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Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group

Your Hard Drive Will FAIL!

Dr. Brian K. Lewis*, Ph.D., Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc.

June 2002

No, the title is not an old English curse.  It is just a fact of life.  Any hard drive can fail at any time.  For the past five or six years I have managed to escape from any hard drive failures.  However, it finally caught up with me last month.  I had a 2.1GB hard drive that was just more than one year old.  I was working with my computer on a lovely Saturday morning when I really should have been out working on the lawn.  Suddenly my computer starts making a chung, chung, chung noise and the drive light is on.  So I canceled out of the program I was trying to load and decided to run Scandisk.  I couldn't get it to load either.  So I rebooted and tried to run a diagnostic disk.  That loaded, but it locked up trying to verify my hard drive.  The next time I booted the computer, the BIOS said I didn't have a hard drive.  Total time from the first indication of problems to final failure was only about 10 minutes.

I had been conscientious in running Scandisk and Defrag on this drive.  There had never been any indication that the drive surface had any problems.  It was quite apparent that the problem was in the drive electronics.  IDE drives contain their own controller information in the built-in circuit boards.  Although it is unusual, failures can occur in these circuit boards.  How can you prevent this from happening?  You can not.  There is no preventive maintenance solution to prevent this type of problem.  So what was the next step?  Obviously, I had to get a new hard drive.  I could have called the manufacturer to have the drive replaced under warranty.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the time available right then to go through that process.  So I bought a new drive and installed it in my computer.  Simple, right?  Now all I had to do is reinstall Win98, all of my applications and the data files.  Yes, I did have a recent backup, only one-week-old. I also had my financial records backed up on a floppy from the previous day.  So I thought I was home free.  Well, as it turned out, not quite as simple as I would have liked.

My computer uses an IDE hard drive as its main storage, but I also have several SCSI drives.  That includes my CD-ROM drive.  In order to reinstall Win98 I needed to have a DOS driver that would access my CD-ROM drive.  For SCSI drives you have to get a driver from the manufacturer of your SCSI adapter card.  I did have a driver and even had it installed on a bootable floppy.  So that should have simplified everything.  All I needed to do was boot from that floppy and start the Windows installation program.

My only problem was that the SCSI driver would start to install, identify the CD-ROM and then lock up the computer.  Needless to say this produced more than a little frustration.  (A word to the wise, have you tested your emergency boot disk to see if it works with your CD-ROM?)

The next step was to get to another computer and go to the manufacturer's Website where I could download the latest drivers for the SCSI adapter.  Then I installed the new driver on the boot disk and tried again.  This resulted in exactly the same problem as before.  Now, what should I do? Luckily I did have an IDE CD-ROM on hand.  There was an available bay to allow me to connect it to my computer without removing the SCSI unit.  So I installed the IDE drive and put the IDE driver on the boot disk in place of the SCSI driver.  Success!  I could finally start my Win98 installation.  (As an after thought, I'm still trying to find out why the SCSI driver is incompatible with my CD-ROM.)

Now came the next problem.  The Win98 was an upgrade, not an original installation.  It searched my hard drive for a previous Windows version.  Since it was being installed on a new drive, it couldn't find any previous installation.  The installation program did give me an opportunity to tell it where it could find evidence of ownership of an earlier version of Windows.  I didn't want to replace the Win98 CD-ROM disk with a Win95 CD-ROM.  That didn't sound safe to me.  I still couldn't use the SCSI CD-ROM.  So I searched my disk collection and found a set of Win 3.11 original disks.  The install program made me insert each of the first six diskettes before it was satisfied that I was legal.  I think the next time I'll try to use the Win95 CD-ROM.  (Yes, there will always be a next time.)  So I finally did get Win98 reinstalled. Win98 recognized my SCSI CD-ROM and all of my other hardware.  Next I removed the IDE CD-ROM.  The final step was to reinstall programs and data.

I had to have Windows installed on my hard drive since my backup system uses a removable cartridge instead of tape.  And, there is no DOS version for the backup program.  Yes, I agree, that is a distinct limitation of this backup system.  However, once I finished the Windows installation, I was able to select and restore all the software that was on my original drive.  There were a few problems with a couple of programs.  The Corel Office Suite would not run after it was restored. So I reinstalled the program from the original CD-ROM.

Then I had no more problems with it.

I also had trouble with WinFax Pro.  When I did my backup, the auto-receive function was running in the background.  As a result, a number of files were in use and were not backed up.  So I had to reinstall this program to get it to function correctly.  Once that was done, I had no more software errors.

Are there any lessons to be learned from all this trauma?  Obviously I think there are.  First, do you have a current backup and are you staying current by backing up your data frequently?  I know there are some users who say "it wouldn't make any difference if I lost everything. I don't keep anything important on my computer."  If that's you, then fine.  Just be prepared to restore your application programs from your original diskettes or CD-ROM.  Do you have your original application disks somewhere you can find them?  How about the serial numbers for programs that require them for installation.  Do you have the DOS version of your backup program or will you have to reinstall Windows first as I did?  Have you tested your emergency boot disk to see if you can read disks in your CD-ROM drive?  If not, I would suggest you take a few minutes and test your disk.  Just remember that your hard drive WILL fail, and usually at the most inopportune time.

*Dr. Lewis, a former university & medical school professor, is a computer consultant doing instruction, hardware/software services and system upgrades.

Copyright 2002. This article is from the Sarasota PC Monitor, the official monthly publication of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., P.O. Box 15889, Sarasota, FL 34277-1889. Permission to reprint is granted only to other non-profit computer user groups, provided proper credit is given to the author and our publication. For further information about our group:

            Web:  Sarasota PC Users Group

The Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc. has 1,300+ members and was established in 1982.  We are members of the Assoc. of PC User Groups (APCUG), the Florida Assoc. of PC Users Groups, Inc., and we are members of the America Online Ambassador Program. 

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