I had a WD My Book Essential 2TB external drive that started slowing down. I tried updating the WDSmartware, then removing the WDSmartware, but it continued to show signs of failure. The drive finally stopped responding, and would not be recognized by WinXP. The former blue bars on the “spine” of the plastic enclosure no longer lit, and only a single LED would flash when it was plugged in to the USB port.
I tried file recovery and partition recovery software, but it only showed garbled, unorganized and renamed files. I didn’t want to lose the data that was on the drive. By this time, the drive had stopped responding at all, and any time I plugged in the USB my computer would freeze. It would not boot with the drive plugged in.
After a call to WD tech support, they suggested I try using a computer with a newer version of windows - either Vista or Win7. That finally jogged my brain to try Linux. That did the trick. I booted my PC with Knoppix Live, a distribution of Linux that runs from a CD. Linux mounted the WD MyBook with no trouble, and the file structure was intact! I transferred all the files to a new internal HD I had installed for that purpose, and all my data was saved. Rather than reformat the drive, I RMA’d it back for a replacement. I feel that this is a problem with WinXP, but don’t have the technical expertise (or time) to run it to ground. The slowness of the drive may be a software problem, but it also might have been a hardware failure, so I opted to replace the drive rather than try to revive it.
Long story short - if your drive causes WinXP to freeze, or WinXP doesn’t recognize the drive, try booting with a live Linux CD and see if you can reach your data that way.