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Windows 7: External HDD Error: You Need to Format the Disk Before You Can Use It

19 Sep 2013   #1

Win7 Home Premium 64-bit
External HDD Error: You Need to Format the Disk Before You Can Use It

Hi All-

Any insight in how to fix a drive that is giving an error of "You Need to Format the Disk Before You Can Use It"?

The HDD is a 1TB LaCie USB HDD formatted in FAT32 that I'm using on my Win7 Homer Premium (64bit) OS.

I'm using this drive using for file storage with my home photography business and it is critical that I recover data from it. I've had the drive for about 6-months and it worked great the entire time. Recently, I received an error message when I was backing everything up to a secondary drive that said certain files were not valid or that the file was not readable. When I plugged it into my Win7 PC, I got the standard "Scan & Fix Pop Up" that pops up with almost every other USB drive I plug in. Since I was getting the "invalid file" error during back-up, I thought I would try the Scan & Fix option to see if it would repair it. After the scan completed, it told me that it found a few errors and that they were fixed. I immediately tried to access my drive and that's when it started to give me the error listed in the title.

I can no longer see any files on the drive. The drive is listed as Local Disk (N:) in My Computer (same drive letter it had listed before). It listed properly in the the USB Removal task panel with the correct drive name. It is also listed properly under Disk drives in Device Manager. When I run the Disk Management tool in Win7 to view partition information, the disk is listed as RAW File system. There are no strange noises. No clicking, no whizzing, or anything. I just cannot access anything on it.

After a lot of searching online, I tried running chkdsk /f which yielded no change and also TestDisk from After a QuickScan and a DeeperScan, TestDisk was able to find (2) FAT32 partitions, but it said that both were not recoverable. I'm in the middle of running PhotoRec, but so far the results are yielding broken files and non-readable images.

I'm starting to have trouble finding out how to go about recovering the data from here. I've read in places that I may have to fix the MBR on the disk using fdisk (which I thought only applied to connected system disks). I've also heard of tools such as EaseUS Partition Recovery and MiniTool Partition Wizard, but have not tried those yet. As I said, it is absolutely critical that I retrieve data from this drive because while I was able to backup the majority of the drive before this started happening, there is 1 wedding on there that was not backed up. This is a once in a lifetime event that needs to be retrieved otherwise I have nothing to give the client. Any help on how else to proceed would be sincerely appreciated.


My System SpecsSystem Spec
19 Sep 2013   #2

Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit

Hi Fiziks,

Welcome to Seven Forums.

It is really unfortunate that that you have got into this problem.

I would think that your HDD is failing at a faster rate.

You should immediately clone your drive and attempt data recovery on the cloned drive.

On the cloned drive,yes you can try Partition Recovery Wizard and if it fails to recover the partition, rewrite MBR both of which try to restore the first sector (without touching any data) and can make the cloned drive readable.

If both the above repair fail, then PhotoRec, hoping that atleast some data remains uncorrupted and recoverable.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
19 Sep 2013   #3

Windows 7 Professional X64

Any insight in how to fix a drive that is giving an error of "You Need to Format the Disk Before You Can Use It"?
When I got that message, I changed the USB cord and it fixed it.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

19 Sep 2013   #4

Win7 Home Premium 64-bit

Thanks for the response, jumanji. What software would you use to clone the drive?

Unfortunately, I can't wait to do PhotoRec on the drive after cloning and partition recovery because I've already been running PhotoRec for the last 10 hours or so. So far it's recovered over 1,300 files (not sure which are valid or not), but it only has a few hours left of scanning, so I figured I'll let it finish instead of stopping to do the clone/partition work.

I also recently saw this post explaining that I might be able access the files if I boot to a linux desktop instructions found here. Since I've had a lot of experience running Ubuntu for well over a year, I was considering giving this a try. Do you think it's worth it? Has anyone had luck with this method?

My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Sep 2013   #5

Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit

OK let PhotoRec complete. I hope you are copying the recovered data onto an internal drive or another external drive.

I think you have done your best even if it means that this long run could have corrupted more files in the recovery process because your HDD is now continuously generating bad sectors.

Let us hope you are able to retrieve what you wanted atleast uncorrupted.

Since you have completed running PhotoRec, you need not think of cloning the drive and attempting data recovery for it is not going to resurrect the corrupted files anyway.

Let us know the final result so that we can share your joy or grief.:)
My System SpecsSystem Spec
24 Sep 2013   #6

Win7 Home Premium 64-bit

So after wrestling with the drive a few more days, here are the results of my endeavor.
  • FixDisk found the partitions, but said they were unrecoverable. No method of FixDisk was able to fix the curropted FAT32 partitions.
  • PhotoRec completed and did recover all of my files, however, they were all renamed and none of my folder structures were in tact. PhotoRec is great if you need to find absolutely everything, it even found stuff that had been long deleted. It's not great if you need everything as you last left it.
  • Parted Magic Linux Boot was the best solution for me. I booted to a Parted Magic Linux Desktop, using these instructions and a boot CD, mounted the corrupt drive, and after a few seconds of churning, Linux showed me all of my files and folders exactly how I last saw them. I mounted a secondary USB drive formatted as NTFS, copied everything without a hitch. After the copy, I checked all the files on both my Mac and my PC, everything was perfect.
  • MiniTool's Partition Wizard also found the files/folder structure and was able to see the FAT32 parition, but was not able to fix/recover the partitions. There were a few other tools MiniTool was offering to fix the partition, but I eventually gave up since the Linux method had already yielded the results I was looking for.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
24 Sep 2013   #7

Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit

Thank you for sharing your experience.

The following points have been noted, that should perhaps form a basis for data recovery.

1. First try with a live Linux CD/pendrive.

2. PhotoRec can do a splendid job of even recovering long-forgotten and even deleted files, but you may not retain the original folder structure.

3. Though in this case MiniTools Partition Recovery Wizard was not successful, if your hdd has turned RAW, this should be the first choice for rebuilding the partition Table/MBR rewrite that can bring the HDD to the original state.

Glad you experimented with all these and succeeded.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

 External HDD Error: You Need to Format the Disk Before You Can Use It

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