Help for the hapless: Windows Slowly Eating Your External Storage.

For all the fellow poor sods out there who have found recent versions of Windows slowly eating your outboard USB-connected disk volumes, some urgent caution: don’t reformat diddly until you do some additional checking.

Plugging in one of my primary backup media, a 1 TB drive connected through one of those nifty little external drive connection kits with the Hitachi chip set, I had two weeks ago backed up successfully to it. Today it registers not at all in the list of mounted drives. The Disk Management facility notes that there is a “healthy” 1 TB volume with no apparent content; perhaps I would like to format it to make it useful?

Switching to another 1 TB volume that had 3 drive partitions, I see that two of them register and the third is a healthy partition with no content.

OK, let’s fire up the faithful Seagate Free Agent disk. Hmmmm…. A lovely large disk ripe and ready for formatting and use. Which would be nice were there not 0.8 TB of useful data on it already. Some of it was only duplicated on one of the other disks that was now a blank slate.

Added to that was the alarming error code 24620 in the System log, indicating that “Encrypted volume check: Volume information on {long encoded disk name} could not be read” by the Bitlocker driver. (NB, Bitlocker is not in use, and the service is disabled.) Something was gunging vital data structures in those reserved areas on the disk.

Or perhaps not.

Fortunately, I plugged the drives into a different computer. A Surface RT. It mounted all the volumes happily. Data integrity-R-Us. Total data loss approximates zero. Happy dance.

After a great deal of search engine usage of impressive Knowledge Bases and technical help forums, I stumbled across a casual comment: “And by the way, just assigning a drive letter to the anonymous volume will make it come back to life.”

Which was in fact the case for all but one of the combinations of drives and Hitachi-based adaptors. The real cure-all, I have finally been informed, is to disconnect everything USBish except for keyboard and mouse and delete the file INFCACHE.1 in whichever directory it finds itself, then plug in anything USB other than the device you had trouble with, which will force Windows to completely rebuild the driver information cache.

People could be forgiven for equating some of these solutions to painting your face with various stripes of red and yellow, donning a ceremonial garment and executing the proper magickall dance, all the while brandishing the correct ritual objects.

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