Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Vista to the data rescue

The Alienware computer I bought earlier this year performed well enough in the last couple of months. While when I bought it there were several blue screens of death, an Alienware technician helped me fix that by the simple way of unplugging my SATA hard drive and plugging it back in into another SATA slot on the motherboard. Don't ask me why that helped, but it did. Since then I had no more BSODs, but the hard drive still was a bit flaky. Occasional corrupted files, and whenever I ran a checkdisk there were errors to repair. Last week I started having problems booting, getting an error message at startup to retry with CTRL-ALT-DEL. Yesterday then the computer stopped booting from the hard drive altogether. Damn!

While the Alienware PC came with Vista preinstalled, I had formatted the hard drive after having had all those problems, and installed Windows XP. So I booted my Windows XP CD now and try to fix the problem with the repair function of Windows XP. No luck. The only option I had there would have been to format and reinstall completely new. Now of course knowing that the hard drive wasn't reliable I had made backups of the most important stuff in the past, but the last backup was over a week ago, and I hadn't backed up everything, just the My Documents stuff. So I didn't really want to format the hard drive.

Then I remembered that the PC came with a Windows Vista CD, and I tried that. And lo and behold, that worked. It took a long while, but the Vista setup packed up all the corrupted Windows XP stuff in a directory named Windows.Old and installed itself a clean new operating system. But then the performance was still problematic, the computer ever so often hung for several seconds and wasn't responding, presumably while searching for some data on the hard drive. But with Vista at least booting up, I was able to start checkdisk. That again took a long time and found lots of bad sectors and corrupted files. But at least it fixed the system good enough for me to be able to copy all the data I needed to an external hard drive. I was even able to copy WoW from the Windows.Old to the Vista program files directory and it ran!

But of course the hard drive is a goner. It'll continue to corrupt data until it totally fails. So I'm going to do two things. Tonight I'll buy a new hard drive and reinstall Windows XP and everything on it. And I already called Alienware, and I'm going to send them the broken hard drive and they'll replace it. Yes, that'll end me up with two hard drives, but the current drive with 250 GB was more than half full already, and I don't mind paying for a second one. At least I'll have a chance to get the computer fixed for the weekend, and don't have to wait for the replacement part from Alienware. I don't blame Alienware, they didn't build the hard drive (Samsung did), and flaky hard drives are hard to detect, the errors tend to appear only with time. Sending me a replacement is the best thing they could do.
Future proof yourself with a massive 400gig plus. You can always drop this into a new machine if ever needed.

Not that I am teaching you to suck eggs, be sure that the one you get is SATA too... i'm sure you know about IDE drives.

Maxtor have always served me well... and I running with 3.2 terrabytes of internal and external storage.

Data/Memory storage is critical to me, and I have faith in this company.
Most hard drives manufactured in the last.. 10 years or so contain a feature called S.M.A.R.T., which can warn you of impeding hardware failures resulting from wear and tear, and sometimes can even predict the date when the failure will occur. Your BIOS might have S.M.A.R.T. monitoring built-in, but there's also standalone software available for most operating systems.
Eldric: They have 400Gb+ notebook drives?? Last I saw was 250Gb, but I could be behind the times.

Having a spare HD for a notebook is a good thing. What I did was buy a few HD caddies, and put HD's in them. I have one that I use for video converting/PVR, and one for gaming, and a 3rd with Ubuntu. It's just a quick pull the caddy & swap to go between them. Might sound inconvenient to you, but works for me. Overall, you get the idea.
As far as I know, notebook drives go to about 300-320gig for less than a ton (£100) these days.

If you need that kinda capacity I would invest in external drives.

I use USB and Firewire externals. Ranging from 400 to 500 gig each.

The bonus is, that if away, I can take the drives to a safe location without any hassle... in the event I get broken into for example.

With 5 years of photography backed up... I would die if lost those images.

On my main tower I run one primary internal for the OS and WoW, a slave as a scratch disk and the rest goes external.
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