Moved everything off an NTFS hard drive with Windows move ... can it be recovered?

So! In another fine example of irritating irony, I have a 1TB external hard drive and a 1.5TB external hard drive, both NTFS.

The 1TB drive sounded like it was beginning to fail.

So I used Robocopy, the “robust file copy” utility that comes with the Windows Server 2003 resource kit, to mirror everything from the old 1TB drive to a directory on the new 1.5TB drive. (I’m using Windows XP SP3, if it matters.) Unfortunately, I inadvertently used the /move switch (I was using a batch file and I forgot that it was my “move” batch file, not my “copy” batch file. So the old drive was completely empty when the process finished.

And then, as everybody can see coming, the new drive died a horrible death for no reason.

So … is there a way to just restore whatever NTFS uses for a file allocation table, so all my data will be back? I haven’t used the drive since the move, so the data should all still be there.

If so, what’s the best/easiest tool to recover the data with? I don’t want to have to pay a data recovery place, because the data isn’t that critical, but it does have some old pictures and whatnot that would be very upsetting to lose…

Any ideas? Thanks!

PCPlus had an article about this sort of thing (deleting rather than moving but I guess its the same thing) in its Feb 2010 issue. Basically yeah, when the file is deleted the data remains on there but the name in the allocation table has its first letter overwritten with a question mark. Theoretically this means if you can get at the allocation table and put the letters back in all should be well.

Problems occur if the file is fragmented though apparently.

The two utilities it suggests for dealing with a corrupted filesystem are GetDataBack ($79 from or R-Studio NTFS ($50 from However it might be worthwhile you tapping +freeware +undelete into google and seeing what you get. Last time I checked there were a fair number around, although if you’re not careful which one you pick you can get one which is “freeware” but only tells you what you can recover if you buy the “pro” version. Pretty sure there are true freeware undeleters out there though.

One other thing it does point out is that it can be worthwhile making a copy of stuff before you start, in case you cock things up further :slight_smile:

…And another thing to point out is that you can get a free GB or so online backup at any number of sites these days!

freeware undelete? Try testdiskand/or Photorec (they come together). I used it to completely recover all the files off my sister’s MP3 player once. And despite the name, photorec can recover almost any file format, although it has to be to a different drive than the one you are using.

ETA: Tutorial on how to use testdisk to undelete on NTFS

Actually, now that I look into it more closely, recovering the MFT is closer to what you want. Apparently NTFS keeps a mirror of it’s MFT (what you were calling a FAT). The problem, of course, will be if the mirror also does not contain the files. Otherwise you’ll have to undelete, which means you’ll have to copy all the files to another location first.

My recommendations are: