I Knew It Was Coming
On Thursday 20th February 2014 my PC crashed and I could not recover it this time without major surgery.
I knew it was coming. My PC had slowed down markedly all of a sudden and I could hear the disc chattering more than usual. Sounded like bad sectors to me (areas on the disc probably worn out). And which bits of the disc get used the most? Yep, the important bits where the operating system lives.
I thought, I’m going to have fix that pretty soon, I’ll back up again at the weekend and sort it out then. I procrastinated a bit because although I have everything to do a total rebuild it takes a few days.
Regardless of the disc, I had been thinking about it for a while. Windows 7 has lasted better than XP (I skipped yuccy Vista) but after a few years it still needs a rebuild from scratch. Windows systems always seem to gather baggage that slows them down after a while no matter what you do. It makes me dream of Unix with *hot swappable mirrored discs and up times measured in months or years. Oh well, never mind … dream on.
*This means there are an even number of 2, 4, 6 or more hard discs with those discs syncing each other constantly behind the scenes so that if one disc fails it doesn’t matter as the other one contains the same data. You can replace a failed disc just by pulling it out and putting in a new one. You can then carry on as if nothing happened.
Too Late – Crashed
Anyway, I was too late. I ran some routine updates rebooted and it failed to come back up telling me that an unrecoverable error had occurred and my PC had crashed 🙁 Nothing very useful but I had an error number. I rebooted again and hit whichever F key took it into diagnostic mode, ran the diagnostics and repairs a few times and managed to get Windows back up but that would be the last time as it turned out.
There were a couple of other things that occurred to me. I had just tried out ReadyBoost (more on this later) for the first time and maybe that was the culprit. The other possibility was that it didn’t shut down properly so I rebooted again. Oops, a mistake there. I should have made up-to-date backups there and then, too late!
I tried my repair disc, I tried everything I could think of at the time. I checked the forums and used the tools to rewrite the boot areas etc. but still nothing doing. Ok, it was due for a rebuild anyway, so time to bite the bullet, not waste anymore time and do some computer repair. Maybe the system area was too corrupted by now anyway.
As an aside, I knew that even though I couldn’t boot to the main hard disc there was a good chance I could access the probably damaged disk as a secondary. We shall see …
New Disc Time
I toyed with the idea of getting a solid state drive. They are still quite expensive and relatively small at the moment although I hear everything runs fast on them. If I got one of those I would need a secondary disc to store my usual data on and there was no way I was going to trust my dodgy disc that just failed for that so I just plumbed for a new 1TB disc and will use ReadyBoost (more later) to help out in the meantime. When I buy my next PC I’ll get one with a solid state primary drive I think.
Maybe I’ll even move to a MAC one day although I’m not wholly convinced that they really are that much better and I don’t like iTunes much. It’s more down to the software available than the machine itself. If it was about movies, music or serious photography maybe a MAC would be better, after all they do run off the back of Unix which is so much better than Windows really.
I’m running an HP Pro 3015 MicroTower at the moment and it looks like this:
I like HP hardware generally, most of it is built well and is reliable with the exception of their printers, I don’t have much luck with them. I have a an HP Wireless Optical Comfort mouse which I wouldn’t recommend either.
It’s been a while since I had to install an internal hard disc and I assumed it would be easier these days (which it was).
First thing was to unplug and retrieve my PC from under the desk. Hmmm, a bit dusty, out with the vacuum cleaner, soon have it cleaned up. Be careful when using a vacuum cleaner within your PC, stick to grills and fans, you don’t want to be bashing about those relatively delicate components. You will need to earth yourself before you do touch any components too. You can get a wrist band with a lead that you can clip to the metal chassis but just touching regularly should discharge any static. Wearing nylon clothing or similar is probably not a good idea either as this attracts static like crazy.
Sliding off the cover was easy, one screw, slide it back a few millimeters and off it pops. My PC uses screws for either a flat bladed or star screwdriver. Not everyone has a star screwdriver but I did fortunately. They are less common but the screws are less likely to get chewed up than cross cut screws.
So, where is the disc located. They used to be near the top under the CD drive but no longer. Here’s the inside of a similar HP PC, it looks the same as mine to me:
It’s down at the bottom, on the left, mounted on a sub chassis. All I have to do is unplug the data and power cables, take out the 2 screws, press the release, slide it up a few millimeters and it pops out, that was easy … once I figured it out!
Next I take a photo of the label for the record and then I take the disc with me to the store. That way I can make sure the new one is the same type and is compatible. I notice that there are no dip switches or anything on it to mark it as a primary or secondary disc, must be plug and play, things have moved on since the last time I did this, probably changed years ago in fact.
The next thing to check is that there is capacity for a second disc. There is space for another in the chassis and there is a daisy chained data plug for it but no power lead. Maybe one comes with a new disc, either way I will have to make a note to check this at the store. Better make sure there’s a suitable socket for it on the mother board too! I have to check on the internet to find the right layout description. Fortunately there are 4 sockets available, 2 for Sata 2 and 2 for Sata 3. One Sata 2 socket is taken up by the CD player and one Sata 3 is taken up by the existing hard disc. That’s fine, I have a spare Sata 3 socket for the new disc.
Without getting too techy, “Sata” is a current protocol standard used so that the rest of the computer and the disc drives etc. can talk to each other.
Off to the store. The current disc I have is a Western Digital WD Caviar Blue and I was able to get a 1TB WD Blue version at the store. And, it was a good price with a quite nice specification too, perfect. It didn’t come with a power lead but I was able to get one there for a very modest sum. Off home again.
Now I fit the new disc into the sub chassis next to the old one. I plug in only the new disc to start with and boot up to see what happens. After plugging in the monitor, keyboard etc. I switch it on. Up it comes, it sees the new hard disc and reports that it can’t read the new media. That’s fine, it hasn’t been formatted yet or had Windows 7 installed but I know the computer is seeing the new disc.
I turn off the PC and remove the power cable, wait a minute for any electricity to discharge and plug in the old disc as well which is a bit tricky because there’s not much space but done soon enough. When I switch it back on again it tries to boot to the old disc, hmmm, going to have to change the boot sequence.
I reboot again and press the appropriate F key (F10 on my PC) to go into the BIOS. This is the computers basic setup area for the hardware.
I will want the boot tab to define the order of discs etc., to which the PC will try to boot to. At the moment it goes:
- CD – if present
- Hard disc 1 – the old disc
- Hard disc 2 – the new disc
and I want it to go:
- CD – if present
- Hard disc 2 – the new disc
- Hard disc 1 – the old disc
Installing Windows 7
Once that’s sorted it’s time to install Windows 7 on the new disc. I have all the DVD’s for this that came with the computer. There is a space on the old disc where I can restore things to the factory state they were in when I first got the PC but I’m going to have difficulty accessing that now. The DVD’s are probably going to be the quickest root. I slip the first disc in and reboot. I follow the instructions but the menu system is not very good and every time I make a mistake I have to go back to the beginning and start again because the computer freezes, pretty awful really. On the third attempt everything works fine and I have worked out all the correct options to select by then.
I reboot and the new Windows 7 system comes up, hurrah!
Old And New
Now the big question is, can I access the old disc. I have the data backed up but it would be a heck of a lot more convenient if I can recover from the old disc. The answer is … I can, I can see all of it, it was just the boot sectors etc. that were corrupted, the data is fine, lovely.
Now it’s time put the computer back together and into it’s space under my desk.
That done, let’s run Windows update and get Windows 7 up to date. Yawn, this takes several iterations and over 300 updates, it goes on and on. After this I start moving my data from the old disc to the new which is pretty straightforward.
Installing all my software again takes several days. I decide what I do need and what I don’t so that I only install what I’m using these days. The leaner Windows is, the better it will run.
The next thing to do is download anti virus software etc. to help stop anything nasty sneaking in. I use Microsoft Security Essentials which does the job for me but I have to say that there are more robust anti virus systems out there and if viruses particularly concern you it might be worth shelling out for a paid system such as Kaspersky, Trend, McAffee, Bullguard, Webroot or something.
Some of my software, like Microsoft Office 2010 requires further updates from Microsoft which I process after I have installed each piece of software.
Some of my software is freeware so I download the latest versions where I can. Some of it is a bit old but I have the original downloads to draw upon. They are usually quick to install and light on resources but … some of them come with a price in another form. Some of them, and in some cases surprisingly, are offering other software as part of their install procedure. You need to be diligent here and make sure you decline the ones that you don’t want which might be all of them except for the piece of software you actually want. I find this a bit of a pain but the really irritating bit is “Conduit Search Protect” which is a real pain.
This little, hmm, I don’t know, Trojan or Malware I guess, is not too hard to get rid of but it is a pain. It’s a search tool thing that hijacks your browser and forces you to use their search screens. It hijacks, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox and will mislead you. They say you can uninstall it easily at any time but this is an outright lie I’m afraid and it takes some effort to get rid of it.
ADWCleaner will get rid of most of it but the version I downloaded had with it, yep, you guessed, “Conduit Search Protect” which is pretty bizarre if you ask me. To get rid of it you will need to disable or remove any suspect browser extensions / plugins as well. They may be named as legitimate plugins so anything you don’t remember installing yourself get rid of. Watch out for Chrome particularly as this syncs back the duff extensions if you are not careful. There are plenty of articles on how to get rid of Search Protect, just Google for recent instructions. This one is pretty comprehensive – (Solved) How to Remove Conduit Search from Chrome, Firefox, IE.
I Thought I Had Been So Careful
I use an older version of ACT! CRM to manage all my tasks and contacts on a daily basis. It’s almost always running. I backup my ACT! database fairly regularly and anyway I keep it on Dropbox so even if my computer falls over it should fine, shouldn’t it? Wrong! When it came to opening it back up again after re-installing ACT! I got the message database files missing … what! ACT! didn’t crash, they should be there and in one piece, what happened???
I check and the files are missing but ok, I have a backup only a few days old, I’ll recover that. To restore it I need to put in the user name and password for the database which I have forgotten as it’s always remembered by ACT! normally. No problem I’ll look it up in my password management software (the database for this is also on Dropbox) and guess what … of all the hundreds of passwords this one isn’t in there. Ok, I must have it in an email or a document so I search the computer and my emails, still no luck. Now I’m starting to go white as a sheet.
Anyway, happy ending as I did work through the likely user name / password combinations that I would have used and fortunately I found the right one so all sorted out now.
Other Bits N’ Bobs
Other things that needed to be sorted out were re-inputting all my email addresses into Outlook and re-opening my Outlook data files which I had copied across from the old disc. You would think that Outlook would keep a file with these details in somewhere but as far as I can determine they are kept in the Registry which to me seems an odd thing to do. Once these were put in all my old rules and other settings stored in the data files started working again.
For other software that had settings, for example FileZilla, with a few quick lookups on the internet I was able to find out where the settings files were located and copy them into the relevant folders and just carry on.
PC’s run better lean so some pieces of software I elected not to reinstall until I need them and some I probably don’t need again.
My computer is 32 bit. The common choices at the moment are 32 or 64 bit. Generally, and without getting techy 64 bit is better but when I bought it there was more software working with 32 bit than with 64 bit. Maybe some 32 bit software could run on 64 bit machines but I went for the safe option at the time. The next machine I get will be 64 bit.
The consequence of having 32 bit is that the maximum RAM memory you can have is 4gb. That’s a lot of memory but with a few applications running it soon gets used up. When a PC runs out of RAM it starts paging (temporarily storing) things that are in RAM memory onto hard disc and things slow down. If memory is paged out to a solid state drive them this doesn’t matter so much as a solid state drive is almost like having fast RAM memory.
However, there is a partial solution in the form of ReadyBoost. This not going to make your computer run faster and it’s not as good as having copious amounts of RAM or perhaps even a solid state drive but it’s going to help prevent your computer slowing down when the available RAM fills up.
To explain simply how ReadyBoost works I need to explain as simply as I can what “cache” means in computer terms. When you first start a program like for example, Microsoft Word, it gets loaded into RAM memory which runs very fast. Whilst you have it running it will keep it in memory, it will also keep the contents of the files you are working on in RAM memory too. RAM is fast to read from and write to so Word runs fast. If your PC just ran Word off the hard disc it would probably run slow enough that would want to chuck your PC out of the window 🙁
If you start running out of RAM your PC still keeps working but starts copying bits of cache to the hard disc and back again depending on what programs you are using and things start to slow down.
If you plug in a USB stick or memory card into your computer ReadyBoost can use up to 4gb of it as a second cache so that instead of your PC using your hard disc to cache things when it has to it can use the USB stick or memory card. It may not be as fast as using RAM but in most cases it will be faster than using the hard disc.
I have been using it lately and it does seem to make a significant difference so far as I can tell. Put it this way my computer has not slowed down to a crawl at anytime since I have been using it but I have just rebuilt the system on a new hard disc.
Better System Backup Methods
Now the question arises, could I have backed things up in such a way that I could have been back up and running much faster and of course the answer is yes but that is one for another day and one for me to explore a little. I know other methods off the top of my head but what’s the cost if any in both time and money of using better backup methods? Watch this space as they say 🙂
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