Everyone knows that backing up their personal computer is a vital step in protecting their system from data loss but most people are not diligent about performing this maintenance step. This article is not about how to backup you system or the utilities available to restore your system but what happens when a system is not maintained or backed up properly and has a failure.
I was asked by a friend to look at a friend’s computer as they were having serious issues with the system. I inquired as to what they thought the problem was related to and the theory was that they had a virus. I agreed to take a look at the system to help determine, and possibly fix, what was causing the issue. From the description I received I figured that it would be a matter of a quick virus scan or registry cleaning – boy was I wrong!
I started by setting up the system by connecting only the basic and necessary components which included the monitor, keyboard and mouse. This is the recommended configuration when troubleshooting a system no extra components. I started up the computer and quickly deposited at the Windows XP startup screen which definitely indicates an issue with the computer. Being the smart geek that I am I quickly select Start Windows in Safe Mode so I can run the virus software clean the machine and be on my merry way.
Nope. No go. The computer had a different idea of how my troubleshooting sessions was to be conducted and promptly rebooted and brought back to the same screen. I once again tried to start Windows – several times – in several different modes all with no avail. At this point it is apparent that the damage to the system is beyond a simple startup in Safe Mode and a virus scan session. Either there was a virus that severely corrupted Windows or at this point a possible bad sector (disk area) that is preventing the system from starting. The next step is to perform a system restore which will restore everything to the system the way it was installed when the system was shipped.
After a severe questioning session to make sure there was no data on the system (the system utility overwrites EVERYTHING on the hard drives), though most likely not recoverable at this point, I restart the system and enter the system restore utility. The utility starts without an issue and formats and prepares the hard drive so it the files can be restored. Everything is looking like is working properly until it is time to copy over the files – then the errors start. Continuous file copy errors – one right after the other indicating that there is indeed some time of hardware issue or issues with the system restore utility.
I inquire if the system restore utility was available on CD and was informed that it was not – the person who owned the computer never made copies of the utility from the hard disk to CD’s. Since the next step of troubleshooting involves trying to restore the system from CD since I can’t do it from the built utility I have to order a backup set from the manufacturer and wait until they are shipped. This means this person will be going without their computer for at least another week or two.
The CDs arrive and I am eager to get the system restored and get this computer back to the owner. I quickly power up the system with the restore CD and select system restore. I navigate through a couple of prompts; wait in anticipation, and presto! the files start to copy to the hard disk. At this point things are looking up and I getting excited as I might have this computer up-and-running that day as I am quickly moving through the seven CDs of the system restore. Then it happens. I get to disk five and get an error that a file can’t be copied. Crap! This is not good. Now I really have to pull out the real geek tools to try to figure out what is going on with this system.
I figure I am smarter than the average computer so I plan on booting off of floppy disk (remember those?) and will run chkdsk to scan the hard drive for errors and mark any bad sectors so they system will not try to write files to that area. No go. Every utility I try returns the error that there is no hard disk in the system which pretty much confirms my theory that there is bad hardware. The only option at this point is to install a new hard drive and then perform a system restore – which is the point I am at right now – waiting to order the new drive and get it installed.
Now the moral(s) of my adventure:
- Even us geeks have issues solving system problems – you are not alone!
- Backup, backup, backup and once again backup. This person was lucky that they did not have any data they needed, which is rare, as they lost everything on the hard disk.
- When you get a new computer make copies of the system restore utility or operating system if the CDs. There is usually a menu option for making the backup disks but this varies with the manufacturer. Though having these backup disks did not solve my problem it would have reduce the time troubleshooting the hardware issue if I did not have to wait to get them from the manufactured (which I had to pay to get them).
- Use the built system utilities to check for hardware issues or problems to prevent full system failures.