I’m going to go off on a bit of a rant here, but I feel that it is necessary.
Back up your data! You wouldn’t believe the number of requests that I get constantly that go something like this: ” My computer was running fine until last night when an electrical storm hit, now when you try to turn the machine on all it says is ‘Operating System Not Found’! Can you help? ”
The answer, almost universally, is no. There are tools out there like GetDataBack for Fat32 and NTFS that I’ve had good luck with recovering data from a crashed hard disk. Even that, however, only works about 40% of the time (if that). Depending on the circumstances in which the drive failed it is entirely possible that nothing is recoverable. Say goodbye to your music collection and all of the photos of your latest trip to Fiji and then cry yourself to sleep.
Alright, now that I’m done berating you, here’s what you can do to prevent the scenario above from happening to you:
- Crack open a package of burnable media and get to copying your files to them:
Using products like Nero 8 or Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 10 you can very easily back up all of those files to some CDs, DVDs, or with the latest software revisions (and assuming you have the necessary drive) Blu-Ray disks or HD-DVD disks. Seriously, this process takes only a few minutes for most people and is an absolute heaven-sent in the event that your computer initiates its self-destruct sequence. It’s better to have to redo 2 months worth of work than to have to start again from scratch. I have seen someone lose their PhD thesis because someone dropped their laptop and the drive crashed. Don’t let this happen to you.
- Buy a removable hard drive and copy your files to that:
I currently own a 60GB Samsung laptop hard drive that I have in a nifty USB 2.0 enclosure. If you’re running Windows XP or above the installation of a drive like this is as simple as plugging in the device and waiting about 30 seconds while Windows configures it. The advantage of the removable drive is twofold: First, it’s much faster than burnable media as well as the fact that the data on it can be altered easily, which even with a DVD-RW isn’t the case.Second, the storage capacity is much higher. A 120 GB Western Digital Passport WDXMS1200TN is only $75.00. Even Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs don’t have that much storage capacity and they are not as easy to write to.
- Make an image of your hard drive as it currently is:
Norton Ghost is one of my favorite applications of all time. Admittedly, I’ve not used any of the current versions because I am fond of the old command-line one, but I digress.Ghost, or a data backup utility similar to it will take a ‘snapshot’ of your hard drive exactly as it is right then, bit-for-bit. All of the data on the drive is read, and then written to an image. In the event that your hard drive fails, you can simply purchase a new one and then write that image to the new drive. When you restart the computer it will be exactly as you had it as of the time of the images creation.This is also notably faster than a Windows reinstall. I recently redid my parent’s computer and using the image I had made them after I got their system running the way that I liked it the first time took about 5 minutes. I started the machine, got the image writing to the disk, and about 7 minutes later had the computer back up and running. Had I done it the old-fashioned Windows reinstall way the same process would have taken me at least four hours.
- Back up your data to an online source:
If Google would ever get around to releasing their GDrive, then I’d probably recommend that. Personally, I like the idea of having my data available to me anywhere I go, regardless of the computer that I am on. If you’re a privacy freak, then I wouldn’t suggest this as whatever vendor you choose would have access to everything that you upload.I’ve tried X-Drive before and wasn’t a huge fan of them. The main pitfall to online storage is speed. Your connection just isn’t going to be as fast as it would be if you had used an external drive or a DVD-R.There’s also the cost issue. Currently I don’t know of any free online storage companies, so there would either be a monthly or annual fee to keep your data with them, and you had better believe that they won’t let you access your information that you have stored with them if you’re not current on your bill.
OK, that’s great, grand, and wonderful, but how do I prevent the data loss from happening in the first place?
Electrical surges are an incredibly common reason that a hard disk will fail. The absolute best way for you to prevent these is to get a good UPS. (Uninterruptable Power Supply) I have used Opti-UPS and APC in the past, and like them both. You’ll want to spend the extra bit of money and get an intelligent UPS as it’ll adjust the voltage/amperage automatically and will use the batteries less. This will make the batteries last much longer.
Vibrations, or abrupt shocks are another common reason for failure. Drop your laptop while it’s running and see just how long it lasts. (That was sarcasm, please don’t actually do that) There’s really not a whole lot you can do about this one. Nobody that I know of drops their laptop or knocks their computer over on purpose. You could always get a solid state drive (SSD), but if you’ve got that kind of money then you can probably afford to have the drive sent to a professional data recovery service; and buy golden handkerchiefs.
Viruses, Malware, Spyware, etc also can cause data loss. Files can be corrupted, deleted, or even encrypted and held for ransom if your computer gets infected. Clean up is usually a straight-forward event, but not always so. This is the one instance where you actually stand an OK chance at getting some of your data back, assuming that you’ve not used the computer very much after the files get deleted. GetDataBack has worked pretty well for me in a few instances here, although the files themselves are sometimes very hard to find. (and they are not always recoverable even if you do find them)
So please, if you haven’t backed up your data in a while, do so. I promise it’ll save you an ulcer later.