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Hard Drive Failure

I have recently been using an external hard disc that contains a lot of important information needed for my business. Not that it really matters but I run a cleaning company and the drive contains a list of my clients, their invoices and all that goes with it. Anyway I have moved across from a Windows XP to a Windows 7 machine because the Windows XP computer died. Now when I boot up Windows 7 tells me that the external drive (Western Digital My Passport) needs to be reformatted before it can be used. I was always under the impression that the whole point of an external drive was so that you could move it from machine to machine but apparently not. It was suggested I try one of those recovery tools off the Internet and I tried one but it only works for up to 1GB of files and then you have to pay but when I had a look at what it had recovered I couldn’t access it. That in itself has concerned me because I’m worried I’m doing harm to the files that are on the disc even though I can’t get at them.

I’m using a Western Digital USB hard drive that has suddenly decided it no longer wants to behave and is doing its own thing. When I try to access the information stored on the drive I am presented with a dialog box with the message ‘You cannot use this drive as it is not formatted’ or words to that effect. I tried to run chkdsk but it won’t let me and I then tried using a third party disc checker on CD which said it would take around 200 hours to check through the disc. I left it running overnight to see what would happen and in the morning it reported ‘error 128’ that apparently means can’t read sector 1. I went to work and left it running and when I came home it was just a screen full of similar error messages. I’m my own worst enemy because I didn’t backup and could kick myself now but I have lots of family occasions in film and picture that I want to save, is there any way of doing it? If so I’d be really grateful for your help as I’m reading a lot of horror stories on the internet that are basically saying the disc is ruined and I’ve lost everything.