In most cases, when you will see a storage device saying it is of RAW file format then it won’t be readable by Windows (it will prompt you to format it, it will see it as empty or untouched device as if you just got it from the shop).
How does this happen?
Mostly when you start to copy (write) some files to the Flash Drive and you unplug this USB Flash Drive while the copy(write) process is still in progress. The partition on the Flash Drive will become corrupted making the whole Flash Drive unusable and you will see it using different applications or operating systems as RAW. This is one of the reason why you should always use Safely Remove Hardware Option even when you see that the actual process did end and there is no copy still running. This is a step you should always do before unplugging the Flash Drive, no matter if you have used it or not. As long as it was plugged in, use Safely Remove Hardware Option before unplugging.
This applies also if we are speaking of Windows or Linux. Linux has also a feature for safely removing hardware that you will have to discover. When you plug a device, it will be displayed in a similar location to that of Windows, somewhere in the right bottom corner.
Let’s say for any reason you forgot or you didn’t know that this can happen and you now have such a device. You can still recover the data as long as you are ready to lose some time and as long as you didn’t format it (as it will prompt for this if you plug it to a Windows OS and read it using Windows Explorer). It all depends how important for you is the data on it.
As covered in a previous article, this can also happen after you mess with a few of the settings of the existing Disk Drives in order to optimize their performance. If you follow the steps described in this article: “Format USB Flash Drive, USB Flash Memory, USB Flash Stick to NTFS” you will find yourself in such a position to change the setting from “Optimize for quick removal” which enhances an automatic ending of the writing process and a lack of the cache for the operations made on the disk drive. This prevents the reach of this error and will lead you to a higher case of this error happening when you select “Optimize for performance” which doesn’t do anything automatically and it obliges the user to perform the Safely Remove Hardware process in order to finish the operations made on the device and stop the caching before unplugging it.
Recover Data from RAW USB
You can use different bootable operating systems to read it like Hiren’s or ERD and to make it even more simple a Linux if you have any. If none of this are at your disposal and you still want to recover the data without formatting, another option would be to build a virtual machine using a free environment like for example Oracle VirtualBOX with a Linux operating system. What you have to do on Linux is to just plug this device, let’s say we talk about an USB Flash Drive (Stick), adjust the options so it will be added to the virtual machine from settings – USB Devices and then you can see the contents in the Linux Virtual Machine. You will have to configure the network on the VM so you can copy these files from the VM to the Host (your computer that is hosting the Linux virtual machine).
I can’t go into too many details in here but I would be more than glad to perform or help you in such a restoration process if you have such a case.
The best solution I found when I needed such a thing was to download an image of Hiren’s BOOT CD, burn it to a cd/dvd and boot with it. Select the bootable Windows version. You should also have some USB Flash Drive or a Mass Storage Device to Recover the files to. This Bootable version of Windows from Hiren’s can help you a lot, as it can read that RAW corrupted partition. What you need now is this storage media to save it to. Plug the device to get the data on, and also the RAW format device and copy the files from one to another. There is no other way and of what I saw this is probably the easiest way. After you recovered your data, you can format the RAW partition device to make it stable again so you can use it. Select any file type you would want from FAT32/NTFS – you can find more details in this article: “Format USB Flash Drive, USB Flash Memory, USB Flash Stick to NTFS”.
You can do this either from the bootable Windows version of Hiren’s BOOT CD or after you return back to your Windows version.
The same basic steps also apply to a solution in which you use a Linux operating system installed on a virtual machine or on a physical machine that you have access to. Linux can read RAW file format and the last you “lost”. You will only have to find a way to get the files back to a device that you have access to.
If you find yourself lost in the details or you found another better way do tell me and we can either resolve your problem if this is the case, or maybe improve the process.