I recently had an issue with two external USB 750 GB 3.5 inch drives that I constantly have plugged in simultaneously. Windows decided to corrupt BOTH of the drive’s Master File Tables at the same time! Hundreds of gigs of data inaccessible in the blink of an eye! Windows was now telling me the drives “must be formatted”. What?? I tried my best to keep a level head. I did the usual shut down, restart, re-seat the drives, plug them into a different Windows machine. Nothing helped. I then decided I’d try the drives on my wife’s Macbook. No problem, all the data was right there. There was hope! First thing I did (naturally) was plug another drive into my wife’s computer, thinking I could just offload the data from one drive to another. Not so fast there, buddy. The Mac could see the files, but because the drive was formatted NTFS, that was about all it could do. I could view anything I wanted, but I couldn’t move anything off the drive at all.

This led me to wondering if that weird Targus file sharing cable that I had laying around would actually work in a situation like this.  The Targus cable I’m referring to can be purchased here.  What that little cable does is allow two machines to see each other and even share files back and forth.  It doesn’t even matter if the two machines are different operating systems. So I plugged one end of the Targus cable into my Dell laptop and the other end into my wife’s Mac. The Targus cable has software built into it that autolaunched on both machines, and a Windows Explorer type interface popped up (on both).  Now I was able to see both machines, any drives I had connected to either machine, and I was even able to start transferring media from the “bad” drive connected to the Mac to another external drive connected to the Dell. It was a bit slow (USB 2.0) but at least my media was in the process of being salvaged.

If you don’t have a Mac sitting around, there’s still another option – and this one is free! While the Mac and the Dell were busy talking to each other and moving all my data, I still had a 2nd drive to deal with. So I decided to give Ubuntu a try. Ubuntu is a free operating system that can be downloaded and either installed directly on your machine, or even run from removable storage. You can download it here. In my case, I just wanted to run Ubuntu from a DVD, so I followed the instructions on how to do that from their site.

I had an old tower sitting and collecting dust, so after burning Ubutu to the DVD, I fired up that old tower and made sure that “CD/DVD” was set as the first boot option. After a few minutes, Ubutu was up and running right off the disc. Sweet! Next I plugged in my “bad” drive that Windows seemed to think I needed to reformat. Guess what? Ubuntu saw it without any problems at all. All my data was right there. Better still, when I plugged in another drive to move all my data on to, Ubuntu saw it immediately and allowed me to start dragging and dropping from the “bad” drive to the good drive. The Mac wouldn’t do that, and this software is free!

Hopefully this gives you some hope if you run into a similar issue with Windows telling you that your drives suddenly need to be formatted. I know I was relieved that I had a way to get my data back.