Daily Archives: May 26, 2007

Hard drive woes!

Well, the 40GB hard drive on my laptop had died! I gotta say, my Dell Inspiron 600m is the least durable machine I’ve ever owned. Dell used to make nice, relatively rugged machines but quality has gone down a few years ago and it shows. This machine had had to have its power supply replaced, its mother board replaced and now the HD is crap.

I’m beating myself over the fact that I should have been much more proactive about this problem. Early this year, I was no longer able to boot my Windows partition. I just brushed that off since my main OS is Linux and circumstance led me to believe that the problem with not booting was probably due to software. I’ve used computers with hard drives in them for about 20 years. This is only the second time I have a drive die on me. In the same time-frame I’ve seen plenty of software problems so it’s not like a hardware problem is my first hypothesis when something goes wrong. Besides, Linux was still working fine and the Windows partition was still readable. In retrospect, I now think that that was the first sign of the ultimate demise of my drive.

I received a clearer warning recently when my drive started clicking periodically. It happened pretty rarely so I did not think much of it. It nevertheless caused me to do a backup of my data files but I did not take it as seriously as I should have. I should have backed up more than I did, saved more information about my Linux setup (which is pretty well documented except for one thing: I do not regularly backup the list of packages I have installed), shutdown the machine and jump onto the web to order a new drive. Everything would have been better if I had done that.

I’ve tried to revive the HD as best as I could but I think at this point I’m going to call it quits, except that I’ll try one or two things later. I’ve lost some data but nothing that warrants paying for recovery or that warrants spending much more time and money than I already have (a full 2 days of work spent on this; had to buy new tools to work with the drive). I’ve inspected the drive visually and did not see anything amiss. I’ve downloaded tools that try to talk to the drive at a low level but none of those tools are able to talk to the drive to any useful extent. The best info I got was that MHDD tells me that the drive is not able to find track 0 but that could be a problem with the logic board or a problem with the heads or the platters could even be damaged. I’ve downloaded some tools to upload new firmware but the drive is not alive enough to be detected properly by those tools. I’ve chilled and warmed up the drive but nothing worked.

I’ve stopped trying to fix this for the moment and I have temporarily accepted that this drive is dead. I will try a few more drastic tricks once I get my IDE to USB interface on Monday.

Fortunately, it is not a complete disaster since I have relatively recent backups of my critical data. It is annoying because I need to deal with getting a new Linux installation to the level I need to work. It is also annoying because I’ve lost part of my work on a paper I’ve been writing and I have completely lost the files of a recent scan job. I will be able to rescan later.

So what are the lessons learned? First, I should pay pretty darn serious attention to any unusual HD noises even if they are only intermittent. My past experience with failed hard drives involved spectacular failures. (As I said this is only the second time one of *my* hard drives that has failed in 20 years but I’ve seen other rare failures on very old hardware.) Those failures were very sudden and were very clear. This was more gradual so I was not worried enough. Second lesson learned is that I need to update my backup habits. I’ve been relatively good about it but not good enough. My current habits have been developed in an environment in which backups occurred naturally as part of my work routine. In those days, I would transfer my work environment between a laptop and one or two desktop computers on a nearly daily basis. My files ended up being replicated in 2 or 3 places at a reasonably short interval. My work environment changed since then because I now use one laptop pretty much exclusively. So nothing *forces* me to replicate my files anywhere else. So I backup whenever I remember to backup which is not often enough. I’ve also not paid enough attention to hardware advances. There are now much better and cheaper solutions that exist for backing up. I need to rethink my backing up strategy so that I can backup frequently and easily and integrate that into my work habits.