Your Hard Disk and You: A Cautionary Tale


Why I Will Never Finish Baldur’s Gate II Now

Late Friday night, as I was about to hit Send on a piece of email I’d just spent over 30 minutes composing, I heard a strange, new noise from one of my hard disks. It was a peculiar rotating, slipping noise. I’ve been building my own systems for ten years and have never heard this sound before; I felt the blood drain from my face as I immediately began to suspect the worst.

Windows died about five seconds later.

A power off, power on cycle brought Windows back, but with a difference! My user profile had reverted to the default “grassy hills” desktop that XP creates for new accounts–telling me that the operating system could no longer read my profile directory, which I had moved to the other hard disk a long time ago.

The 60GB hard disk. The one that contained every magazine article and letter I’ve ever written on a PC, every programming and art project of mine from the last 10 years, all of my archived save game files, 3 GB of accumulated downloads, some of them paid for with Real Money [TM], and every photo I’d taken with my new digital camera since I bought it last December, including the Christmas pictures of my four-year-old son.


Worse, I have no backup. I had reserved space on the 40GB drive to help back up my “personal data” partition from the 60GB drive, but the last backup I made wasn’t readable when I tested it, so I’d gotten rid of the thing with the intention of figuring out the problem and getting another backup in place eventually. I guess I waited too long. :(

It wasn’t a total disaster, in the sense that 100% of my data is unrecoverable. My organiser still has my complete contact database, which I was able to dump back into Outlook. And thank the Almighty, my Quicken backup is recent. I may have old CDs with the older files still around, but I fear that most of the stuff from the last two-plus years is lost forever.


Well. I may take the drive to a recovery specialist, but I’m sure that will cost hundreds of dollars, with no guarantee that I’ll get everything back. I’ve already replaced the dead drive and taken this occasion of forced housecleaning to perform a major reorganisation of my file storage scheme. And yes, I will be using the 40 GB drive to back up my data partition from the new drive.

Keep regular backups! Don’t let this happen to you!

I read a suggestion somewhere that one should try putting a dead drive in the freezer to cold soak for an hour or two, the idea being that the thermal contraction of the metal parts might allow the drive to operate long enough to get some of the data off of it before it warms back up. I guess it’s worth trying before I start spending mad money on a recovery job; the drive’s power and electronics still seem to be good. Are there any other things I might try?

There are professional data recovery businesses that can usually get something off a crashed hard drive. You might look into that if the stuff was that important.

That said I think it’s a good idea to at least back-up documents and savegames to a CD-R or CD-RW.

Or if you have a second machine/server, set up a job to regularly back up the important shit on Sunday morning or something.

Jesus, that sucks, Lee. I had a HDD crash earlier this year–not as bad as what you lost, but pretty bad nonetheless. My sympathies. (For me, it was Why I Will Never Finish Morrowind Now :) )

E-mail addresses. Don’t forget to recover the e-mail addresses of all your friends and acquaintances.

For me it was “Why I will never finish Baldur’s Gate (1) now.” It’s why I was so frantic recently to get my network back up and running when it crashed. It’s just too easy to lose it all.

My sympathies. I hope you can get the really important stuff back.

For me, this hard drive disaster thread could be called “Why I’ve been running a mirrored RAID array of one sort or another for years now,” so I feel your pain, Lee! Don’t we all learn the hard way?

Actually, I just made the jump to two 36 gig Western Digital 10,000 RPM serial ATA drives for my newest RAID mirror, so I have a couple of spare 7200 RPM IDE drives now too (left over from my previous IDE RAID mirror). I actually put one of my old drives back in as a slave to the new RAID array (paranoid enough for ya? :wink: ), and I drag and drop the most important stuff onto the slave, besides the mirror chugging along with two copies of everything as I type it… I know it’s not as fast as SCSI RAID, but it’s snappy enough with the 10,000 RPM drives, games seem to have quicker load times, and even if one drive dies in the array I’ve still got everything down to the letter on the second drive in the array…

You know, Lee, have you tried slaving that “dead” drive to your master again and rebooting a few times in an attempt to get it to show up in Windows as a slave? Um, when my “horrible hard drive disaster” happened, I actually managed to finally drag and drop some of my stuff off of the “dead” drive by slaving it to another new drive I put windows on, and rebooting over and over until the “dead” one finally showed up as a slave briefly… Best of luck, and let us know what happens… :(

I set up a simple bat file that uses xcopy to send important saves and email databases to my 2nd machine which features a small 13GB mirrored partition. The batch file fires once a night and only updates items that have the archive attribute set (meaning they are new or changed). It means I will only lose up to a days worth of stuff if my 160GB striped set goes down.

– Xaroc

I’m doing this too, although I have to shamefully admit that I forgot about the archive bit.


Remind me…does doing the XCOPY reset the archive bit, or do you do an Attrib -a . /s on those folders afterwards?

I’m doing this too, although I have to shamefully admit that I forgot about the archive bit.


Remind me…does doing the XCOPY reset the archive bit, or do you do an Attrib -a . /s on those folders afterwards?[/quote]

Better yet, any chance of getting copy of that batch file posted?

I’m doing this too, although I have to shamefully admit that I forgot about the archive bit.


Remind me…does doing the XCOPY reset the archive bit, or do you do an Attrib -a . /s on those folders afterwards?[/quote]

Better yet, any chance of getting copy of that batch file posted?[/quote]

As requested:

xcopy saves Q:
wn\ /E /M /Y
xcopy localvault Q:
wn\localvault\ /E /M /Y
xcopy servervault Q:
wn\servervault\ /E /M /Y
cd\Documents and Settings\rfunk\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities{B9211917-DD47-4A63-BDD4-849360D1D77C}\Microsoft\Outlook Express
xcopy . Q:\oe\ /E /M /Y

The /M is the clear the archive bit. /Y is copy over files no matter what. /E is copy subdirectories even empty ones.

As you can see I am just backing up NWN and my Mail for the time being.

– Xaroc

Hah, luckily I haven’t produced anything worthwhile in my entire life, so I don’t have to worry.

I use a second hard drive (slave). I just back everything up that way. Now someone is going to come on and tell me that’s a dumb or risky thing to do… right?

I had something similar happen to me Lee. But, luckily, I only lost about 2 months worth of info. That sucked (especially when it comes to tracking freelance career stuff) but it sucks … less … then what happened to you.

Now that’s a dumb and risky thing to do. You need off-site storage! What if ball lightning came whizzing through your window and smacked right into your computer? You’re screwed, that’s what!

I use an actual slave, with pen and paper, to back up my data.

You’re being facetious? My computer is 10 underground in the basement and shielded from the wall socket by two surge protectors and a UPC. There are no windows nearby. I used to use a portable HD for backup but it was just too slow to be convenient… I’m just too impatient to backup using CD-ROMS.

Those puny devices won’t help you if Old Man Lightnin comes crashin through the window boy!

Seriously. You think ball lightning needs a window to come through? It’ll come right down your chimney, and it’s not bringing a load of presents for good little boys and girls!

Oh yeah? Well, what if a baseball-sized meteor came crashing through your roof, incinerating a hole through your floorboards, pulverizing your porcelain toilet, and scoring a direct hit on your computer? You’re screwed, that’s what!

You’re being facetious?

Well, yeah. :D By making up an extremely improbably situation where your current backup method would prove inadequate, I was pretending to be one of those paranoid people who purchase backup solutions that they don’t need, to cover situations that are almost entirely outside the realm of extreme possibility (thanks, Fox Mulder).

You don’t by chance have a bomb shelter, do you?

p.s.- My dad used to use ZIP disks to back-up his quicken data. “Feh,” said I. I gave him a 32MB USB key memory stick and he’s really happy with that. When he goes on road trips with his computer, he leaves the USB memory on the kitchen table, just in case he doesn’t make it back.

As I said, there are no windows. The lightning would have to crash through the window, make a hard left or right (depending on which window it entered initially), open a door, go down some stairs with a single doubleback landing, turn right, pass the washer and dryer, turn left, open another door, make another hard right, and go underneath a desk… if it wanted to hit my computer.

Given that I don’t actually have a chimney or fireplace, the chimney scenario is even less likely.

Granted, lightning can do that. (Is there anything lightning can’t do?) But I feel, y’know, pretty safe.