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It’s All Gone…

September 10, 2005 at 9:47 PM

...Because I think my hard drive has crashed, and it's unlikely I can recover anything from it. This would be the third time I've lost practically everything on my computer =(

The first time I lost all of my files was back when I had my Gateway 2000 computer. I originally had a 500 MB hard drive in it, and since it was getting full, I wanted to get another hard drive before it was too late; Dad and I decided to get a 2 GB one, which would have more than enough room to hold all of my stuff (for the time being =P). Neither Dad nor I knew how to set this up, so we decided to send it to the technicians at Gateway to install it. Before sending it to them, Dad placed the new one in the computer, but didn't hook it up - he just taped the jumper that came with it to the case, as well as including a note that explicitly stated not to delete what was on the old drive, but to copy its contents to the new one, and make the old one the slave drive.

What did they do? They formatted the old one and sent us back the computer, and the jumper was still taped on the case - the only thing they accomplished was causing me to lose everything I had on there! As for backups...None could have been made, as I did not have the equipment to make them at the time.

The second time, I can't remember exactly what happened (and I'm not even sure which computer it was - it was either the Gateway, or my second computer - the first one that Armstrong Microsystems had built for me)...But the system eventually crashed. No unusual noise came from the hard drive, and come to think of it, we might have been able to salvage what was on it...If we had the necessary programs and such, which we didn't (again).

If it was with the second computer, I couldn't have done backups on that either, as the tape backup drive I had installed didn't work right (and, at a later time, didn't have the capacity to hold everything on the drive on one tape), and the operating system was somewhat unstable, having a high chance of freezing up at times, especially when trying to record to a CD-R...Although its instability is probably my fault, given I wasn't that careful with it at the time in regards to the programs I installed/uninstalled on it. Given the instability issues it has now (and the fact it has a lot of crap on it that I haven't used in years), I'm planning to reformat it after backing up its entire contents to my current computer, via my local network between them.

As for this time, it happened on Friday, September 2, with my current computer (the third one, and second which was built by Armstrong Microsystems). I was looking up information for Mom for her Sunday School class, when all of a sudden, the computer started making what I can only describe as a clicking and grinding noise. I heard it before from this computer, and rather often, but ignored it - when it made that noise at that time, it was only once or twice, and only happened a few times a day (the "grinding" noise always occurred when there was hard drive activity, but was only noticeable when a lot of activity was going on). This time, it was constant, and never stopped - until the computer was shut down, which is what I had to do after it slowed down and blue-screened shortly after that occurred (I don't remember what the error was, as I forgot to write it down before shutting the computer off). Restarting it later on didn't help - it still made the noise, and didn't even boot up. It just gave this message, on a black screen:

Reboot and Select proper Boot device
or Insert Boot Media in selected Boot device

I jotted that message down (just in case) and shut down and unplugged the computer for the night, hoping that if I left it off longer, I'd have a chance at starting up the system again...But this problem still continued.

I was going to call Armstrong Microsystems to see what they could do about it, but they were already closed...And when I called on Saturday, they weren't there (due to the Labor Day weekend), and I had to go to a cousin's wedding later that day - I ended up having to wait until Tuesday before I could get my new computer looked at. Before taking it down, I typed up a paper (on the old computer) that included any information that would help identify the problem, as well as (if the drive was dying) a list of folders whose contents I wanted saved, if they could be recovered...And I also decided to include other information too: I wanted to get a noise problem fixed with the new computer, and get a few things fixed with the old computer that kept getting put off (which included fixing or replacing a nonfunctioning/noisy CD-ROM drive and adding a little more RAM to the system, which only had 128 MB)...As well as the left mouse button double-clicking all of a sudden when it was just clicked on once (I blame that on Dad's constant playing of FreeCell and Solitaire).

My parents took down both systems (and the paper) after dropping me off at work, and Mom picked me up during my lunch hour to see what they found out:

  • They couldn't find out what was going on with the mouse, as it worked just fine for them. I've recently wondered if it (somehow) could be related to the port it was plugged into - it was a USB mouse, and I had a PS/2 adapter on it on my system, but it didn't have the adapter on it when I brought the mouse in. They said that if the problem continues, I should just get a new one. Given that I've had it for quite awhile as it is, that would probably be the best thing to do here.
  • The old computer had a new CD-ROM drive put in, as well as having an additional 128 MB of RAM added to it. It's still making noise, so I guess it wasn't the CD-ROM drive after all (it doesn't happen all the time either, so it could have been overlooked - it will only occur when the computer is turned on, and it goes away a minute or two after it finishes booting into Windows). The RAM helped too, as Windows does appear to act faster with certain tasks...Although the additional RAM was to be added in an attempt to try and get a copy of Linux working somewhat decently on that system - I did have one distribution set up on it, but it didn't work too well, and that CD-ROM drive stopped functioning before I could get a replacement distribution put in (I couldn't modify the drive order in the BIOS to use the working secondary CD-ROM drive, either).
  • They fixed the noise problem with my new computer by readjusting one of the fans, but as for the hard drive...They couldn't do anything with it, although it's unknown as to whether or not I can recover anything on it. A replacement drive was put in its place (80 GB instead of 120 GB, as I only used up a bit more than a fourth of the 120 GB drive since I got it, and most of that was for Mom's MP3s) with the damaged one, unplugged, put in the bay below it, in case I want to try and see if the data on it can be recovered. This new drive is quiet, not beeping or making any kind of "grinding" noise at all...And so I'm now wondering if those noises I heard with the old drive were never normal, but had happened for so long that I just got used to them, and considered it normal for those noises to occur every so often. As for the damaged drive, the only things I was told I could do are:
    • Have the damaged drive sent to a recovery specialist, for a large fee (personally, the data on my drive is not worth that much), or
    • As a customer of theirs had told them: Put the drive into plastic bags, seal those bags (removing as much air as possible beforehand), and put it into the freezer for an hour. After that, while the computer is shut down, immediately pull it out, open the bags, disconnect the ribbon cables from both CD-ROM drives (and the power plug from either one), plug the ribbon cable for the secondary drive (the first CD-ROM drive) and the power plug into that drive, and start up the system...Hoping that I can recover all of my important data before the drive dies out for good as a result of condensation building up inside the drive when it warms up. I'm wary of trying this out, though, as I'm not sure whether or not it will work (if it's even possible for it to work).

Fortunately, I have (old) backups on hand - some things are over a year old, but there's nothing on those backups that could be more than two years old...Still, it's better than the previous two times, where I had no backups at all. At least I can restore some of the stuff I have...Especially my often-used Firefox and Thunderbird profiles - I had versions 1.0.4 and 1.0.2 (respectively) that were backed up to my keydrive prior to updating them both to 1.0.5 (and later, 1.0.6). Since the most recent message that I could find in my Thunderbird profile was from the middle of July, that's probably how old the profiles were (as they were backed up at the same time). Fortunately, I didn't lose much here - in Firefox, I don't add or remove bookmarks that often (except for some temporary ones, which would end up getting removed anyway once I saw what they were for), and I can't recall saving any new username/password combinations in it as of late. For Thunderbird, I don't send E-Mail that much (a few times a month, at most), and practically every message I've received is either for specific accounts of mine at certain sites (a tiny portion of those messages, usually forwarded from my Adelphia account), or Bugzilla reports (the majority of those messages).

In a sense, I don't feel that I've lost that much - I'd say less than five percent of the files on that drive were actually used more than once since their creation. I tend to be a pack rat with the files I create (for myself or for others), never getting rid of them in case I need them again in the future (which I might get from Dad's side of the family, as some of my relatives act like this with their stuff as well)...And I rarely - if ever - use those files again.

I've recently got all of my important programs and hardware drivers reinstalled, as well as making Firefox and Thunderbird the default browser and mail clients, respectively (Firefox was already used fairly often, and I wanted to switch from Outlook Express for the longest time - this doesn't affect my personal profiles, kept separate from the defaults, as they were already using Firefox and Thunderbird). I have also readied a Service Pack 4 slipstream of Windows 2000 (which I hope will work - the CD I have is of Service Pack 3, which is what was installed on this computer at the time I got it), and am considering copying everything over from the old computer (there's more than enough room on the new drive to hold it al) so that it can be reformatted, and be made stable this time around.

One thing I want to ask of those who have read through this entry: What should I do with the damaged hard drive I have? Should I reconsider taking it to a recovery specialist (if so, do you know who is reputable, and how much they would cost)? Should I try the "freezer" method (if so, would it really have a chance of working with my drive)? Should I try something else? Or should I just give up and consider the data on that drive to be lost for good?

I'll probably be fairly busy this week (we've recently had to go to quite a few of birthday parties, and have more to go to later on), and I won't have time to try out the "freezer" method until probably a week from now (assuming I should actually try it), so if you have any ideas as to what I should do with it, I'll need to know what they are before that time.


  1. Sorry to hear this. I had similar experience before, and then I learnt to make a backup, I should always back up to a different harddisk (not another partition) or better yet... to a different storage (e.g. CDs)

    Comment by Antony Shen — 10/21/2005 @ 9:34 PM
  2. I just can't bring myself to back up things that often, due to the issues I've had with it in the past...I really should, though - It's a bad habit that I don't do it like I should.

    Backing it up to locations outside of the current hard drive is a very good idea, though - if the backup's only on a different partition of the same drive, and something happens to that drive, you might be out of luck in terms of restoring the backup later...But with a backup (or backups) stored on a second hard drive, or on media stored outside the computer (or both), if something happens to the drive, then you have a far better chance of recovering anything important =)

    Comment by Wolfey — 10/30/2005 @ 12:21 AM

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