So I seem to have a major hard drive failure with my 2 month old WD 160GB sata drive.. (it was on sale!)
Basically the drive is still spinning, and the bios detects it perfectly, but i just get "error loading operating system" when it boots. Tried a boot disk, and i cannot browse the c: drive.. Tried some disk utils and they can find the C partition, but they all say that the drive is an unknown format.
The thing is i did a slow format not 2 weeks ago, as NTFS and it was working perfectly up until noon yesterday.. There's 3 possibilities really. 1. i got hacked somehow 2. i got a virus somehow 3. the drive failed, but not completely as it still appears to operate but just has a messed up format.
Any ideas on how i can recover from this? i desperately need a lot of that data. I would like to repair the partition ideally so it can boot again. Otherwise im thinking of just getting another drive (maybe no WD tho haha) and loading a recovery tool (which one is best for ntfs?) and recovering the files 1 by 1 to the new drive.
Since this data is somewhat important to you the first thing I would do is to get your system stable again.
Remove your failed hard drive and set it aside.
Put a replacement hard drive in the computer format and install the Operating System.
Check to make sure the system is running well. Keep it on overnight and run the checks again in the morning on a warm system.
Make sure to check out the RAM. If you had a "quick boot" turned on it is possible the RAM is marginal and the problem wasn't detected on startup. (Most BIOS's will have an option for a boot that will abbreviate system and memory checks and boot up more quickly. This option can enable the system to boot when there are problems, and thus cause more problems.)
If you can get a tool to check memory all the better. (Several software tools exist that can be had off the net.)
Once your system is stable and you believe it to be functioning properly re-install the failed drive and see what Windows can see.
It is possible that re-installing the failed hard drive as a non-boot drive may enable some files to be retrieved. Although from your description it would seem the MBR, "Master Boot Record", has been damaged/lost on that drive. Windows XP provides tools to repair that, but I am not that familiar with them.
Ontrack makes good software for this, and they also have a service to recover data off disks as well. They are expensive, but I have had good luck with them. Others, I don't know about.
NOTE: Unless you use software or hardware to copy the structure of the failed hard drive to another hard drive once a tool is used the data on the drive is changed. The VERY best way would be to copy the structure of the failed drive to an identical drive, that way you can use different tools on the same disk structure over and over by repeatedly recopying the failed drive.
Also keep in mind that if the problem is a sign of a drive failing, the longer it is powered up the smaller chance of data recovery. Always make sure when you power the drive up you can copy the data somewhere without having to reboot again. (Personally, I think the drive is working properly and the cause was elsewhere.)