Error messages make ideal diagnostic tools in attempts to recover corrupt data. But don’t wait until your disk crashes – take action to back it up now.

Tips to deal with inevitable hard disk failure

It happens to all of us: You turn on your system and see the stomach-churning “disk not found” error.
It’s really not surprising considering hard drives fail–more often than you might think. You don’t believe me, I know, so look at Study: Hard Drive Failure Rates Much Higher Than Makers Estimate.

Some Help From a Hard Drive Guru

If you’ve been following my saga, you know I had trouble with my mother’s hard drive. It could be that my office is stuck in a harmonic convergence or some magnetic vortex, but a month earlier, I had a hard drive fail on a test PC.

The error was “Boot Failure: System Halted” and it was new one for me. I started digging for answers and I bumped into DTIData, a hard drive recovery company.

They had a toll-free number and even though it was late afternoon on a Saturday, I decided to call. I spoke with Dick Correa, the chief programmer at DTIData, who immediately diagnosed it as a BIOS problem.

“I absolutely can tell from the error message,” he said. Once I reset the BIOS back to its default and rebooted, the hard drive worked fine.

I learned a lot in that one conversation with Dick and most of what he said is on the company’s site. For instance, hard drive errors are ideal diagnostic tools, provided you can interpret them. Read Dick’s blog entry describing how to use his NTFS Partition Recovery tool and you’ll get details on five of the most common booting error messages.

BTW, you might want to download the free DTIData NTFS Partition Recovery Tool and stash it on a floppy or a bootable CD, just in case. Read through the instructions to get a better idea what the tool can do.

If you’re intrigued by Dick’s material, take a look at Data Recovery Truth and Consequence and RAID: Five Steps to Recovering Your Data.

PC World also has a couple of helpful articles: Businesses Offered Do-It-Yourself Hard Drive Rescue and How It Works: Hard Drives.

Feeling SMART? Maybe Not

Some of you may use a program to monitor your drive’s health as a way to help predict when your hard drive is about to hit the ubiquitous bit bucket. For instance, the US$40 Hard Drive Inspector (15-day trial) does a terrific job providing the most intimate details about all the hard drives on your system.

It also supports SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology), which tries to detect disk failure. Unfortunately, SMART. technology isn’t always accurate. See It Isn’t Smart to Rely on SMART for the platter-shattering details.

Backup Tips From a Network Expert

My network friend and guru, George Siegel, says: “I’m really paranoid about this stuff. I back up multiple disk images to protected areas of the hard drive as well as to an external drive. I also back up data to multiple locations using a straight copy utility such as Robocopy. Most of the time, it’s overkill. But it’s saved my butt more than once.”
If your drive’s still up and running, I have a few things you can do to prepare yourself–and your drive–for that fateful day when it hits a brick wall.

First, start by printing and saving a handful of helpful how-to pieces from back issues of PC World. One that I like is Kirk Steers’s ancient but still useful article, Take a Crash Course in Emergency PC Recovery.

That not enough? Read my First Aid for Your Hard Drive or my colleague Lincoln’s Spector’s Diagnose and Repair an Unbootable XP or Vista PC.

Need a New Hard Dive? Dig In

If you’re shopping, I have stuff you can use.

Time Wasters

You need something to do after that exasperating romp through the hard drive section, right? Try these time wasters…

Move your cursor and watch how Creepy Girl follows it. (Land it on her nose and make her look up. I mean, put this woman to the test.) If you’re intrigued, learn more about Motion Portrait here and here.

At first I thought these two YouTube videos of the first moving pictures filmed in 1895 were a hoax. Nope, they’re listed on IMDB database: Lumière: L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat (1895); Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895).

ZeFrank is creative and funny, and the guy seems to post something new every few weeks. Check these out: How to Dance Properly; How to Impress Your Date.

Can pigs fly? Nope, but penguins sure can. The BBC even has a documentary on it. Amazed? Here’s how it was done.

If you’re heading for the airport and planning to hop on a plane, whatever you do, make sure you remove all your body piercings. No really, I’m serious–all of them. This Texas woman didn’t and was pegged as a threat to national security.

It’s called The World’s Hardest Game and I believe it. Give it a try–just avoid blue balls and head for the green zone.
Okay, I don’t care what it costs–I want a HandSolo Mobile.

Steve Bass writes PC World’s monthly “Hassle-Free PC” column and is the author of “PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer,” available from O’Reilly. He also writes PC World’s daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve’s newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

 

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