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

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.


bad_disk2.jpgThings 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?"

Topic: VMware

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  • Don't torture yourself

    Follow Yagotta's advice for booting up Knoppix and mounting the drive so you can raw copy it to another drive--and be done with it! ;)

    Oh the Humanity!
    D T Schmitz
  • Here's what I did

    USB access to hard drives at a low level is pretty poorly supported- especially by good low-cost or free software.

    When my laptop drive died I ripped out the HD and tried to use an external enclosure... The above problems stopped me right there.
    To get any further I bought myself a full-size IDE connector converter- It allows you to fit a laptop HD into a full-size system. This allowed me full access to the drive.

    NTFS access? Well... Luckily that wasn't an issue. I had to use a data recovery tool 'cos my drive was really screwed (it's now back with the retailer) and this completely bypassed any and all NTFS or XP security that was there.

    I used R-studio (www.r-tt.com) which was fast and absolutely fanastic... though I did have to pay for it... US$50 for r-studio NTFS which is fine 'cos I only tend to use NTFS.

    In summary-
    1- don't bother with USB
    2- go for an IDE conversion cable
    3- use low-level file recovery software

    Worked well for me
  • I Do IT Everyday

    Take the laptop drive out of the laptop and use the IDE interface adapter cable as suggested above. I'd go for a file recovery package that uses low level access. You really don't want to bother with the OS portion of the drive. Just go after your files you created. If you stored them outside of "Program files" even better. I would suggest Winternals, EDR Commander. The price is steep around $1500 but it will resurrect files as long as the pcb on the drive still works. An excellent tool. If the recovered files are worth that much to you, its worth the price. If they were worth that much to you, shame on you for not backing them up somewhere else! I've learned from the oilfield. You don't save it in just one place. Now you know who I am.
  • David, this blog on the subject

    Seems to be covering up the real problem, lack of a good backup of the hard drive. Products like Norton Ghost are fantastic for this eventual failure of hard drives. I say eventual because at some point, every hard drive ever made is going to fail. It's a mechanical device with mechanical moving parts. Failure isn't an "if", its a "when". I believe you have enough experience to know this and I am surprised you didn't take precautions to deal with it.

    I read your points about keys, software, data, backup points, etc. and while I don't really disagree, they are not replacements for a good backup methodology that is followed. I guess what I am saying is the responsibility for your situation is the fault of that guy in the mirror, or at least the lion's share is.

    To the web thing I say, yes the web based apps are working, the hardware storage on your machine died, not the network card. If you were somewhere (New Orleans) where connectivity went down you would be in the same or worse shape. I don't know about you but I lose connectivity a lot more often than I lose hard drives. If I had to bet on which one would be available for work at any given moment, I would bet everything on the hard drive.

    I know hind sight is 20/20 but sometimes the only lessons we can see are in the past. Look at this as a lesson in computing rule number 1. "Thou shalt protect thy data above all else". <g>

    As far as getting your data from the damaged drive, I think Yaggota has you on the right path. Knoppix is the way to go given you are dealing with a lappie hard drive. If you find the heat build up won't allow it to run long enough, I would suggest getting a can of freeze spray (http://www.action-electronics.com/ctfreeze.htm) I wish ya luck.
  • Been there ... done that

    David, you have gotten a lot of good advice here on how to recover a drive. The #1 most important point is not to do ANYTHING on the broken drive that involves WRITES. The broken drive should be marked READ-ONLY, the sooner the better. The easiest way is the way that Yaggota first suggested. The object is to use the Linux 'dd' command to attempt to copy the image of your broken drive to a partition on a new drive. The best way to do that with a lap top would be to obtain a new laptop drive LARGER in size than your current broken drive. DO NOT try to use USB. The USB interface really isn't suited to this type of operation and a lot of things can go wrong in the process. The best approach would be to use the new drive in a PCMCIA addapter so that it shows up on the system as a native IDE drive. This will avoid all sorts of drive detection/USB driver issues and issues with the controller in the USB drive itself. First, IF you can actually see your files on the broken drive, it would be a good idea to back up what you have to yet another spare PCMCIA drive while you have the chance. You will need to make sure that spare drive is formated as a FAT32 partition in order to be writable under Linux. I really don't know whether Knoppix can read NTFS yet or not, it should be able to, but make sure the broken drive gets mounted as read only. In any case once you boot up on Knoppix, you should be able to see both drives. Once you have the larger replacement drive in the PCMCIA slot, you should be able to go to a textmode window and perform a command line 'dd' command to raw copy the partition on the broken drive to the larger partition on the new drive. At that point, you should be able to move the PCMCIA drive to another laptop and run scandisk on it. Once it is successfully cleaned up with scandisk, you should be able to recover files from it and hopefully be able to install it in the old ThinkPad and boot it up. If it doesn't boot up, you make be able to use a recovery function on the Windows install CD. This is sort of an outline of the process. The only interface other than PCMCIA that I would recommend for this would be external SATA, but I've never seen that on a lap. OK everybody ... feel free to critique. Its best to get these things sorted out before rather than after :)
    George Mitchell
  • Converting Physical machine to Virtual.

    tryout p2v from vmware to convert your physical machine to a virtual. Once you have a VM, ofcourse you can carry it the way you like it.
  • RIP Thinkpad...

    For what it's worth, with all the potential web based apps have, I don't see it as quite the universal panacea for this sort of situation. Yes, it makes for getting back to work fairly easy - just type in the URL and off you go. Which is all well and good enough until you weigh the potential risks like betting the farm on the outfit hosting said web app being there forever. Or not doing a CRAP (DRM) style switcheroo where once they hit critical mass, they start charging you up the wazoo just to have access to your files. You're betting the farm on them having a backup strategy that's in place, working 100% properly and your stash of files is covered. Etc... Et al... Ad nauseum.

    You're also betting the farm that your access will always be there. My ISP (SBC/ATT Yahoo) is pretty good. But their uptime is not 100%. I've had perhaps 3 days worth of outages to spotty service in the last few years. My buddy who's got Verizon, he's not so lucky. He's had their DSL service for about 6 months and his service is dicey at best. There are days when he's up and running and then there's days when the service is mostly dead.

    Now, given your work is to write blogs and articles and post them on the web and if the web access isn't there, well, there's a darn good chance the site you're posting to will be out as well.

    But consider this. While the ISP's down, you can't do much in the way of writing, editing, etc... if you're using web based apps. BUT... If you have your tools in hand, loaded up on your computer, you at least have the ability to do SOME work besides hunt down copies of the tools you need on a CD someone backed up somewhere along the line. And when the ISP gets back up online, you just have to post your work and go home.

    Bottom line - there's no such thing as a fool proof back up strategy. Hard drive sizes have become ENORMOUS while backup tools - tape drives, and other media hasn't quite kept up. Nothing is perfect. There's pros AND cons for having stuff installed locally as well as using web based tools.
  • I just replaced the hard drive on my HP Pavilion, the key is

    having an easy way to make backups so you don't lose data. I use the rsync utility from Linux to back my laptop to two other desktops. A lot of things really do work better with Linux.
  • Linux can fix it!

    How about one of those live CDs worth of disk repair tools? in many cases, MS will not help you with disk errors, and after-market SW comes at a price.

    The trick is to mirror data onto some other of your computers, of course. Not only does it back up, it also makes data more accessibla as opposed to some USB drive in your drawer. I am moving to having SVN tracking my data.
    • Wow, Linux is immune to hardware failures...

      That's it, I'm switching now!

      You fan-boys show up in the oddest places.
      • Nice straw man

        Of course, the grandparent post never came close to even [i]implying[/i] that Linux was immune to hard failures -- only that it has a boatload of repair tools.

        We're well into [i]non sequitur[/i] country here. About like replying to "my electrician can fix anything" with "oh, his lights never need new bulbs?"
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Overheating?

    If you are overheating try blowing the dust out of the machine.
  • Bypassing the NTFS Permissions, Recovering the OS with apps on another comp

    To bypass the NTFS permissions hook your harddrive to another computer log on as an administrator and use backup (If you have home addition you may have add backup, you can download it from MS) to backup the drive. Then restore it to a FAT partition. This removes the security.

    If you can restore it to another drive on another computer, you can use install to repair it and conform to the new hardware. You do this by taking the second repair option. This replaces the HAL and conforms the OS to the new hardware.

    It works great for moving thigs to a new bare bones system.

    Good Luck
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