Previously working external hard drive now says it needs to be initialized

Hey, I have Vista on my computer and a Maxtor external hard drive that I have been using for over a year and a half now. I went to plug it in the other day and it was not recognized. I went to disk management and it was there, but listed as unallocated. I clicked on it and it said that it needed to be initialized before the computer would recognize it.

Is there any way at all to recover the information? Also, any ideas why that would have happened? They are all very important files and cannot be replaced if they are lost. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
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More about previously working external hard drive initialized
  1. test the hdd before you do anything
  2. what do i test it with? a diagnostics program?
  3. Go to the Maxtor / Seagate website and look for their free package of HDD diagnostics. Download and follow the instructions. Usually there are several versions - one that runs under Windows (suited to your situation), one that you burn to a CD so you can run from it independent of Windows (very good for lots of times), etc.

    Consider removing the HDD unit from the external case and mounting it (even temporarily) as an internal HDD connected directly to the mobo, then see if it works. Sometimes the problem is the case interface electronics, not the HDD itself. And you might find that the diagnostic utilities work better for an internal drive.

    What you describe sounds like it is not reading the Partition Table correctly. If it turns out here is nothing wrong with the hardware itself, then you might need a utility for Partition Recovery.
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