Top tools for fixing Windows NTFS corruption issues

There are several utilities out there designed to salvage NTFS data and restore your hard disk, but even the best ones have pros and cons.

If you believe in Murphy's Law, hard disk corruption always seems to occur at a time when no backup is available. In these situations, the only way to get your data back is to try to fix your hard disk.

I will be the first to admit that Windows NTFS is a lot less prone to corruption than some other file systems. That's because NTFS is a transactional file system and Microsoft has gone to great lengths to prevent partial transactions from occurring. Even so, corruption can -- and sometimes does -- occur.

Fortunately, the Internet is filled with tools – both free and commercial – that can help rescue your data. Let's take a look at some of the best utilities available to fix NTFS issues.

R-Studio
One of my favorite data recovery tools is R-Studio. This utility offers NTFS recovery capabilities, but it isn't limited solely to recovering NTFS volumes. It also allows you to restore FAT and FAT32 volumes and even some non-Windows file systems, such as those used by Macintosh.

More NTFS tips and advice

Optimizing NTFS file system performance

Quick tips for troubleshooting NTFS permissions

Recovering data from a corrupt NTFS boot sector

The thing I like best about R-Studio is its flexibility, as it provides support for recovering dynamic disks, RAID volumes, and even alternate data streams. It also includes algorithms for recovering compressed or encrypted volumes. Additionally, R-Studio allows you to perform a repair operation even if the system is unbootable with the option to create a boot disk to launch the repair effort.

In terms of pricing, R-Studio sells for $79.99, although there is an NTFS-specific version that retails for $449.99.

Virtual Lab
Virtual Lab from BinaryBiz is what I like to think of as "task-based recovery software." The software is divided into modules, so you can choose which module to run based on the task you are trying to perform. For example, the software contains modules for recovering volumes, undeleting files, recovering deleted email messages, restoring files from a CD or DVD and recovering files from a flash memory card. A Macintosh recovery module is also available.

One of the highlights of this software is its ability to create a sector-by-sector copy of a corrupted hard drive. That way you can perform the recovery operation against the copy of the drive and avoid putting your data at further risk.

Virtual Lab has a fairly complex licensing structure, and the cost of a software license is based on the amount of data that you plan to recover. For instance, you can get a 100 MB license for $39.99. This license entitles you to use the software on an unlimited number of PCs. In contrast, BinaryBiz offers an unlimited license that will allow you to recover an endless amount of data on an unlimited number of PCs for $249.95. The license is only good for a year, however, and renewals cost $99 per year.

GetDataBack for NTFS
GetDataBack from Runtime Software is an NTFS-specific data recovery utility that is designed to recover NTFS volumes that have been corrupted. More specifically, the software is designed to repair things like damaged partition tables, master file tables and boot records. The software is also designed to recover deleted files or files that were corrupted by a virus or power failure.

There are two things that I really like about this software. First, it is read-only, so any data that is recovered is written to a separate disk, eliminating any risk of further damaging the volume that you are recovering. Second, this is one of the easier NTFS recovery utilities to use, although it does contain some advanced features.

GetDataBack for NTFS sells for $79, but you also have the option of purchasing the program as part of a software bundle with some other disk utilities.

Although the utilities I have discussed are some of the best, there are never any guarantees when it comes to fixing NTFS issues. I have seen many situations over the years where an attempted hard disk repair actually made the corruption worse and eliminated any chance of recovering the data from the drive. As such, I always recommend copying any salvageable data off of the hard drive before attempting a repair.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft MVP for his work with Windows 2000 Server, Exchange Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. For more information visit www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in July 2010

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