Computer Issues

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My hard drive appears to be fried. I'm trying to decide whether to send it off to a data recovery place that does free estimates to see how much it would cost to recover what I've done since my last backup.

I'm trying to locate the CD from my end-of-summer backup, because the only one I can find is from last fall. I have all my assignments saved to school servers, any dissertation work I've done was sent to people on my committee, and my latest versions of material I'm writing for the Philosophy and Pop Culture series is recoverable from my editors. I'll have to get them to send me stuff, though. The Syracuse University server for some reason refuses to save attachments for outgoing mail for later recovery, and I do all my correspondence for those matters with that account. What I won't have is any lecture notes on material I've covered for the first time since fall 2007, and there's quite a lot of it. I'll also lose all my non-GMail email for a year and a whole bunch of files I've put together collecting and organizing information that would take many hours to reconstruct. All of my backups of Ethan's now-scratched CDs were also on that drive, and he may completely freak out the next time he gets a hankering for one of them that we can now no longer just burn. A few of them are on an older computer, but most of the ones he likes most aren't. Only two of them have existing copies that play straight through.

If it's only going to be a few hundred dollars, it might be worth it, but some of these recoveries are closer to $1000. I haven't even had a chance to call Dell for a replacement yet (my first time in a few days with more than a half hour free without something else demanding my time will be tomorrow morning), so I won't be able to rebuild my system until Monday night, which means we're sharing one computer until then unless I go buy a keyboard to see if the computer that's been effectively Ethan's will work with an external keyboard.

It's been hard in the last few weeks even to find time to sit down and write blog posts, and having to share a computer is going to make that harder (plus I've lost my file of things to blog about, including some half-written posts that would save a lot of time in posting something quickly). So what appears here depends on (1) how much time I get without distractions but with a computer and (2) whether I can remember what I wanted to write about or come up with other things quickly enough given my constraints. I may have a little time tomorrow, but I have other things to do during that time, including calling Dell and perhaps contacting a recovery place or two to ask if they had any sense of what this kid of problem would cost. So it may be sparser in content around here than usual for a few days.

Update (Sun afternoon): After my first two attempts to use SpinRite led to a message warning me not to use it because of a BIOS incompatibility, which several people have told me can't be right, and the third didn't even recognize the drive, I tried it one more time at my brother's urging, and it recognized it and didn't give me the crazy message about the BIOS. It fixed enough problems for me to run it in an external drive bay and copy over everything I can get. The one remaining task is to back up my Firefox settings and booksmarks and my Thunderbird email, which I can do with a neat tool designed for backing up Mozilla products if I can boot up my system. It didn't boot when I tried it, though, so I'm running SpinRite again. We'll see if it works.

Update 2 (late Sunday night): Well, I managed to get all the information off the drive thanks to SpinRite, but I had to run it a few times. The worst problem was getting Sam's hard drive back out of the external drive bay I'd put it into during the time I had to boot up my own drive. Somehow it got stuck in there, and I had to widdle away at whatever plasticky/rubbery stuff was functioning like a screw to hold the back end on so I could open it up from the back to push it out. Once I got those off and pulled the back off, it slid right out, so it must have been wedged into the back end somehow. The drive bay probably won't be travelable as easily as it was, but that's a small price to pay for getting all my data saved and getting Sam's drive back into her computer safely (I hope). I better run SpinRite on her drive tonight just in case. It did get jarred a bit in the process of trying to get it out, but it was parked properly first, whereas the initial drop that damaged my drive happened when it was on, which is extremely dangerous. It's an hour later than I like to go to bed, but it's nice to have relative closure on all these things while I await my new drive to appear on Tuesday.

3 Comments

Hey J,

Really sorry to hear about the hard drive troubles. (I'm going to go and back-up right after I write this post.)

I'm wondering whether your harddrive won't power-up or whether it will but then it crashes. If it's the latter, there might be some other options. A couple years ago, I had the latter problem and what ended up fixing it was putting the barddrive in a couple of zip-lock bags and then into the freezer. This allowed the plates to shrink and then, when the drive was connected to an external enclosure and then to another computer, it gave us enough time to copy the files that were most important off. This cycle had to be done a few times in order to get everything off.

The reason this worked is that it was the reading "arm" that was damaged (from dropping the computer) and when the plates got hot that was enough to get the arm to start touching the plates (bad news for hard drives).

Anyway, whatever happens, I hope that something works out for getting the info off. Good luck.

The hard drive tech guy I talked to today said that was probably ball bearing issues. They expand when warm and contract when cool. He said he had that problem and just put the drive in the freezer with the cable running out toward the computer, and he backed everything up off it while it was in the freezer.

I've got a different problem. It's probably got physical damage caused by the computer dropping while it was running, but it definitely has no file tables, so recovery is going to be expensive. Now I have to look through the CDs to see what I can find of the one thing that will trigger the OK to pay over $1000 for data recovery -- baby pictures. If most of those are gone, then the threshold for valuable enough data is crossed.

Just for posterity sake, Photorec (http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec) does a really great job at data recovery and its a free option. The unfortunate bit is that it often recovers the files with wacky names.

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