Raw Partition Recovery and Uninitialized Disks

When a hard drive suddenly shows up as “RAW disk format” or becomes “raw” or “uninitialized” due to some form of failure, it can take careful work by data recovery experts to retrieve the lost data from the drive. At Gillware’s data recovery lab in Madison, Wisconsin, we provide raw partition recovery services for hard drives and other storage devices.

A “raw” or “uninitialized” partition is a result of logical data corruption, often caused by some form of physical fault. In a raw partition, all of the data will appear to be missing—and we mean all of it. You might not even be able to assign the partition a drive letter.

This is because it’s not really a partition. It’s more like the conspicuous absence of a partition. A partition on your hard drive is basically a big container for your data. One sector on the disk in particular defines the “shape” of that container. This sector is the superblock. When the superblock becomes corrupted or appears missing, your computer doesn’t know where the partition starts, where it ends, or what filesystem it uses in between those two points.

This basically tricks your computer into thinking it’s looking at a brand new drive that hasn’t been partitioned yet. Your computer might say “Raw Format Not Recognized” or label it as a “raw” or “uninitialized” drive. In these situations, the problem often has to do with a corrupted boot sector, partition table, or superblock. It can also happen if certain portions of the hard drive’s platters have been damaged, or if the read/write heads are beginning to fail.

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Raw Partitions in Western Digital My Book Drives

Some hard drives kept in external enclosures will show up as raw partitions if you remove them from their enclosures and try to hook the bare drives up to a computer. These include external hard drives like the WD My Book, which uses hardware-level Smartware encryption to protect its data.

In the example of the WD My Book, even if the user doesn’t set a password, all of their data is still encrypted by default. The USB-SATA bridging dongle connected to the drive handles all of the data encryption and decryption. Without that dongle, the user can only see encrypted data. Even the boot sector and partition superblock appear as gibberish to the computer, so the drive appears “raw”.

When an external drive like the WD My Book stops working, a user might check to see if the dongle is responsible. However, due to the encryption, tearing apart the external drive and removing the dongle doesn’t make the data any more accessible. The hard drive shows up with a “raw” partition the computer can’t read on its own. If the drive itself is fine and the dongle has failed, raw partition recovery experts must use special techniques to decrypt the data.

Raw Partition Recovery

It can be dangerous to plug a raw hard drive into a computer; the computer will ask to “initialize” the drive and write new partition data over it. It can only take a slip of the finger to click “yes”. This could possibly cause some of your lost data to become corrupted. This is especially true if you don’t know whether the raw partition was caused by a logical or physical failure. If the drive is in the early stages of physical failure, plugging in and running the drive can make the situation worse.

When a hard drive suddenly shows up with a raw partition, it’s important to keep a cool head. You don’t want to do anything rash with the drive. File system and boot sector corruption can occur when you unplug an external hard drive without safely ejecting it from your computer first. Trust hard drive repair and raw partition recovery experts to safely and effectively retrieve your data.

Will Ascenzo
Will Ascenzo

Will is the lead blogger, copywriter, and copy editor for Gillware Data Recovery and Digital Forensics, and a staunch advocate against the abuse of innocent semicolons.

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