I got lucky yesterday. A client of mine was unable to boot her laptop, and it sounded like the drive was starting to die. I pulled the drive from the laptop and mounted it into an external USB drive enclosure, hoping I would be able to save her data. The computer I attached the USB drive to saw the hard drive, but when I clicked on the drive icon in Windows Explorer, I received an error. The file allocation table was corrupted!
I had noticed a couple of times when rebooted my own laptop with a USB key inserted, it would cause Chkdisk to run and scan the USB key drive. I thought I might give that a try. So I rebooted the sytem with the USB drive enclosure still attached, and Chkdisk opened, started to run, and then appeared to hang. I got an error something like "sector 29617 cannot be read". Then, after a long pause, I got "sector 29618 cannot be read".
The error message continued incremently like that for over an hour. I finally had to leave to teach a class, but when I came back 4 hours later, Chkdisk had finished. I rebooted the computer, browsed to the drive, and found all the data I needed to recover. Fortunately, the bad sectors did not appear to include anything in her My Documents folder.
Hadn’t ever done this quite this way before, but for those of you trying to coax some files out of a corrupted drive, you might give this a try before you buy the expensive drive recovery software.