I hope it’s just coincidence, but I have just suffered my second hard drive failure with Window XP SP2 — in two months. Fortunately, I can avoid the cost of a hard drive recovery service, since I back up my data nightly across my network to my Linux box.
Both failures were internal hard drives. Both hard drives were installed in their respective computers.
Notebooks use drives that are about 2.5″ wide and have a standard size. Dimensions are usually quoted in millimeters, so they aren’t weird fractions of an inch. They are usually 9.5mm high, by 70mm wide, by 100mm deep. Older ones were 12.5mm high.
Desktops use drives that are about 3.5″ wide and have a standard size. Dimensions are 25.4mm high by 101.6mm wide by 146mm deep. Older hard drives (and I think I finally threw all my old ones away) were 5-1/4″ wide — my first was a 20 megabyte hard drive.
The drives have been running XP Pro for at least 2.5 years, and Service Pack 2 since it became available. So, they didn’t fail within 2 months of starting use, but within 2 months of each other.
The worrysome thing is that these were not the same machine. Not the same brand hard drive. Not even the same size drive — one is a desktop 3.5″ drive while the other was the 2.5″ drive in my notebook.
I don’t know anything that could make this happen, but the problem was first visible as Windows hanging as it tried to access pretty-much anything in the Windows directory or Documents and Settings directory. Click on the Start button — system hangs for a minute or two. Open Explorer — system hangs for a mintue or two. Right-click the Desktop — Windows hangs for a minute or two.
All the time, the hard drive light stays burning bright!
The first time with the desktop hard drive (a Western Digital), the troubles crept up across a month or so. When I finally realized what was happening, Spinrite 6.0 (www.grc.com) got me out of trouble for a couple months. Then, the drive cratered again a month later. Fortunately, this had given me ample opportunity to back up everything routinely.
With the notebook’s IBM Travelstar 7200RPM 60GB drive, the start of troubles rapidly worsened. After 3 or 4 days, the hangs had become so frequent as to make working on the notebook a pain. Today, booting took 15 minutes, before I called Dell (while it was still rebooting).
My Dell Inspiron 8600 is still under warranty, so I got a replacement drive on the way. Then, I had the joy of another Windows XP installation and reinstallation of all my programs.
Well, actually, I still have the "joy" of reinstalling all my programs. I just discovered while working on this newsletter that I had not yet reinstalled the Apache web server and PHP on my notebook. I use them there for web site development — and previewing pages before uploading them.
I used to use Drive Image to do image backups of my computer. I’ve lost faith in it the recent versions and the growth of USB and SATA drives. This is probably going to finally get me to use Acronis True Image, which has been recommended by some friends. Acronis is designed to be a complete PC backup and restore solution, allowing both image backups and restores and restoration of individual files from an image, too.
This is where an external hard drive comes in handy. I’ve already got one external hard drive for data backup purposes, I’ll might get another one for images — or just put my C: image on it, too (my C: is only 30GB). While a big external hard drive may be convenient, mine is a 160 GB and I have my data from three computers already stored on it.
Acronis True Image makes images of drive partitions in their entirety. From there, if you lose a hard drive, you can restore the snapshot of the drive including Windows and your programs, as well as your data, without having to reinstall Windows and all your programs.
I use Karen’s Replicator to back up my data files nightly. I specify which directories I want copied. While I could have it back up Windows or programs, that would not be useful. If I copied them with Replicator, I couldn’t just copy them back — I’d have to reinstall them — that’s the way Windows works.
You can’t copy certain critical files (or, at least, Windows can’t) and individual programs store data in the Windows Registry. This data is stored there as part of the program installation.