Despite the post's title, this has nothing to do with the election. Rather, I will attempt here to describe the high points of an unfolding, even-worsening, personal computer disaster brought to you by some eldritch combination of Microsoft, Symantec, Western Digital, Samsung, and (maybe) Diskpeeper, with cameos by Mozilla, and the idiots who defined the original SATA hardware disk standard. My objective, dear reader, is not to engage your sympathy, that might have had value back before I was a gibbering wreck some days ago but no longer, but rather to trigger your schadenfreude, in the hopes that the computer disaster you had last week, or will have next week, will not seem so terrible. Let something good come of all this.
(Note: Above does not apply to reader Ed Bott, I'm sure this stuff never happens to him.)
This is, to my eye, a ridiculously complicated story, and even as it is, I'm sure I'll be leaving out parts as the mind dulls pain, and what the mind fails to dull, lack of sleep probably takes care of. The only things I can promise the reader who perseveres through this long sad geeky tale, is that things only get worse until the end, at which point they are very very bad and remain unresolved.
Let us begin.
I'm runing Windows XP, service pack 2 on an aging Intel Pentium 4 system. I tried SP3 at work, it hosed my machine, and I've been afraid to try it at home, at least until I got my backups sorted out better.
Recently, the system has been a bit weird, with very slow file access times (windows explorer would take forever to open, ditto with file dialogs in programs), and I also was worried that my copy of Firefox was compromised, at it (1) always opens connections to places it shouldin't when I start the program (even in same mode) and (2) every so often something would apparently get firefox to try every port number in sequence trying to make a connection out of the machine. Fortunately, Spybot had modified my localhots file (making it rather suspiciously enormous, in fact), so all these connection attempts ended up at local host. But it was worrying. I decided I had to do something, or several somethings.
First, I decided to take the plunge and migrate to a larger disk, and ordered up a “green” WD7500AACS. (Three quarters of a terrabyte! Whoohoo!) About three or four weeks ago, I copied my files on to it using using XXClone, a nice piece of freeware that basically makes an entire copy of Drive A (including operating system) onto drive B. But the cloning program is very slow — 12-16 hours slow for me. It didn't help that I have to jumper my drives to run at SATA 1 speeds instead of SATA 2: my ASUS P4C800-E deluxe motherboard is old enough that it will not recognize a SATA 2 drive, and without a PCI-E slot there's as far as I can tell no point in getting a new sata drive controller card.
But once that was past, my new environment was much better. I had lots of spare disk space. But things were still slow sometimes. I decided it was time to kill the trojan, or whatever, that seemed to be infesting my system. I also decided that I should go back to hardware RAID, since I don't back up my files enough.
But first things first. I called the help desk about my virus. We get our virus software from the University, which sensibly decided that it would better protect its network, if it also protected the computers that most often interact with it — the students' and the staffs'. They first upgraded me from our old Symantec software to the new “Symantec Endpoint Protection”. But that didn't seem to do anything. Using a netstat agent I could still see from time to time firefox working its way down the series of ports. So I called back, and the UM help people sent me on the Symantec help people.
Contacting them took a little time, but once done a very competent sounding tech walked me through a few things, then announced I had an old version of the software, and should upgrade — by uninstalling my version and then installing a new one. He guided me to downloading the uninstall tool, and the install tool. These were big files, downloading veeery slowly, and I had to go to a meeting, so we ended the call. He warned me that the uninstall might take a couple of reboots.
When I got back, the files were there, and I ran the first one. It duly called for a reboot and I did it — only to get error messages and a lockup. I called back, and they said to reboot again. I did, it unfroze the machine, and they said to run it again. Which I did, at which point the disk wouldn't boot any more.
But no problem, I had my backup, the 160GB version. Nervously, I copied that version onto another 160BG disk I had spare (the old hardware raid I used to run), then back on to the 750GB disk. But now that the two disks are in the system, with the 750Gb disk on the second pair of SATA ports, which are RAID capable (but were properly set for ordinary non-RAID use in the bios), the Windows system on the first 160GB disk decided they needed to be reactivated. And windows didn't give me a code to input or use when I called. And I couldn't fnd the Widows media. So that was a disaster, it seemed.
But the 750GB version worked. So that's good. But now I'm nervous, things seemed jinxed. So I order up a second WD7500AACS, and plan to RAID mirror them.
Diskeeper version 9 doesn't work on big disks. I get the 2008 edition of Diskeeper and install it. It says my MFT tables are almost full, I should grow and defrag them, so I tell it to go ahead. Nothing bad seems to happen as a result.
Now, time extra backups. I'm a little nervous about hardware raid, in part because I'm a little dyslexic. I have this nightmare that I'll take the real disk and copy the blank on to it and lose my data. I've never actually done this, but the raid setup isn't a very friendly dialog, and somehow it feels like something I could do.
So I decided to make a software clone onto the new disk with XXClone, so that whichever way I copied the data would be OK. Both disks would have the right data, so whichever gets deleted, it wouldn't matter.
The new WD7500AACS arrived the other day, and this weekend I got around to formatting it preliminary to running xxclone to stuff it full of my data. I installed the disk, started up the format, and went of to do some stuff. When I got back, I found a blue screen of death, a 0024 failure (that I gather means a loose wire, something version one the sata hardware standard made all too easy). When I tried to reboot, I got a smart drive error – the disk is bad. I flip some disks around. One of the 160GB disks won't boot either — “Disk error”. When the dust settles I have some very high-tech paperweights.
- WD7500AACS #1 – Smart drive monitor says the disk is BAD
- WD7500AACS #2 – disk error if I try to boot from it (which is hardly surprising, since it's probably not even formatted), but unrecognized by the machine if I put it as a second disk (which I don't understand, and yes I tried a wire I know works).
- Samsung HD160JJ #1 – disk error.
- Samsung HD160JJ #2 – boots up just fine (no Microsoft Activation issue perhaps because the other disks are all, from the OS's point of view, not there?).
I've lost 3 weeks or more of personal data, only most of which can be reconstructed. My work files, on the other hand, either on a unix server or on a USB stick, which I religiously back up at home and work, so that's OK. My personal financial info, which isn't backed up for the last 3+ weeks, I can recreate: the sad prospect of reclassifying a month of credit card transactions in Quicken will be followed by the fun of reliving the crash of my 403(b). There are a few other miscellaneous notes I've lost, I hope there's nothing really major.
I'm still on the old version of Symantec Endpoint protection, and SP2. Having gone back in time, hard-disk-wise, I also again have the flash 9 that hangs all the time instead of flash 10 which doesn't. And a Quicken update. And varous firefox plugins. And don't let's even talk about when I'm going to install Windows XP Service Pack 3.
The WD's are brand new, so I guess there's warranty replacement, unless I want to schlep a long way to the good computer repair store, and see if they can pull my financial records and some other notes off disk #1. I gather if smart says “BAD” there generally isn't much one can do.
I'm not sure about the warranty status of the Samsungs.
The more important question is what I do next. I'm worried. As it happens, I do have one more large unformatted hard drive in the house, a WD50000AAKS, that I was going to use for a different machine. When I get my courage back, I think I'll try formatting that and cloning this last working drive onto it.
Meanwhile, diskeeper version 9 (we're back to that) says I'm using 92% of my MFT and this is bad. But I'm afraid to touch it.