Did SpinRite actually save my data?

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This morning, I shut down the notebook PC that I use for work and set off to meet a colleague. Upon returning, I tried to boot the system but nothing happened. Technically, something happened – but not what I expected – basically Windows would not boot and sometimes it reached the startup screen, sometimes it didn’t. Once or twice I’m sure I saw the once-familiar blue screen of death flash up for a fraction of a second before the PC reset itself. I tried a normal startup as well as last known good configuration, before finally I gave up and tried to recover the system using the Windows Server 2008 DVD but this couldn’t locate an installed copy of Windows to recover. What it would let me do though was get to a command prompt, where attempting to access drive C: returned:

The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error.

That didn’t sound good but I managed to run diskpart.exe and list disk told me that disk 0 was online. Moving on to try list partition told me that the two partitions I expected to see were there but it was list volume that really helped shine a light on the problem – the DVD drive and WinRE volumes showed as healthy but drive C: was reported as being a 110GB Healthy partition of type raw (i.e. not NTFS). At this point, I began to panic. Something had happened to the NTFS and that could mean lost data. I have a reasonably recent backup but the last couple of weeks at work have been mayhem and there was some stuff that I know I don’t have a second copy of.

I could call my company’s IT support number but it normally takes at least a day for a callback; I’d have to take the laptop to a “local” office (a 100 mile round trip); if a system won’t boot, the standard approach is to spend a very limited amount of time trying to fix it (probably none at all for people like me who run a non-standard operating system) before simply wiping the system and installing a new corporate build. That means going back to Windows XP and Office 2003 (which is painful when you are used to Windows Vista/Server 2008/7 and Office 2007), the loss of an activated copy of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition (which is not exactly inexpensive) and also losing my data (the standard build has separate system and data partitions and my build does not… although now I’m starting to reconsider that choice).

I’m pretty sure that the root of this problem is a failing hard disk (after all, it is a “Western Dodgital“) but, without the tools to prove it, I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a new one) and, to cut a long story short, when it comes to supporting my non-standard build, I’m on my own (at least unless I can prove that the hardware is faulty).

One of the podcasts that I listen to is “Security Now” and the hosts (Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte) spend far to much time plugging Steve’s SpinRite product. I’ve often wondered if it was any good but was not prepared to spend $89 for speculative purposes – this afternoon I decided that it was time to give it a try.

After paying up, downloading the software, extracting the ISO and creating a bootable CD, I ran SpinRite and performed what is referred to as a “level 2” scan. For the first 20 minutes, SpinRite ran through my disk finding nothing untoward but at the 50% mark it switched into “DynaStat” mode and started trying to identify lost data on one particular sector, slowly narrowing down the unrecoverable bits of the sector. Just this one sector took almost 5 hours and around 2000 samples but all of a sudden SpinRite took off again and finished up the rest of the drive in another 20 minutes. Even though the sector was marked as unrecoverable, a technical support conversation by e-mail confirms that this relates to the data, not the sector. With some trepidation, I restarted the computer, waited with baited breath and have never been so glad to see Windows start checking its disk(s). After a short while, chkdsk was complete and I was presented with a logon screen.

There’s nothing in the Windows event logs to indicate why my system failed to boot so many times this afternoon so it’s difficult to say what the problem was and whether it really was SpinRite that fixed it (although SpinRite did report the SMART data for the drive and there were a number of seek errors, backing up my theory that the hard disk is on its way out). What’s important though is that, as I write this post, Windows Server 2008 is 63% of its way through a backup and all seems to be well. I’m not quite ready to wholeheartedly endorse SpinRite – it does almost sound too good to be true – but, on the face of it, it seems to have recovered enough data on my disk to let Windows boot and for me to gain access to my system. That’s worth my $89 – although somehow I don’t see me getting that particular item through on my expenses…

9 thoughts on “Did SpinRite actually save my data?

  1. The system ran overnight but after I shut it down and drove to the office today I couldn’t get it to boot. It’s now been running SpinRite on the same sector for several hours and I decided to log a support call after all. To be fair to the guys who support our IT (given my earlier comments) I did get a call-back at the end of the day and the engineer initially wanted to run some tests but as soon as he heard that I had already run SpinRite he was happy to take my word for it and provide a new hard disk!

    I’m now going to leave SpinRite running as I drive home (and hope the battery doesn’t run out first). Then, hopefully, make a second copy of my data before I totally rebuild the system.

  2. I’ve had similar results with SpinRite a few years ago. A colleague couldn’t boot her machine and she needed some data off of it, so I ran SpinRite.

    I wouldn’t trust the drive for production use after running it, but I was able to boot back into Windows XP and copy critical data off before imaging to a new drive after I used SpinRite.

  3. OK… so SpinRite didn’t run on the drive home because I accidentally hit the power switch on the PC as I groveled for my car keys… whilst holding onto the laptop. I ran it again when I got home and left it overnight. Once that had completed I was able to boot my system and all seems well again (it even seems to pass the Western Digital Data LifeGuard Diagnostics) but I cannot trust this hard disk any more for my everyday work.

  4. I have worked on 1000’s of PC’s … generally if xp or 2000 fails to see a file system it means that the file system is dirty … usually booting with a Knoppix (free download) you should be able to see and recover files. If the disk wont mount read/write you just run ntfsfix. After doing this you generally find that windows will either boot or that if you use the install cd it will see your windows installation and normal repair procedures will be available.

    I am still trying to decide whether it is worth adding either spinRite or disk regenerator to my collection of tools and the moment I am inclined to thinking most of what they are saying is “mumbo jumbo”. Obviously their software does some things which other tools do and will help in some cases.

  5. I’m still not convinced that SpinRite did anything with that disk… it continued to perform intermittently. Then, more recently I had one of the drives from my NAS go bad on me and SpinRite actually crashed with a divide overflow error when I tried it on the disk. After GRC’s Tech Support advised me to use Seagate’s tools instead I asked for a refund and am pleased to report that GRC were very reasonable. For me, the jury is definitely out on SpinRite’s effectiveness but your mileage may vary.

  6. I’ve been using Spinrite for years, and it has prolonged the life of many a hard disk long enough for me to back up data and ditch the failing drives.

    Many people only use Spinrite as a last resort, but it should be run periodically on drives to alert the user of possible impending failures.

    I paid $89 for it way back when v6.0 first came out. It has saved me many times that in lost time/lost data and actual support hours.

    Mileage does vary sometimes, but if the drive spins then its odds-on that at least *some* data will be recoverable.

    Of course, at the end of the day if we all backed up properly we wouldn’t ever need such a thing as Spinrite ;-)

  7. Hi!
    First – I love spinrite. It is a great product, and in my opinion, it is even better for occasional maintenance. I use it on almost every computer I touch.

    Second – If your concern is data recovery, I can think of many scenarios where running spinrite FIRST is a bad idea. If your drive is failing you do not want to stress it.

    For data recovery (simply copying good files to a safe location) my first step is to boot up with a bootable CD/DVD/USB (depending on the computer). I often use use a live boot Linux disk which lets me copy files to the network or a thumb drive. Another favourite is the BitDefender live boot anti-virus disk which can also check to see if the corruption might also be because of virus / malware.

    AFTER RESCUING DATA I happily put spinrite to work to see if the disk can be painlessly recovered while I do something else.

    IF THE S.M.A.R.T. REPORTING IS AVAILABLE (in the BIOS) this tells me much about the health of the drive so I can tell the client if the drive needs to be replaced or is likely reliable.

    The trick for this is to write down info from the S.M.A.R.T. screen when spinrite is done and then compare the results the second time it runs. https://www.grc.com/sr/smart.htm

    I have used spinrite since version 1 in 1989.
    It has never ruined a disk for me, and has often saved my data.

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