Vintage Palmtops Tips & Tricks


CompactFlash and the Lost Clusters

I experienced it twice. The PC suddenly refuses to write to Psion's CF and shows turd in filenames. First time I was scared to death - I was afraid that all my data are lost, but when I inserted the card back into my Psion, everything seemed to be alright. At first I suspected the card reader, but attempts with another device confirmed that something's wrong with the CF. I downloaded Essential Disk Utilities, but was unable to copy them to the card. However, I tried with another PC and... it worked. The .SIS was successfully written. I installed it and ran CheckDisk. The treatment was succesful.

This time CheckDisk didn't manage to "cure" the CF. It said that the disk contains lost clusters and the only way to get rid of them is to re-format it. I had to backup my data first. What I thought of was a cable link, but I quickly gave up (it would take hours). My laptop didn't even want to hear about copying anything from that filthy card, but - again - I found another computer and, one by one, started to copy the folders. All but one, which the PC refused to copy. So I opened it and started to copy subfolders. All but one... After a few "iterations" I found the culprit. For a while I hoped that removing it will remove the problem, but the problem remained. So, having made a backup, I formatted the card and copied everything back. On my Psion I ran CheckDisk and voilà. The day was saved.

My advices:

  1. Install Essential Disk Utilities and give CheckDisk a chance, at least once a month.
  2. Backup your data (at least those really important).
  3. When a problem appears, DON'T PANIC 🙂
  4. First try to solve the problem with CheckDisk.
  5. If it doesn't help, find a PC that will read your CF and make a backup. If your files don't take too much space and you have a cable, you may consider using it.
  6. If there are any files left that couldn't be copied to the PC, copy them to the ramdisk of your Psion.
  7. When your data are secure (make sure!), format the card to FAT filesystem. Copy the files back and run CheckDisk.


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  1. I’ve experienced this myself a lot too. I kinda cheat to fix it 😛

    I just mount the CF card (I’m using Linux), run “find”, and if that produces silly output, CTRL+C a bunch of times and whip out TestDisk… hit enter a bunch of times, “no” to “look for partitions created under Vista”, hit P to list files, hit ‘a’ (lowercase) to select all of them, ‘C’ (uppercase) to copy all selected, locate a directory, hit ‘C’ again, wait, hit ‘q’ a bunch of times until it’s quit, reformat CF card filesystem.

    There’s a Win version of TestDisk too, and it works exactly the same.
    Under Win, you MIGHT need to go into the disk manager, whatever it’s called, and deactivate the CF card first or however you do it, so that the OS and/or TestDisk don’t get into a big fight and actually kill the card for real. (TestDisk might figure this out itself, I’m not sure.)



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