A Backup Story

Kevin McIsaac

My hard drive crashed and I lost everything. I got up, let the dog out, made a coffee, wandered upstairs to the office, turned on the computer, and barely noticed that the boot screen was a little different. Windows booted, but some of my applications were missing and some of my on-screen shortcuts were gone. Hmm, that’s odd. I opened Windows Explorer and noticed my E: drive was gone. Uh oh!

This is where I’ll note that this didn’t come without warning. Over the last few months I had received a couple of warnings regarding files that were corrupted. Now, I mess around with my computer more than the average user so, I was willing to accept that I was at fault. Most data faults on computers are user error, not hardware faults.

This is a good time to mention a wonderful free application called CrystalDiskInfo (http://crystalmark.info) that will examine your hard drive’s Self-monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (SMART) info. This is self-examination technology built into almost all modern hard drives. The drive keeps track of read errors, throughput, hours of use, etc. All hard drives have read errors. Hard drives that are going to die soon have many read errors. An application like CrystalDiskInfo can help you check and see if your hard drive is operating normally.

My coffee was growing cold as I rebooted my computer a few times to see if the drive could be resurrected. It was booting fine as I have two hard drives in my computer: a small SSD drive, where Windows and applications are stored; and a second drive for all my data. The data drive was the dead one.

I pulled the hard drive and put it in the freezer. This is an old school trick that every once in a while works. Freezing the hard drive shrinks everything a little bit. The gap between the read head and a hard drive platter is about 2 nanometres. That’s 4000 times smaller than a red blood cell. So, shrinking things “a bit” can make a big difference. But again, no dice.

I needed a new hard drive. Fortunately Isosceles in Fernie carries hard drives. Isosceles had a Western Digital Black 4TB drive. Perfect!

With the new drive installed I’m up and running. Well, except for the lost data.

I backup. Religiously. I’m been in the computer industry for 30 years. I know that data losses are inevitable. I have a network attached storage (NAS) device with a RAID array. All the computers in the house are backed up to it daily. I fire up my backup software to do a recovery, and there’s no NAS. Uh oh.

Turns out that the Telus WiFi extender that the NAS is plugged into is dead. I check my backup software SyncBack SE. Sure enough the log file says the last completed backup was five days ago, and I had turned off the email notifications from the backup software. Five years of daily success emails about successful backup had made me complacent.

Well, I had everything up to five days ago. After restoring all my data to the new drive, I went searching to see what was missing. Turns out not much. So much of my day-to-day computing is now online. Between email, Dropbox, Google Docs, etc. I don’t think I lost a thing. I was lucky.

Luck favours the prepared, however. Having solid backup software and separate storage meant I could lose my entire hard drive and be back up and running in a couple of hours with no lose of data.

Ask yourself what’s on your computer that you could lose: your family photos, letters, videos of kids, music, etc. What’s it worth to not have to worry?

The two programs I use for backup are SyncBackSE (http://www.2brightsparks.com) and EaseUs ToDo Backup (http://www.easeus.com). They’re both excellent. SyncBack has a free version and is easier to use. EaseUs is more comprehensive, with unique abilities like being able to transfer Windows to a new hard drive etc., but it costs more. It doesn’t matter which you use, as long as you use one.

Happy Computing.

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