Jun 18, 2012

Why I'm happy my laptop hard drive failed!

OK , I wasn't that happy at first. My system had been behaving wonky for a while, the CPU was going to 100% usage, Visual Studio and ReSharper would consume all of one CPU, rebooting sometimes caused startup repair to run, you get the picture. It started with the high CPU usage so I was slow to suspect the hard disk (the laptop isn't even two years old yet). Finally, the computer wouldn't boot, so out came my USB stick with SpinRite 6. If found 5 corrupt regions with multiple sectors in most regions. There were about 12 or so sub-sectors it couldn't recover but it recovered maybe 50 other sectors. It took over a day to run because SpinRite tends to be very slow when it runs into corruption. I'm not complaining because it tries very hard to get back my data and it mostly worked. When it was done the system again booted and seemed to behaving much better. This is the third time SpinRite has rescued hard drives for me. While my hard disk may have now been fine, I'm not one to gamble with my data.

SNAGHTML420e53After the system was booting again I started up Acronis TrueImage Home 2010  and made a fresh full backup of the disk (not a full sector by sector backup)  and ordered a Crucial M4 256 Gig drive ($200 from Amazon). Since I'm downgrading the quantity from 500 Gig to 256 gig, I couldn't do a full sector backup. I have an E-Z gig setup that lets me clone my existing hard drive to a new drive, but it's old and it requires a PCMCIA slot which my new laptop doesn't have. Rather than order a new one, I thought I 'd see how  I fared with just using Acronis and the backup.

The first step was to make a bootable USB stick with Acronis. Acronis is a little confusing in that it looks like by itself, it will create bootable media. The Create Bootable Rescue Media option shown above  will walk you through a wizard and act like it creates a bootable disk but it doesn't. It just puts the Acronis files you'll need if you make your USB stick bootable. I just followed the same steps I used with SpinRite. From the SpinRite FAQ

Hewlett Packard (HP) makes an easy-to-use utility called “HP USB Disk Format Tool”, which includes a "Create a DOS Startup Disk" option. It's freely available from: http://files.extremeoverclocking.com/file.php?f=197 along with the Windows 98/DOS boot files.

SNAGHTML4dc39dIn the Acronis wizard I added  run bootmenu.exe to the Command-line parameters: text box.  Now when my Dell Studio XPS reboots I hit F12 to get to the boot options. Then I select USB Storage and my laptop boots from the Acronis USB stick into Windows 98 and immediately launches the Acronis application.  I also have my backups sitting on an external USB drive.

When the new SSD drive came I flipped over the laptop removed all the screws and flexed the bottom panel to remove it. I removed the three screws holding the existing drive (the fourth screw came from the just removed cover). After taking out the old drive I removed the small metal carrier and reused the same four screws to attach it to the new SSD drive. The fit for everything was identical to the Toshiba 512 Gig drive that was in my laptop.  Total time was under 10 minutes. I put everything back together and booted from the USB stick which automatically launched Acronis.

I selected the Recover disk option but at first my external USB drive with my backups wasn't visible, causing a mild panic. I unplugged both the power cable and the USB cable from the external HD and plugged them back in and then they showed up in Acronis. Whew! I selected my recently created .tib file and the MBR option and restored. It took a little under an hour to complete.

I then unplugged the stick drive and rebooted, and was greeted by a  BootMgr is missing error. I'm not sure why this happened, but my original drive did have that Dell emergency recover partition of about 8 gig and maybe some boot essentials were stored there. Fighting down another mild panic attack I dug out my Win 7 Ultimate X64 DVD. Again using F12 I booted from the CD/DVD option. I selected my language prefs and hit Next. Instead of proceeding with an install I selected the Repair link near the bottom of the wizard. Once the next screen appeared (this took a minute or so), I was able to walk through some simple options to select an automated Startup Repair. It was fairly fast and a quick review of the log showed that it had detected BootMgr was missing and it installed it.  Whew again!

One final reboot and all was well.  I didn't time the first reboot but I did time some subsequent ones. It takes about 35 seconds for my laptop to show me the logon icon and textbox. This feels about the same as it always was. In the past, entering my password and hitting return required just over 5 minutes before Windows 7 Ultimate booted into a fully usable state. That time is now 20 seconds! Booting office apps is instantaneous (I don't run the background helper service). Everything feels and operates much smoother now. The only remaining question is reliability. Of course the original hard drive supplied by Dell didn't even last two years  and the new Crucial M4 comes with a three year warranty so I'm thinking I'm no worse off.  In two years I'll probably be able to get a 512G drive for $200 (or under?).

About Me

My photo
Tod Gentille (@todgentille) is now a Curriculum Director for Pluralsight. He's been programming professionally since well before you were born and was a software consultant for most of his career. He's also a father, husband, drummer, and windsurfer. He wants to be a guitar player but he just hasn't got the chops for it.