Saturday, January 27, 2007

HDD, R.I.P. [Update]

Today marks the end of a legacy for my (short-lived) 1 1/2 year-old hard drive. To be honest, it was doomed from the get-go- what with my 24-hour computer usage- but it makes me sad to part so soon. Aggravated, too- it couldn't have picked a worse time, because it just up and died with all my files on it during a hectic weekend.

For a few weeks, it emitted its pitiful cries for help in the form of high-pitched, data wheel-crying hums. Then the inevitable final moments were upon it, where critical-error BSOD's boxed me into having to manually power down the machine. Today, its motors decided to spin no more, and I was left with this nondescript error message: "A disk read error has occurred. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart." Oh, and if those instructions are followed, you're entered into a never-ending loop of the same error message.

Hard drive of perpetual misery, ye shall be missed- until I get my new hard drive. Then I'll probably be the gladdest person to see you tossed in the scrap metal heap. You were buggy, slow, unreliable, and out of warranty. It was meant to be. I just wish the crew hadn't sunk with the ship, or this ordeal would be easier to deal with.

However, in this experience, I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned about technology in general. Even I, after experiencing many a hardware failure, accidental format, and fried motherboard am caught off-guard most of the time. Ideally, you'll take the early signals and make preparations. Alternatively, you can end up like me.

On to the words of wisdom (brought to you by pain and misery!):

How do you know if the hard drive is "dead"? Well, there's a few hints:

  • Your computer errors ultimately reference some error with a "disk" (and doesn't mention CDs or floppies).
  • You no longer feel a vibration where your hard drive is while your computer is booting up (and while confronted with an error screen).
  • Your hard drive will blue screen on startup, while making certain noises (like the aforementioned shrieking hums).
  • While booting, you can't enter anything but BIOS. If pressing F8 leads to blackness (or has no result whatsoever), you're probably in need of repair. It would normally give you options to boot to Safe Mode.
How to avoid my situation (which, trust me, you want to do):
  • Keep an external hard drive nearby and make weekly back-ups while you sleep.
  • Be proactive with hard drive malfunctions, not reactive. I didn't have the budget to afford a new hard drive, but after figuring in the cost of a drive, repair costs, and lost data, it would've been worth my while to just splurge while the old thing was alive.
  • Search for your computer's symptoms via online forums and user groups. Google Groups is a great place to start, and from there you can peruse Google's search results (which usually bring up the forums that'll help you).
  • Make sure to store smaller pieces of data online. $4.95 is a small price to pay to keep your files on a server (I recommend 1&1, or utilize your school/organization's server space). Just download SmartFTP and upload your files. It's a headache saver.
  • Never think a computer issue can be put off for a few weeks until you're freed up. As denoted in Murphy's Law, things will inevitably go bad when you least expect- or want- it.
What NOT to do:
  • This applies to seemingly-dead-but-still-alive drives: Don't think formatting is a solution to a screwed-up hard drive. This is one of the options the Windows Recovery/Repair tool recommends (unwisely!). You'll just end up with an empty hard drive that can boot Windows. Those projects and e-mails you needed? Well, if you want those back (and traditional recovery software fails), prepare to shell out some heavy sums to have professionals disassemble your hard drive and manipulate the magnetic waves to restore data. Rates usually start around $600.
  • Do not think this is a do-it-yourself project. Fixing a hard drive is nothing to mess around with, especially if there's crucial data you want to save. I resorted to Geek Squad (not 100% recommended, but more reliable than your random tech store). Just pick somewhere you trust.
  • Do not treat your hard drive like a football. Just because it's broken doesn't mean your data went into a black hole, and thus, you should treat it like it's still working. It's easy to want to smack it around to try and "knock it into compliance", but this comes at the risk of destroying your data.
So, my recommendation is to take my bad experiences and use them to your benefit. In the meantime, I'm forced to shop for a replacement drive while my dead one sits in a Geek Squad queue bin. I'm also forced to locate an alternative PC so I can continue playing World of Warcraft (level 70- oh so close!) and doing work. ...Don't mind how I arranged those two, I assure you they don't represent how I prioritize things.

[Update: So, I got my hard drive switched after being told the data was (you guessed it) unrecoverable without some crazy-complicated techniques (rates starting at... $500!). I'm still investigating options as to how I can restore the data, but next weekend will probably be dedicated to fishing through my GMail and servers for recoverable files. My music and iTunes library are lost forever. I'll need to download all my programs again, or attempt to find their CDs. And after all that, Geek Squad ran about $190 (travel included) for the hard drive and labor. This is the last time I'll ever ignore shrieks of pain from any hard drive.]

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