Since disk partitioning is one of those storage-related issues where there seem to be more exceptions than actual rules, it helps to have as much information at your disposal on the topic of disk partitioning as possible. That goes double if you're dealing with multiple operating systems, or you're trying to salvage disk partitions from older machines.
The site PartionSupport.com is a repository for a staggering amount of information related to disk partition issues and quirks. The site is maintained by programmer Svend Olaf Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen's arsenal includes a set of command-line utilities for partition work. The most basic and all-encompassing of these utilities is Findpart, which scans a disk and attempts to locate lost partitions of the following file types: FAT, NTFS, HPFS, BeOS, Linux ext2/ext3/swap and ReiserFS.
The DOS version of Findpart can run as a standard command-line tool, but is also packaged as a boot-floppy or ISO CD image, so it can be booted on a system that has no operating system. The 32-bit Windows version of Findpart also includes the functionality of many of Mikkelsen's other tools.
Use Findpart to reconstruct missing partition information
When run, Findpart scans the disk (nothing is written) and produces a report of where each partition on the disk is and how to calculate its geometry. You can use the results to reconstruct missing partition information and bring a partition back online (for instance, with Mikkelsen's FindNTFS tool (which is itself part of Findpart for Windows).
FindNTFS attempts to locate files on a missing NTFS partition and can copy files from directories on that partition to a safe place. However, it's not a point-and-click operation; you do need to know the geometry of the disk and partitions. Expect to spend some time with the documentation to learn how to get the most out of it.
Mikkelsen also has utilities that attempt to recover specific kinds of files: FindJPG and FindDoc, which searches a disk (with or without valid partition information) for files that seem to be valid JPG or DOC/XLS files, respectively. Note: This only works if the files in question are not fragmented. However, small files written to a disk with a good deal of free space tend not to be fragmented.
In the same vein, the utility Findword searches an entire disk for a given word or phrase, so it might be possible to use Findword in conjunction with FindDoc to progressively recover essential information from a fragmented document.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.
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