Hard Drive Crash: Crawl into a bottle? Or a USB enclosure?

Summary:Things are not much better with my Stinkpad since yesterday. I call it a Stinkpad because the thing just came back from having it's LCD repaired.

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Things are not much better with my Stinkpad since yesterday. I call it a Stinkpad because the thing just came back from having it's LCD repaired.  Defragging didn't work. I added a partial screen shot to yesterday's blog, but it's repeated again here (left) for dramatic measure. Trust me, you don't want to see this error. Ctrl-Alt-Del does nothing but get me back to the same message. Since I can't spend a whole lot of time being a systems engineer (much as I'd like to), I've just been doing my work on my AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari system.  This is the box that I run VMware on.  I never loaded VMware (which I have raved about for exactly this scenario) on the Thinkpad since it was way past the stage where VMware would have made a difference.  The idea was to slowly bring a virtual machine up to full production speed on the Acer, move some data over, etc, rebuild the Thinkpad's OS, install VMWare, move the VM back from the Acer to the Thinkpad, and then, from that point forward, just back up the VM using the built-in utilties in VMware.  But, hard drive death beat me too it.

I want to thank the many many wonderful ZDNet readers who commented on yesterday's blog with tons of useful advice that other ZDNet readers should take note of.  Some of it may be able to prevent you from running into the same fate as me.  Some of it is just good advice about keeping your system in tip top shape.  And a bunch is good advice about how to recover from this failure.  Three pieces of advice stood out.   One suggested a bottle of Vodka. I'm close to trying that. Others have suggested using Knoppix.  With Knoppix, I theoretically should be able to burn a bootable image to a CD, boot from the CD, and have some luck accessing the drive as a slave device rather than as the boot master.  The third interesting idea is to remove the drive and adapt it to USB.  This can be done by using a USB enclosure (millions of them on the Web), or, by using some sort of USB/hard drive adapter like this one.  For $30, the latter option doesn't sound too bad.  Then, like with the Knoppix CD, I can make the "USB drive" a slave to some other system.   If anybody knows what the ground rules are for accessing an NTFS drive (getting through security, etc.), let me know.  Knoppix is downloading now.  The USB drive option is my back up.

In the meantime, a few observations:

  • As I said earlier, I was actually trying to take advantage of the VMware architecture I've been writing so much about and I just have not gotten my production VMs to the state I want them to be in.   That said, one of the hold ups has been how to move certain applications that started as crippleware, but that I unlocked by paying over the Web, to a new system. Not only don't I have the license information (OK, very bad form on my part not to be keeping track of that), I'm not sure what would happen if I did. Would FTP Voyager for example take the old key if it thinks I have another activated copy out there? Now that I've crashed, this is obviously a problem regardless of whether I use VMware or not at this point.  The other problem is that even if I have the keys, the old downloads that they worked on may not be available anymore.  If I go to the Web site, all I find are new downloads that won't accept the key data I have.  In hind sight, I guess the best thing to do is burn any downloads to CD along with some TXT files with notes about things like license keys in them. 
  • Even though some have discounted it as a non-issue, some people are reporting to me that heat could very well be exacerbating the problem and that, at the very least, I should try cooling the drive down (perhaps in the frig) before giving it another try.  Apparently, there could be issues with heat dissipation given the way the drive is designed.  Indeed, yesterday, after I let the system sit for a long time, I was able to boot into a safe-mode state that I couldn't get to earlier in the day (when the system was hot from repeatedly trying to reboot it).  This morning, after the machine sat all night, I was actually able to boot into safe mode and copy a bunch of files to a USB thumbdrive. Not all of the ones that I wanted.  But some important ones.  Eventually, LSASS.EXE crashed and when that happens, the next thing you get is a message that the system is shutting down in 60 seconds. 
  • Given how polluted that system has gotten in the year that I've had it, I started thinking about system restore points and how applications install themselves (for example, on this VM that I've turned into my interim production system, I just installed Acrobat Reader).  I think it's good to be able to rewind a system to some known working state using System Restore (in Windows).  So, here's the question.  Shouldn't software installers, by default, be setting system restore points before they install themselves?  Why should I have to remember to create a system restore point before I install every little application?
  • There are multiple safe mode options for Windows. The two that interest me are "Safe-Mode" and "Safe-Mode with Networking" (a third is safe-mode with command prompt).  The main reason my "safe-mode with networking" boot-ups don't last has to do with LSASS.EXE crashing. Meanwhile, the regular safe-mode boot-ups don't seem to be bothered by LSASS at all.  According to the Process Library at Uniblue Systems (love their Wintask software by the way -- a must have), LSASS is a security related component and given that it only comes up with safe-mode for networking, my assumption is that anything having to do with Windows, networking, and security is domain controller related.  Here's the problem. For the few minutes I can get my system working under safe mode/networking, I'm able to log in with my domain-based  credentials.  But, when I boot under regular safe-mode --- the one that has more staying power for some reason -- I can't login. My user ID and password don't work.  To me this doesn't seem right -- that unless I load the networking version of safe-mode, I can't login.
  • It's clear from the comments that I've been getting that even though the system string seems to indicate that I'm running Service Pack 2, I'm apparently running Service Pack 1.  This to me is inconcievable as I know that I've done updates to this system long after SP2 came out.  I'm at a complete loss for how it is that I could be running without Service Pack 2.  Maybe this is my fault. But I am confused and I can't help but wonder how many other people are out there in the same situation. 
  • Finally, if there's a better reason to have the web-based computing world delivered to us on a silver platter, fully replacing these cantankerous client systems, I'd like to know what it is.  Here is the net net of the situation.  All my thick client applications are currently dead.  Even if I had backups of everything I needed (I have backups of a lot, but not all), there's still a lot of work to do to get back up and running.  Meanwhile, the Web-based applications I like to use haven't missed a beat.  The only fingers I've had to lift to make them (the Web apps) run are the fingers I needed to enter their URLs into a browser on a working system.  When I look at how much the browser costs, and then how much the dead Stinkpad costs, not to the mention the time and effort it will take to revive it (even in the best case scenario), I find it hard to not ask myself "What's wrong with this picture?"

Topics: VMWare

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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