  4. Luna M

    Luna M TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 19

    This does indeed seem to be an issue with large hard drives (over 100GB) formatted using third party software (such as Maxblast or Lifeguard).

    I tested my theory using another WinXP computer and a spare (slaved) 120GB drive. Using Maxblast, I divided the 120GB drive into four equal parts, then formatted two of them with NTFS and two of them with FAT32. I then proceeded to load a different game onto each one.

    Installing SimCity 4 and Empire of the Ants to the FAT32 partitions was successful. The games played perfectly and there were no ill effects after multiple reboots.

    However, I then attempted to install Zoo Tycoon onto one of the NTFS partitions. The installation itself went fine, and initially I was able to play the game without problems, but after a couple plug-ins and three reboots, guess what--the NTFS partions both lost their file structure, just as it happened with my x64 machine. The FAT32 partitions remained undamaged.

    I tried the same thing with Western Digital's Lifeguard software. It took a little longer, but after enough installing games on the NTFS partitions, they also disappeared. The FAT32 partitions were, once again, fine.

    I then disconnected the 120GB drive from the controller card and connected it directly to the motherboard IDE instead. I repeated the process; this time, I was _not_ able to recreate the problem.

    Next, I hooked the hard drive back up to the controller card, and this time, I used Windows itself to format the partitions. Once again, I installed the games, and once again, the NTFS partitions had no problems.

    This seems to be an issue with WinXP getting confused by drive overlays that have been put in place by third party software, *especially on hard drives which are connected to expansion controller cards.* I don't know how this is happening, exactly, but the problem can indeed be replicated.

    My advice is, for people who are using expansion cards to hook up their 100GB+ hard drives, *do not use the third party software that comes with the hard drive to format the drives. Do it inside Windows if at all possible.* Alternatively, use the software, but not the expansion card.

    My guess it that this is a result of two different methods by which large hard drives are reognized (controller cards and software overlays) clashing with each other and causing file system corruption. Once again, I don't know how, and I could of course be wrong. But in any case, using software such as Maxblast to format large drives in conjunction with controller cards and Windows XP seems to be a bad idea.

    It is worth noting that both systems which displayed this behavior were running WinXP Pro SP2, using Maxtor hard drives. I have not tested the theory with any other OS or any other brand of hard drive.

    I hope this information is useful to someone.
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