First of all, let’s get a better idea on what RAW data means and how do we know that we are dealing with this kind of data. RAW data refers to not formatted “unusable” disk space. This is the default space you will encounter on most newly acquired storage media types but it can also be found on devices that become corrupted due to misuse or broken because of software failure, physical shock, virus attack or incorrect use.

IMPORTANT: Don’t perform any action on the storage media device that you are trying to recover data from, including restoring files or installing software to it. To be clearer, don’t do anything that might rewrite the sectors on the device and may change the status of the files that you are trying to recover, for example add/modify files if you still have some kind of access to the device where you had the files stored but can’t be accessed anymore.

Consider a scenario where you have an USB flash drive (USB Stick) where you had stored some files and you gave this device to a colleague to copy some files in order to pass them to you or to another person. Let’s say this colleague copied the files but he didn’t use the “safely remove hardware” option and he just unplugged the flash drive after the files were copied. This lack of use of the “safely remove hardware” is also one of the most common causes for a device, for example a flash drive, to become unusable and to be displayed as RAW file system type while also being inaccessible or displaying an error similar to the following messages, when accessed in windows explorer:

  • The disk drive is not formatted. Do you want to format it now? Yes/No
  • The disk is inaccessible or cannot be used.
  • You don’t have the right permissions to access this device.

You can see in the below print screens a representation of such a faulty flash disk drive. You can also see which type of file system is assigned to the disk drive (to check if the disk drive is faulty – RAW format or good – FAT/NTFS) by right clicking the drive in Windows Explorer (My Computer – disk drive assigned letter) or Start – Run – type in “compmgmt.msc” without the quotes and press “Enter” – Navigate to “Disk Management” under “Storage”. When you locate the disk drive assigned letter, right click it and select Properties.

Recover files from RAW storage media - Removable disk properties

 

Recover files from RAW storage media - Disk is not formatted 

The disk in my print screens is faulty. You can see by the message returned when trying to access it and by the file system type which says RAW.

Now, I mentioned that one of the most common reasons why a disk drive becomes unusable and gets a RAW format file system is the incorrect use or the fact that after you write/add files to it, people don’t use “Safely Remove Hardware” feature to disconnect the hardware from the actual process and finalize the write caching on disk process correctly. This step is NOT needed if the policy in use for this disk drive is set to “Optimize for quick removal”. I will speak more of these two possible policies that make you chose between optimizing disk use in performance vs. optimizing disk use for quick removal in a future article remotely linked to this one. What you need to know is that the default policy is set to most systems to optimize for performance so that you will have to use “Safely Remove Hardware” in order to avoid such errors that might arise from misuse as the one we are discussing in this article.

SOLUTION to Recover files from RAW storage media:

You can recover this “lost” data, but you can’t repair the disk without a format, as it will ask when you are trying to access it. Do NOT FORMAT before recovering the files from it.

There are many tools that will help you recover your data but most of the free ones come with some restrictions as you would probably expect. For example, there is a software that I won’t name that only lets you recover several types of data for example only pictures or only documents, in most cases not all types of data. Other software will let you recover only a fixed size of data, for example 2 GB. However I found a good software but not the only one (there might be others too) that is free and will help you recover all types of data, regardless of total size you had stored there. It is called MiniTool Power Data Recovery and you can download it from here: http://www.powerdatarecovery.com/download.html

You can read the instructions on how to actually find (scan) and restore the files from a disk drive on their website but the basic idea, especially if you are even slightly used to the technical environment is simple: Download and Install (but don’t install it on the same disk drive where you have the lost data). Open the application, locate the disk drive from the automatically generated list and scan it. Then use the save button to save/extract the located “lost” files to ANOTHER disk drive and not to the faulty one.

Note: The file names won’t be recovered, only the actual files and the content which will be categorized and put in folders based on file types (Video, Audio, Pictures – JPEG, Excel, Word, etc) and by default named with names that will look something like file1, file2, file3, and so on, located in the previously automatically created folders, based on file types. You will have to manually check the files and rename them based on the content, but I’d say that’s a small price to pay compared to losing the data, especially if you had important stuff on the disk drive.

There are also other programs that will restore the data as it was, with the full names and everything, but they won’t be free and you will have to buy the actual software. I can name a few ones but I only tested the trials and they seemed OK and willing to do the job right: iCare Data Recovery Free and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.

I hope this article helped some of you and don’t forget that if by whatever reason, you have a slightly different scenario, I am willing to help you with it if you will share the details.

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