Not usually an early adopter of technology, Mrs. Dr. Phil has used USB drives for quite a number of years: a pair of early 64MB Sony MicroVaults and later a 256MB USB 2.0 Sony MicroVault. The latter has had some issues, including getting hot during long *.* copy sessions on a USB 1.1 machine. (I've seen similar things with a Lexar 1MB Jump Drive Secure - used to lock up Windows 98SE machines when copying a lot of files.)
Then one day Mrs. Dr. Phil found that her 256MB MicroVault stopped working. The green LED would flash, Windows XP would assign a drive letter, but if you clicked on the drive icon you got a dialog box asking if you wanted to format the drive. Uh, no.
How Can I Say 'I Told You So' Politely?
Jerry Pournelle, SF writer and computer/tech writer, long ago penned a rule which said that nothing is backed up unless it's on two different media, preferably in two different places. The logic is simple. Identical items can suffer identical failure modes. And a backup stored next to the machine it backed up is pretty useless when the computer desk goes up in flames. Me? I carry files back and forth to the office, and copy them onto my laptops, all the time. I copy the files onto two different USB drives. Not that I want to invite disaster, but at most I might lose a day's files.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Dr. Phil was carrying the MicroVault back and forth, plugging it into her computer at work and laptop at home, and edited the files in situ.
At first it looked to be just annoying, but soon there appeared to be a number of files which she figured she'd miss having around.
What's the failure mode? Did a wire break inside? A chip failure? A resistor burn up or solder joint melt due to undue heat generation? Or was it a software problem?
I guess I figured that the unit was totally wasted, but figured that if excess heating was the problem, that it could be stuck in the freezer and then plugged in. Didn't work. Didn't really expect it to.
Mrs. Dr. Phil came home on Friday with a printout for a software utility which suggested it could recover files from a bad drive, even a bad USB drive. Hmm... I hadn't really thought about that. Figuring it was a hardware failure, how do you read a memory chip if one of the wires is broken? (grin) But if there's a chance...
Time To Experiment
Went to ZDNet Downloads (Ziff-Davis publishes PC Magazine, and runs a pretty good file download and utility operation) and searched for "file recovery usb drives" or some such search string. Quite a number of products. Most of them offer free downloads, but you can't save any recover files until you pay the piper. Actually, I don't have a complaint with that. It's not so much blackmail as pay-for-success.
We tried the recovery tool Mrs. Dr. Phil found, which ZDNet also listed. But, like My Computer, BadCopy found nothing on the drive. Fine, the download was free and we didn't have to send in the $39.50 just to try it, so it's all good other than the files are still missing. However, I once read an article about using some of these utilities on hard drives and their conclusion said if one doesn't work, try another. Each product uses different low level methods and algorithms (Of course, some of the drive restoration firms say NO-OOO! Don't screw around with this!) But I doubted we'd send the MicroVault off at large expense. But try another utility... okay.
Most of those listed weren't really disaster recovery tools. Most have to do with Undelete. But I recognized a product called Recover My Files from some previous article, and we tried that. It's really all so damned easy these days. The download via WiFi and DSL was fast, install was fast and...
Suddenly it's finding files. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoints, PDFs, etc. Hundreds of files. Time to break out the credit card and activate the software before the MicroVault really dies. Create a new folder for the recovered files and it's done. In minutes the software found and recovered everything. For $69.95, it's a cheap fix.
The filenames and create/modify dates were lost and since the MicroVault had been used to edit the files, amongst the hundreds of files were hundreds of previous versions. But so far every Word file which Mrs. Dr. Phil has pulled up looks to be a complete and valid Microsoft Word file, and Word XP opens every one. Same for Excel and Powerpoint and PDF.
We'd used an USB A-A extension cable to connect the MicroVault to the laptop, rather than directly. Long after the files were recovered, the MicroVault was still quite warm when it was disconnected. We tried to reformat it, just for kicks - no go. It'll probably have a festive red ribbon tied around it and let it become a Christmas ornament, much like the igniter assembly from our furnace back many Christmases ago.
Having multiple backups and not editing files on the USB drive itself would be a good thing. I mean, what if the MicroVault had just been lost or stolen or Mrs. Dr. Phil's purse been stolen? I'm not sure there's a software utility fix for that. (grin) But I have to say that it is heartening to find that at least one of these products actually works -- and that another one was quite willing to let us try to see if it might work -- and that some small disaster is actually salvageable.
ps -- On a completely other random topic, if you don't read Jeffrey Ford's blog 14theditch, check out this entry and click on the link to the remarkable video.