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July 14, 2010

Signs of Impending Doom

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

What noise does a hard drive make just before it dies? Well, it goes something like this: Tica-tica-tica-tica-zing! I’m serious.

I remember my first hard drive death experience: I was working on the computer and suddenly I noticed the hard drive was making an unusual noise.

Did it always make that sound? Had I merely not noticed?

The noise grew louder as I worked. So, being cautious, I did a backup immediately.

This was the late 1980s and backups were done to floppy disks. I had graduated from 1.2M 5 1/4-inch floppies to the 1.44M 3 1/2-inch floppies. It was a 40MB drive. So I went through a stack of 25 or so diskettes to backup the whole thing, or merely the parts I used.

A day later the hard drive starting making pinging noises. Then it died. I feel fortunately that I was warned; I bought a replacement at a local computer store, installed it, installed DOS, and ran my backup program’s Restore utility. I was back to normal in a few hours.

Once upon a time, I had a hard drive die during an earthquake. It was 1989 and the temblor came in at only about 4.9 on the Richter scale. Still, it was enough to jostle the heads on the hard drive and crash them into the platters.

That was a 90MB hard drive that the earthquake killed. I hadn’t done a backup in 6 months.

Yeah: YIKES!

I also remember paying $1,000 for that drive.

The reason I lost only 6 months of stuff was because I still had a backup. I suppose after a time I got lazy, tired of shuffling in-and-out some 45 floppies to complete the backup. (After the disaster I bought a streaming tape backup drive.)

Sometimes hard drive noise doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes it means impending doom.

Then again, environment can play a role.

I knew a guy who had to manually spin up his hard drive in the morning to get it going. He used a plastic cocktail straw to do it. Kept the case off his PC just to get at the thing.

My old Australian pen pal Ray used to tell me how difficult it was to get his hard drive up and running on cold mornings.

Even here, in the summer in the Pacific Northwest, I have environment issues with hard drives: My elderly Macintosh doesn’t like the heat, and it’s hard drive ceases and hangs when the temperature in my office gets too hot.

Sometimes the environmental issues are signs of impending doom. Regardless, I always have a backup (or three) fresh. There’s no point in taking a chance, especially with the important stuff we keep on computer hard drives in the 21st Century.


  1. I am going to buy a portable hard drive for backup. One question, though, what’s the difference between backing up, and making a system image? And if I backup to a portable drive, will I be able to run Windows from it?

    Comment by gamerguy473 — July 14, 2010 @ 7:16 am

  2. Good question!

    In the old days, a backup was, essentially a system image: A complete copy of the computer and all its files. Because operating systems have grown more complex, and for philosophical reasons, that strategy changed.

    Today, a backup is primarily a copy of your own files, data, and settings. That’s possible because Microsoft (finally) decided to create individual account folders and place user information into that folder structure. Prior to Windows Vista, that just wasn’t the case.

    So when you backup today, you’re backing up only your stuff. Back in the old days, I recommended doing that (and having a directory structure that allowed it to happen). That’s because you can always reinstall the operating system and your programs and then restore your own backed-up stuff in the event of a system failure.

    Well, that assumes that you have copies of your applications and operating system. Often times today that’s not the case.

    The System Image backup is a copy of everything: Your stuff, apps, the apps’ data, plus all the operating system and its crap. Often times the System Image backup includes a restore option so that you can access and restore the image without having to create an initial system from scratch. Even so, the System Image is not bootable.

    First, the external storage device would have to be a bootable drive, which often isn’t the case. Second, the backup operation isn’t designed to create a mirror, but to simply store info. Finally, backups are almost always compressed.

    If you have an original Windows installation disc, then you can use it to start your system. There are two options for starting: One runs the setup program and the other is an emergency boot disc of sorts, which you can use to repair or restore a damaged system. Very few manufacturers supply that disc with the computer, but you can often request it. Or if you purchased a Windows upgrade kit, then the DVD that came with the kit is your emergency boot disc.

    Hope these answers work for you!

    Comment by admin — July 14, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  3. Is there any form of backup that I can use that will store my files AND backup Windows files? That also has the ability to boot Windows from? I bought my laptop with Windows 7 on it, so I don’t have an install disc, and if it crashed, I doubt they would put Windows back on it for free.

    Comment by gamerguy473 — July 14, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  4. You can request a restore disc from most laptop manufacturers. I did for my Lenovo laptop and they sent me a stack of discs! I actually used them once.

    Norton Ghost apparently creates mirror-image backups. If so, then you could clone the laptop HD and keep the second copy around as a spare. Or you may be able to create a bootable DVD with the image on it, providing that the laptop has a DVD-R drive.

    The biggest issue with a laptop are the drivers: touchpad, display, camera, and other hardware-specific goodies. I’ve restored Windows to a laptop, but without those specific drivers, it’s pretty limited.

    Comment by admin — July 14, 2010 @ 8:35 am

  5. I’m foolish. I haven’t backed up things up to CD or some such in years.
    Most times my “back up” is just copy everything I want to keep to the D:\ drive when I reinstall Windows and I reinstall Windows quite often.
    But back to the point, I never really do any serious backing up.

    Comment by linuxlove — July 15, 2010 @ 6:58 am

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