When disaster strikes your PC

When disaster strikes your PC

Summary: Disasters can come in many forms... from simple user error to component failure to a total system loss from fire, flood or theft. The trick is to be prepared!

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you some news. Yesterday a hard disk suddenly malfunctioned over at the PC Doc HQ ...

Let me tell you that seeing a message like the one above gets your heart racing just a bit! But you want to see something really scary? OK then ...

It went on like that for pages and pages. The disk wasn't just bad, it was really bad!

An inevitable part of computer ownership is having to deal with disasters, and successfully dealing with disasters requires a cool head.

Disasters can come in many forms ... from simple user error (like a file being deleted) to component failure (like I experienced here) to a total system loss from fire, flood or theft. The trick is to be prepared!

So what do you need to do to be prepared at home or a small office situation?

  1. Don't panic Always at the top of the list. From personal experience I know that this is easier advice to give than to hear, but you need to keep your head in the game if you're not to make the problem worse.  Another thing I like to keep in mind when dealing with a dead system is that more haste usually equals less speed. Take your time. An ailing PC isn't going to bleed to death of you decide to leave the problem until the morning. 
  2. Have a backup of all your important data Without a doubt the most important and reassuring thing you need to have is a system backup. At the very minimum you need to have a backup of your important data. Much better is to have a complete backup of your system because this makes it easier to recover from drive failure. In an ideal world you'll have a backup at your home or office and another backup kept offsite - at a different location, or stored in the cloud. This protects you from big disasters like theft and fire.
  3. Know your system If you know your hardware, you're in a better position to repair and replace dead components. Keep a list handy of all major system components.
  4. Power What happens when the power goes off and the lights go out?  At the very least you need a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to give you the time to do a controlled shutdown of your stuff. If you need to be able to use your stuff for longer, then you need to add a generator to your kit list. Note: If you do choose to run a computer from a generator, make sure that you keep the UPS is between the computer and the generator, as this will help keep the power clean.
  5. Have spares I don't expect everyone to keep spare parts, but if you're the sort of person reading this blog then  chances are that you do have spare parts laying about. Old hard drives, power supply units, keyboards, mice, motherboards, RAM and coolers can be handy when you need to get a dead system back up and running quickly.
  6. Alternative workstation If access to a computer or the web is really that important to you, then you should have a fallback plan. A separate computer, a notebook, a tablet or something.  Having access to a second system can make recovering a disk or getting necessary drivers a lot easier.

Following these simple rules, and advising others to do so, has saved many a butt over the years.
Remember, prepare for the worst, and that if you train hard, you'll fight easy!

Here's hoping you have a trouble-free day! And if you have anything to add to the list, let me know!

See also:

Topic: Software Development

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26 comments
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  • Windows Home Server with period off-site backup.

    WHS backs up each system every night and allows me to do a file based restores or a complete system recovery. In order to protect my information due to a natural disaster I make an off-site backup when a significant event occurs (for example I download important photos from a photo shoot).

    The availability of WHS to backup my Windows systems is one of the key reasons I do most of my work on my Windows system and not on my Mac. I wish the Macintosh would get something like WHS (yes, Time Machine is OK but it's not as good as WHS).
    ye
  • My laptop display crapped out a couple of weeks ago

    I just connected a 15" LCD monitor that was stored in a closet. It's a temporary solution until I figure out what to do next.

    What's weird about it is that the laptop dual-boots Windows XP and Linux and the display is crapped out running Windows but works perfectly running Linux (with the Xfce desktop environment, but without XDM or GDM).

    The laptop uses an NVidia graphics card (not replaceable), but I have not installed the NVidia driver for Linux. Could it be the graphics card? The laptop is way, WAY out of warranty.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Yes, because Linux is magical.

      @Rabid Howler Monkey: [i]What's weird about it is that the laptop dual-boots Windows XP and Linux and the display is crapped out running Windows but works perfectly running Linux (with the Xfce desktop environment, but without XDM or GDM).[/i]

      Always find a way to fault Microsoft eh?
      ye
      • RE: When disaster strikes!

        @ye <br><br>Not necessarily. It could be the nVidia driver that is the problem. I get problems with nVidia drivers even in Linux. One release will work fine, the next won't do OpenGL properly, the next won't work at all, then the next is fine again.<br><br>Or it could be a hardware issue with 3D rendering. If he did not install a driver for Linux, it's possible he is using the open source nv driver, which renders 2D just fine but cannot render 3D. I'd like to see what happens if he does install the nVidia Linux driver.

        Edit: I'd also like to see him try a generic SVGA driver in Windows to see what happens.
        Michael Kelly
      • magical? seriously...

        @ye wrote "Always find a way to fault Microsoft eh?"

        I would not say MS fault, if linux was not installed on the system then it would be swapping out & slaving the HDD to a working system to recover the data - and in that case, linux may be a better choice again for recovery since some malware loves to be transferred from someone else's HDD

        :P
        ~doolittle~
    • @Rabid Howler Monkey .. Try

      deleting Linux boot script from 'boot.ini' (make a copy first of boot.ini) and see whether XP regains control of video drivers. Just a hunch, but sounds like a resource conflict (i.e. video drivers) between Windows and Linux - and Linux won (..on the video front, that is).<br><br>Alright, obviously with the external plugged in, reinstall the video drivers for XP and reboot; remove external, and see whether XP's GUI reappears. <br><br>Let us know whether it pans out or not, either way.
      thx-1138_
    • RE: When disaster strikes!

      @thx-1138_@ I use a 3rd party bootloader and, thus, there is no Linux-related line in C:\boot.ini (I did check though, just to follow through). Your comment on a video card resource conflict between Windows and Linux may have some merit (more below).

      @Michael Kelly I disabled the NVidia driver in Windows, rebooted into Windows at a reduced resolution and the problem persisted (thus, no apparent problem with the NVidia graphics card or driver). However, looking more closely at my Linux NVidia drivers, I verified that I had not installed the proprietary driver from NVidia with 3-D support. However, I did note that I had two NVidia drivers installed that provide 2-D support:

      xserver-xorg-video-nv
      xserver-xorg-video-nouveau (experimental)

      I removed both drivers, rebooted into Linux and all was well. Then I shut down the PC, turned off and unplugged the external monitor, restarted and booted into Windows and all was well. Rebooted back into Linux and all was well. Finally, reinstalled package xserver-xorg-video-nv and all is still well.

      Thanks thx-1138_@ and Michael Kelly for your suggestions. Any idea what fixed the problem? Removing the experimental package 'xserver-xorg-video-nouveau'? Disabling and re-enabling the NVidia drivers on both OSs?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • The synopsis returns the most obvious

        @Rabid Howler Monkey .. answer: one or both of the Linux-based drivers were the culprits. The resource conflict is enough to kill operability on at least one OS platform .. but luckily for you, not both. <br><br>I'm going to guess the conflict disabled or caused an override of your Windows, nVidia drivers. You found the answer, and obviously that's always a good place to be (feeling of accomplishment that goes with it, etc, etc).<br><br><img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink">
        thx-1138_
      • &quot;Resource conflict&quot; between two mutually exclusive OSs?

        @thx-1138_@
        Considering that <i>either</i> Windows <i>or</i> Linux could be running, but not <i>both</i> at the same time, I'm not seeing where this "resource conflict" could be coming from.

        I'd have been wondering if a "cold boot" into Windows would have worked, rather than a "warm boot" after Linux had already been running. Perhaps the Linux "nouveau" driver was leaving the graphics hardware in a state that the Windows drivers were not expecting and could not handle? The "nouveau" driver <i>is</i> marked as "experimental", and I think I read something about its developers needing to create their own non-proprietary firmware for "context switching microcode":

        http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=NzgxMQ
        Zogg
      • @Zogg .. choice

        of words not accurate, my bad. Alright, so resource conflict is the wrong term, but the problem he's described could still well be the result of an exclusive access conflict. Remember, he's already stated there were three separate drivers installed. <br><br>Though i couldn't comment on his exact config', the presence of three drivers for one internal interface is enough of a red flag that could easily have resulted in corruption and / or malfunctioning of one or more of those drivers: in this case the Windows driver clearly failed to load at boot time - whilst the Linux (xorg) drivers were in place and running (..successfully, mind you). <br><br><i>" ... Perhaps the Linux "nouveau" driver was leaving the graphics hardware in a state that the Windows drivers were not expecting and could not handle? "</i><br><br>I don't know, ask him. But for that to occur, the nVidia drivers [i]would have to be[/i] buggy. So my initial idea of trying to boot without Linux enabled (see my original post) holds merit, in order to gauge the behavior of the system with only Windows running.<br><br>Split hairs if you must, but what occurred obviously wasn't helped (again) by three drivers installed for one device. Granted, there may not have been a 'resource conflict' in the strictest definition - but i maintain there was certainly a conflict of some sort, somewhere within his problematic system setup.<br><br>Howler's troubleshooting process eventually led him to removing the experimental, nouveau driver (and the other xorg driver). Since doing so resolved the issue(s) it could *only* have caused an issue if either driver somehow had a way of accessing (affecting) Windows ability to load it's own video driver(s). We agree on one thing, that's not possible. That leaves the distinct possibility either of the xorg drivers was making an access call at an explicit, lower level to BIOS (i.e. boot sector) and somehow disabling / blocking / interfering with Window's exclusive access in even achieving default VGA mode (clue: no GUI appearing when Howler tried booting with both xorg video drivers installed and enabled).<br><br>At any rate, if you've got any issues / answers over what you think may have gone wrong, take it up with Howler. After all, he's the one with the questions - and problems - not me; i was just thinking out loud, trying to help, with a few outside possibilities.<br><br>Personally, I really couldn't give a rats .. and you really are barking up the wrong tree.<br><br>Cheers, big ears.
        thx-1138_
      • Just thinking out loud...

        @thx-1138_@
        <i>After all, he's the one with the questions - and problems - not me; i was just thinking out loud, trying to help, with a few outside possibilities.</i>

        Seeing as this is a public message board... err... me too. Don't you think?? And Howler is free to jump in at any time...

        <i>Split hairs if you must, but what occurred obviously wasn't helped (again) by three drivers installed for one device.</i>

        But only <u>one</u> driver for the device under Windows, which is the interesting/confusing point.
        Zogg
      • RE: When disaster strikes!

        @Zogg When this display problem first occurred, I went beyond a cold boot. I shut down my laptop, removed the power cord, removed the battery and let it 'sit' for awhile. The problem persisted after inserting the battery and booting into Windows.<br><br>Another interesting bit, the display problem affected Linux for the first time yesterday morning (approx. 2-3 weeks after the problem initially showed up in Windows). Why the delay?<br><br>@thx-1138_@ Your comment on the BIOS is interesting as I left the BIOS out of the story above. I have the BIOS on this laptop set for password on boot. The BIOS GUI for password input was also crapped out (and was also fixed along with Windows and Linux).<br><br>Again, thanks @thx-1138_@ and @Zogg for your comments.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • At this point, I'm thinking &quot;Hardware fault&quot;

        @Rabid Howler Monkey<br>So your problem happens regardless of which OS is in the driving seat, and you've already tried "cold booting" into each one.

        Ouch, this doesn't sound like good news for your laptop, unless you're lucky and only have a bad VGA or DVI cable. Have you checked the VGA/DVI connector(s) for physical damage? Or maybe the monitor itself is flaky?
        Zogg
      • RE: When disaster strikes!

        @Zogg The problem is now 'fixed' (in quotes, because I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop).

        Remember, early yesterday afternoon I removed the experimental NVidia driver, xserver-xorg-video-nouveau, from Linux. And I disabled and re-enabled the NVidia driver in Windows and removed and installed the driver, xserver-xorg-video-nv, in Linux. Everything, including Windows, Linux and the BIOS GUI, is back to normal.

        P.S. I continue to suspect the laptop's built-in display and have my 15-inch LCD monitor on standby.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Oops, sorry. I misread your post.

        @Rabid Howler Monkey
        I thought your laptop was having trouble displaying on the LCD monitor, whereas it's actually having trouble with its own built-in panel.

        OK, but I still think that anything that can affect both Linux and Windows after a cold boot is likely to be a hardware fault. (An intermittent one, in your case).
        Zogg
  • Internet down ...

    ... or rather your ISP is down.<br><br>I've been considering replacing the normal home router supplied by my ISP with a multi-WAN router. The mobile companies sell 3G USB modems which can be used as failover connections when the main telephone (ADSL) line collapses.<br><br>The only problem is that mobile contracts are for a set period rather than some random occurrence.<br><br>Haven't found anything suitable in the UK yet <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/sad.gif" alt="sad">
    jacksonjohn
  • RE: When disaster strikes!

    <I>"Have a backup of all your important data"</I>

    You don't need to tell us this. This is something you should be driving home with Joe and Jane User.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Agreed

    AKH is pitching at too low a level for ZDNET readers.
    jacksonjohn
    • RE: When disaster strikes!

      @johnfenjackson@... You'd be surprised at the number of "IT professionals" who fail to back up their own stuff. Or who do it wrongly and end up with something un-restorable when the crunch time comes.
      terry flores
      • Exactly Right

        @terry flores

        [i]"You'd be surprised at the number of "IT professionals" who fail to back up their own stuff. Or who do it wrongly and end up with something un-restorable when the crunch time comes."[/i]

        ... and they all rely on Time Machine
        SonofaSailor