Recovering files lost when reinstalling Windows XP

Recently, my son lost all his personal documents (photos, video, Office files, etc) on re-installing Windows XP. Have any of you had experience with (or could you recommend) an off-the-shelf data recovery software that might relieve his anguish?

Recently, my son lost all his personal documents (photos, video, Office files, etc) on re-installing Windows XP. Have any of you had experience with (or could you recommend) an off-the-shelf data recovery software that might relieve his anguish?

-- Bill Foote

One option is to look for a package called Recover My Files. I have used this on several occasions to recover files. So far I have had a 100% success rate. But first: Step away from the PC! The less you do, the more likely you are to recover some or most of the files with this application. How much depends on what was over written during the XP reinstall.

To be safe, there are several different write-blocking device that will allow you to mount the drive as a secondary device and keep XP from writing to it. Each time XP mounts a drive, it writes to it in some form. Ideally, you would install a new drive, install XP on it, add the device I mentioned as a secondary drive so that you can see the drive but prevent any further write access to the drive. This is not totally necessary, keep in mind that some of my work has been from a forensic standpoint where you need to preserve the drive in the state you found it in.

Another option is to add a second drive to the system and use Ghost or a similar program to do a binary copy of your reinstalled XP drive to a new drive. In that way, if a mistake is made, you can start over by making a new copy of the drive without having lost anything from the attempt. If you don't have an extra drive of equal or greater capacity laying around, you will need to pick up an additional drive - a reasonable price for getting back otherwise unreplaceable files.

If none of these work, your last option is to send the drive to a professional data recovery service. However, you'll have to decide how valuable the files are - these companies don't come cheap. The exact charge will depend on the condition of the drive and how much work the service has to do to recover the data. The company I have used for over 10 years is Ontrack Data Recovery Service. Two of times I have used them in critical situations involved network file servers where the tape backup of the server either was corrupt or damaged and therefore unusable. Their file recovery success rate was in excess of 97% - not shabby when you consider the alternative of not having the files at all.

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