Jul 21

Second hard drive appears as RAW after fresh XP install

Category: Linux   — Published by tengo on July 21, 2008 at 10:37 am

Although this is definetly off-stopic for a linux blog, this strange symptom appeared while reviving an XP box with the SystemRescueCd Linux LiveCD recovery suite.

The story was that the main drive C: with Windows XP Pro on it had a few defects and required a fresh XP install. Like certainly many systems these days, the box had another drive installed as D:, which was a 400+ GB disk, used as a data grave. To prepare for the fresh install of the operating system, I bootet into the SystemRescueCd Linux LiveCD and moved all remaining non-OS related data from C: to D:. After that I started the XP Pro Systembuilder install and about 45 minutes later was greeted with the green hills of the XP desktop.

The Adventure

So far so good, but then came the shock: Using the Explorer, navigating around the system, I noticed that the second drive, the giant data harddrive D:, had disappeared. Gone. The system had identified the second drive, yes, but had somehow labeled it as unusable or ureadable. A look into the properties told me that the drive was "Not formatted"!, and is declared as being RAW. Or course I denied the question, if XP should now format the drive for me!

In a state of nausea and denial, I booted back into the SystemRescueCd, as before - under linux - the harddrive had shown up okay. Finally the relief: under Linux/ntfs-3g every bit of data was neatly in its place. Puh! But why doesn't Windows recognize the drive properly?

My first guess was that the read-write enabled ntfs-3g, which I used to move the data, has somehow currupted the drive. Like most users that use ntfs-3g as a black box (non-ntfs-3g-developers), I am a bit suspicious if the write support is really that good. Wouldn't Microsoft secretly bug NTFS and thus blast third-party efforts to access NTFS? But after reading this post- NTFS volume does not work in windows vista- I do think ntfs-3g is a mature application! Most of the drive identification under XP (is it really RAW?) is done through the Master Boot Record (MBR), and I learned that ntfs-3g operates on a completely different layer, in fact it has no access to the MBR at all!

So two options remained:

  1. A virus or a hardware defect corrupted the MBR, thus rendering the drive inaccessible for XP (only because it does not identify it correctly) while ntfs-3g, which ignores the MBR, is completely happy with the drive.
  2. The MBR, the format specification of the drive, whatever - is simply not readable for XP.

The Solution

Knowing that the drive's data was 98% safe, as Linux/ ntfs-3g could properly access it, I  continued bringing the fresh XP install up to speed. Changed the graphics driver, network setup, the usual chore. Finally the install of XP Service Pack 3. A reboot. And surprise! Drive D: is back online!

But why? A physical defect that appears and disappears? Voodoo? Actually, no.

While installing XP Pro, I had time to muse about how old this XP install CD is. 2002! Compare this with the average update cycle of Ubuntu, Linux or even XP today! Remembering this notion while thinking about possible causes for this mysteriously diappeared and re-appeared harddrive gave me a bit of inspiration. So my best guess is that the old Windows XP has buggy or at least not full support for contemporary large drives. You won't notice this with a patched SP2 and regularly updated system, but you will if you ever need to return to an older version of XP.

So all those desperate folks out there finally scrubbing their valued data after a drive appeared as RAW after a fresh XP install, try updating your system first! For example:

And tell me afterwards if this worked for you or not.

Of course, please take this post with a grain of salt, don't blame me if you loose data, all actions on your own risk! After all, there is a lot of guesswork in this post and I just documented what worked for me. There's no guarantee that this will work for you.