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Lost 12GB of 20GB Hard Drive; Only 8GB Visible

I tried to install Windows 2000 Professional over Windows Millennium Edition (Me) on my Compaq Presario 4814 last month.  Big mistake!  I now know that this is an unsupported upgrade path for Windows, but I should have checked that out before I did the install.  Here is the scenario and problem:

Three years ago I replaced the Compaq's original 2GB hard drive with a 20GB hard drive, which installed easily and has worked just fine with the Windows ME operating system for the past three years.  In other words, all 20GB were always recognized and usable.  Prior to attempting to install Windows 2000, I had about 12GB of data on this hard drive.  There was only ONE partition on this drive.

During the Windows 2000 installation process, Windows 2000 scanned my hard disk and saw TWO partitions.  One was 8GB of damaged or unformatted (free) space, and one was 12GB of used data.  I was given a choice of partitions on which to install Windows 2000.  Although I was about concerned that TWO partitions were seen, I went ahead and chose to install Windows 2000 on the 8GB damaged or unformatted partition because I knew that the 12GB partition contained all of my data.  I was then asked which file system I wanted to use for Windows 2000, and I chose FAT32.

Anyway, there were errors during the installation process, and I was told to restart my computer.  The computer would no longer boot past the "Compaq" screen, which now gave an error that said something like "NTDL Not Found".  I don't remember quite what the message was.  After unsuccessfully trying to boot in Windows 2000, I reinstalled Windows ME because I just wanted to at least recover my data.  Unfortunately, Windows ME now only sees about 8GB of hard drive.  I cannot access the other 12GB in any way, shape, or form, unless I use the demo version of Ontrack's EasyRecovery DataRecovery software, which does see about 20GB of data on my computer.

I'm frustrated because the data seems to be there somewhere, but I cannot touch it.  And I don't want to have to buy software that is over $100.00 just to get it back.  At the very least, I would like to be able to see in Windows that my hard drive is 20GB.

What happened here, and how can I fix it?

The computers specifications are as follows:

Compaq Presario 4814
266 MegaHertz Pentium MMX Processor
208 MegaBytes of RAM
20 GB Internal Hard Disk
Internal ZIP Drive
Internal CD-ROM Drive
Internal CD-RW Drive

I am unsure of the manufacturer of the hard disk, the BIOS, or the motherboard.  However, I can tell you that the computer was purchased in August of 1997.  That may help you to understand the characteristics of its hardware.
4 Solutions
Yep, it sounds like Windows went ahead and formatted the 12 gigs of data you had stored. Playing around with installing and uninstalling windows across multiple partitions almost always yields unwanted results. You're going to have to use recovery software to recover all of your data. I'd suggest a freeware version, but it only allows you to retrieve 25 files at a time, and with 12 gigs of data I'd say that that's not a viable option.

Before you abandon hope, I'd like you to try something. Go into Control Panel, then Administrative Tools. Next I want you to go into Computer Management, and find Disk Management. What are the statuses of the hard drives listed?
swaltermAuthor Commented:
I'm not home yet, I'll try your suggestion as soon as I get there.  In the meantime, why are only 8GB showing up in Windows?  If I format my entire drive, which I know I will have to do, and install Windows 2000, which I plan to do, will I be back to one partition with 20GB?
If I had to guess, I'd say that the 12GB disappeared because of a problem during the first install of 2000. I've had the exact same thing happen to me while attempting to install xp on a win98 machine.

To get that hard drive back to a single partition, you'll need to delete the existing partitions and then create a single partition in the now empty space. This can all be done from within Windows Setup. During the windows setup you will be asked which partition you want to install windows on. At this point you need to select any existing partitions and then press whatever setup tells you to press to delete that partition. I forget the exact key.
  Once all of the partitions are clear, you should have roughly 20GB of 'unpartitioned space'. Attempting to install windows to that space will make windows create a single 20GB partition.

At that point, if there's any data that you absolutely need to retrieve from the formatted partition, there are numerous data recovery programs that you can use. The only catch is that they tend to be a little pricey. If you need help with that as well, we can continue in this thread.
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swaltermAuthor Commented:
It sounds as though I do not necessarily need to purchase another hard disk drive.  I would like to avoid that if possible.  It also sounds as though I will once again have a 20GB hard disk following a full format of the drive and a clean install of Windows 2000.

Let's talk about data recovery.  I would like to somehow recover select files to the same disk on which they are "lost", or perhaps onto CD-ROMs, and preferably for free.  I would like to recover .pst files if possible.  I am not above going 25 files at a time if the previous two conditions are meet and I have to use such shareware.  I have about eight data recovery demo programs installed on my hard disk at present; only EasyRecovery FileRecovery "sees" the missing space and files.  All the rest are "undelete" tools that restore deleted files.  These do not work for me, as I never sent the files I'm looking for to the Recycle Bin.

What do you suggest I do about data recovery?
Consider GetDataBack (www.runtime.org), it is a favorite among many experts here and does a good job.
swaltermAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the suggestions Callandor, I'll give it a try later today.  eortega619, Window ME does not have an Administrative Tools icon in Control Panel.
Sorry about that, I'm thinking of a different version of windows. Could you run scandisk from Start > All Programs > Accessories and post any errors it encounters?

As far as data recovery goes, the only reliable freeware that I know of is PC Inspector: http://www.pcinspector.de/file_recovery/UK/welcome.htm

I haven't used this version, and they seem to have lifted the 25 file limit. As far as recovering the .pst files, I don't think that the freeware recovery tool can grab those. If you really want those, you'll have to pay for a fully featured version. Should you choose to do so, I'd go with either Hard Drive Mechanic: http://www.highergroundsoftware.com/

Or Get Data Back: www.runtime.org 
as Callandor suggested. The other experts seem to gravitate towards GetDataBack, while I personally prefer HardDriveMechanic. Both are comparably priced.
swaltermAuthor Commented:
Scandisk has been run numerous times since this problem started.  No errors reported.  Only 8GB is searched.  Like I said, Windows only sees the 8GB partition.
Dunno if this will work, but its fairly 'risk free'....

download a SuSE Linux Live Eval cd (http://www.suse.co.uk/uk/private/download/ftp/live_eval_int.html), boot from that and then try to access your data from there. No linux is installed, as it runs from the CD, and it should be able to read the disk if there is anything left on it and the partition is intact somewhere, if not - note for future reference! There may be some free data recovery stuff for Linux you can use, but don;t know if this will work with the live eval (installable?). If you want to go the whole hog then install SuSe for free via ftp - http://www.suse.co.uk/uk/private/download/ftp/int_mirrors.html 

swaltermAuthor Commented:
I'll see what I can do about the Linux suggestion.  Previous attempts by me of Linux have been less than successful!
The freeware data recovery link that I gave you earlier is windows only, but here's a link to freeware linux software: http://www.data-recovery-software.net/Linux_Recovery.shtml

I haven't tested it, so I can't really give a recommendation.

ibradshaw has the right idea. The best solution right now is to install another OS on the 12Gb 'partition', run data recovery software, back everything up and then start from scratch. As ibradshaw notes, booting from the CD from the first link he provided should give you the access and resources that you'll need. Once you've gotten everything backed up, download this zip and extract it onto a CD:

Boot from the CD and it will present you with numerous tools. Use the Hard Disk Utilities to delete both partitions, and then create a single partition. At that point, re-install windows on the new 20Gb partition and retrieve all of your data.
Seems to me like your partition table is corrupted. Happened to me once or twice while installing win 2K/XP. First rule of datarecovery; NEVER EVER PUT NEW DATA ON A DISK YOUR TRYING TO RECOVER...this might overwrite the data that's onthe disk. Repartitioning and reformatting would put your disk in shape, but take you further away from any chance of recovering the data (well, in my humble opinion anyway). Try Zero Assumption recovery (www.z-a-recovery.com) or testdisk (http://www.cgsecurity.org/?testdisk.html) to restore the partition...also, the filesystem was fat-32, so you could even try a manual edit of the partitiontable (set it to single partition) you can use a part of Partitionmagic 8 to do this...

Even when you are succesfull in bringing the original partition back, all data on the first 8Gb where 2K and ME were installed will have been over written and lost...(estimate: at least 1Gb dataloss is 2K installed to end...)

Good Luck (you'll need it)

Blue Rishi
swaltermAuthor Commented:
Thanks for all of your help, guys.  Unfortunately, my problems grew last night.  I noticed that I could no longer open Internet Explorer, and then upon restarting the machine, Windows could not load because "vmm.vxd file is missing or corrupted".  Further exploration revealed that my entire Windows/System folder had somehow been cleared of all files (but not deleted).  I decided to install Windows 2000 on a formatted hard disk and accepted that I would lose all of my data.

Sometimes there is a great release in typing "format C:" at the DOS prompt.  Like the euphoria before drowning.  Of course, the Windows 2000 installation is a disaster so for.  See that thread under OS/Windows 2000 right here on Experts-Exchange.
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