Back From the Brink

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 18, 2008

Filed under: Personal 36 comments

I apologize for filling this space with my highly pedestrian tribulations. I know just about everyone has endured a severe harddrive borkening at some point, so I don’t pretend I’m suffering in any particularly novel fashion. Having said that, I will make a few observations about what’s been going on for the benefit of those following along at home:

I got me one of those Western Digital style hard drives with all the little gigabytes and whatnot. There sure are a lot of them. Three hundred and twenty of them, I think. I don’t know how they fit them all in that little metal box. That’s more than twice the storage I had before this whole fiasco. Which means next time this happens I’ll have the ability to lose twice as much data! Progress!

Despite my whining, I actually do have the most crucial work-related stuff backed up. The stuff that isn’t on DVD locally is under source control. The problem is that I can’t really properly back up my MS Dev Studio environment short of just making an image of the whole drive. It’s a heap of directories and files and registry settings and collections of libraries upgraded to specific versions. Right now it feels like it might be quicker to change vocations than to rebuild everything. I wonder if there are openings in nursing? Or maybe construction?

My primary drive didn’t actually fail – it’s just suffering from widespread corruption. The amount of data lost is pretty small, but the wound was no less deadly. Operating systems sometimes rely on tiny little files and if just a few of those hundreds of files become irrevocably corrupted the thing will longer boot. Thanks to Windows, saving the surviving files an exercise in frustration. If you copy a directory tree from one drive to another, a single corrupted file will cause windows to freak out and abandon the whole task, midstream. Which means if you have lots of little broken files you must copy everything a little bit at a time if you hope to get anywhere. My plan is to pull off all the good files, and then run some sort of recovery utility and see if I can save the rest. Oh, and say swear words at Microsoft while I do it.

I don’t know why people are so negative towards Internet Explorer. After installing XP, I found it was an ideal tool for downloading Firefox.


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36 thoughts on “Back From the Brink

  1. The Lone Duck says:

    Youch. You have my sympathies. I had a laptop die on me, it was nearly as frustrating. I say nearly, because it never worked again at all, so I didn’t have to bother worrying about files. Anyway, good luck. I don’t need to say this, but take care of important job/family stuff first. We’ll be here when you’re done.

  2. Peter Olson says:

    If you’re having trouble coping a lot of files where just a few are messed up, I’d suggest trying:
    It makes a list of the files to copy, and you can tell it that when there’s an error, put it at the end of the list. Also has other features, like have it only copy a file if they are different.

  3. R4byde says:

    Ha ha, the problem with IE isn’t that it’s good at downloading Firefox, it’s that downloading Firefox is ALL it’s good for. :D

    Good to hear all is not lost with your hard drive.

  4. folo4 says:

    Microsoft listens.

    They are now planning to abandon the entire NT and their malice, learn from mistakes, and is now reinventing the wheel.

    An entirely new OS, free from the shackles of the old OSes.

    The future of computing is coming, and it will be the brightest yet.

    ( shush, I’m trying to be positive; swearing is universally bad, no matter the justifications. )

  5. journeyman says:

    Heh. I heard Internet Explorer 8 will be coming with advanced security features. The feature will probably be a prompt to download Firefox as soon as you try to use it.

  6. NobleBear says:

    Swearing at things can expedite any process!
    I read it on the internet. :D

    Godspeed on your recovery process, Shamus.

  7. SkeevetheImpossible says:

    On something that is always a related note. Batman was AWESOME. I didn’t think that the series could get better but it did. OH boy it did. The best part though was when Batman had the sex with wonder woman. It was freaking sweeeet!

  8. Jabor says:

    Good to hear all is not lost!

    Indeed, the Windows file copy system is pretty horrible to work with. However, a Live CD for any decent Linux system would give you a much better working environment for grabbing what you can – and you don’t even need another hard drive in order to do so – you could simply burn all the files you wanted to save off to DVD before reformatting and reinstalling.

  9. XaleD says:


    I’ll point you at this article by Gizmo Richards about how to partition your harddrive and why you should do it to prevent having things like this happen.

    Good luck on your recovery.

  10. Zspickle says:

    Ya, as long as the files themselves are intact, A Live CD is probably a good choice, I personally recommend Knoppix for that duty though there are a ton out there that will do just as well. I have even heard of those who create XP Live CD’s, though I’ve never tried it myself.

  11. LafinJack says:

    I just downloaded it the other day and haven’t had a chance to mess with it yet, but TeraCopy is supposed to do smart things like not aborting an entire copy sequence just because one file gets an error, instead retrying it (in the case of in-use files) and then skipping them if necessary.

  12. Blurr says:

    “I can't really properly back up my MS Dev Studio environment short of just making an image of the whole drive.”

    May I suggest Acronis? It’s pretty awesome.

  13. Delta Force Leader says:

    I had that problem with an external drive that had my music on it. I was trying to copy as much as possible off before the drive crashed completely. The easiest way to copy files in windows where you know that you have corrupted files is to go into and use “xcopy /C”. The “/C” will tell it to ignore all errors and continue copying.

  14. robert says:

    Yeah..I keep an image of ALL my machines using Acronis…it’s a very nice tool. And, as per Murphey’s law, since I keep complete up-to-date backups I have not experienced a drive failure in years.

    (knocks on wood)

  15. Marauder says:

    Being one of those weirdo Linux guys, I usually boot a Knoppix disk and use rsync to copy the files. Also, UBCD4Win – – includes various file and disk/partition level backup utilities. The two discs are invaluable.

  16. Grant says:

    Best of luck with the recovery Shamus.

    I’ll be the second to vouch for Teracopy, as it does amazing things even when not copying borked system files. It even lets you pause a copy midstream if it’s taking up too much resources and you need to keep working. It’ll continue where it left off when you restart it.

    Oh, and you just might wind up being my savior someday. After reading about your fiasco, I promptly downloaded DriveImageXML and made a complete disk image of my hard drive, just in case.

  17. Fenix says:

    You could always burn ubuntu to a cd and run it off the cd at startup. Then you would at least be able to access any files you might need because it sounds as if the only thing keeping you from getting on the hd is windows not starting up. Sorry if this is stupid advice, I personally have never had this type of problem with the exception of a time before I knew jack squat about computers then I had someone make me pay a ridiculous sum to do very minor fixes. Needless to say I’m significantly more computer competent now, however am still far from expertyness!!! (I know that isn’t a word, I just wanted to say it.)

  18. imr says:

    Even if the file system is borked, you can recover files especially images:
    It can be a tedious process.

    And you can recover partitions too:

  19. Kaeltik says:

    In grad school I bought a laptop through the university. This includes free service for the life of the machine. When the HD started to go, I pulled what files I could, ran out of ideas, then took it to the school service folks. I explained the problem and left verbal and written instructions to recover what remained, but not to format it, so I could keep trying.

    They kept it for a couple of days, then called and said that my reformat was done, but that my HD was behaving a little weird, so I might want to back up frequently.

    Sometimes you get what you pay for.

  20. Kevin says:

    Shamus (and everyone else who’s come close to this…)

    There’s a boot CD out there that is open source and goes under the name of PING (PING Is Not Ghost). It lets you make CD-sized “chunks” of your hard drive into image files for later restore. With some tweaking of the ISO before burning it to disk, you could probably make the “chunks” DVD size. It does offer compression (higher compression = slower imaging) but it’s the type of thing you can start at night and have done in the morning.

    Give the price (free) I’d recommend it (I use it on my system these days on a pseudo-regular basis).


    p.s. No, I have nothing to do with the product, just a happy user of it.

  21. mark says:


    ’nuff said.

  22. Matt` says:

    I was going to tell you to go look up the syntax for the dos command xcopy and use that + the “ignore errors” option, but someone beat me to it

    Damn you Delta Force Leader!!

  23. Neal White says:

    With drive in another computer (as, say, an E: drive) open a dos window and type
    xcopy e:\”folder root to nab from bad drive”\*.* e:\”disaster averted”\*.* /s /e /c /h

    That will continue the copy after it hits a wall of corrupted files, create the folder structure (even empty ones) and grab hidden files too. I use it ALL the time. Sometimes I have to change the modifiers at the end to /c /h /e /f /g /r /o /k if it’s from a domain machine.

    Good luck

  24. Telas says:

    I strongly sympathize with your last few days. Been there; done that; hope to never do it again.

    I also hope you back up regularly, and occasionally make a Ghost image of the entire system. Spare hard drives are cheap these days, and imaging software is much cheaper than entire days spent rebuilding entire systems.

    I used to create a C: partition for the OS, and redirect data to a D: partition on the same drive. Then I’d Ghost C: and copy D:.

    I don’t rely on as many apps as I used to, so now I just buy a big-assed external drive, and copy data to it.

    One of the best professors I knew used the following analogy:

    If you don’t back up your data, you will inevitably lose some or all of it. Do you know what they call people who lose things?


    Sorry for the harshness, but it keeps me making regular backups…

  25. Thomas says:

    I’ve never bothered with backing up the OS/apps drive, as usually by the time it fails it’s about time I do a clean reinstall to fix whatever I’ve broken this time. The data drive is, however, mirrored via an xcopy script onto the OS drive.

    So of course the last two disks to fail (data corruption, with the SMART status saying everything is fine) were OS/apps ones, while I’ve not lost a data drive since I got the backup script working.

    Backups seem to be less useful for actual recovery and more useful for warding off Murphy.

  26. DJMoore says:

    Corrupt hard drives aren’t the worst that can happen. I recently lost my entire home computer to thieves. No work related stuff–but I lost my anime torrents, and I can’t find working seeds for some of them. (Some have since gone into R1 release, which means I can at least rent them, or even get them through Crunchyroll and pay for them for reduced guilt (Thanks, SDB!). Then there’s 4chan–you know, origami, cooking, weapons–four or five years worth, all gone.

    Yeah, XCOPY is OK — but the best tool from MS is ROBOCOPY, one of the Resource Kit utilities. The current version even maintains all the permissions and security stuff (which used to be handled by yet another utility, SCOPY). RC has all sorts of options for retrying copies of intermittently bad files (such as, for instance, files being copied over a flaky network connection). In fact, the last time I fooled with it, you had to be careful to set retries to 2 or 3, instead of the default 1000. With the VERBOSE option, it creates a textfile log of each file and directory it attempts to copy, and what the outcome was.

    Hard drives are so cheap now there is absolutely no excuse for not mirroring your drive. I just picked up a 700 GB Seagate for $100, and a 500 GB for $80. (I should have gotten two 700s, but these were both one-day-only one-per-customer sales at Fry’s, and being an idiot, I didn’t think to just go to an ATM, take out $100, and go back. Sheesh.) The 500 is my new data drive (with a 170 GB bootable drive), and the 700 became my external backup drive after mounting it in a Firewire capable enclosure ($30, plus a $20 FW card). (And although USB is nominally faster than FW, apparently the FW protocol is more efficient.)

    I just recently converted to Linux, so I’m still figuring out the best way to do drive mirroring. Of course, I really should be doing father-grandfather backups, so I need two external drives….but the fact is, I’ve only got about 200 GB of data, so I can partition the 700, and copy into alternate partitions. Close enough, and better than trying to choose only the stuff that will fit on a 70 GB tape, which was what I had before.

    Beside, in another couple of years, 100 GB SD flash cards will cost $20, so I’ll be able to keep three-generation backups, and take quarterly permanent archives.

    (Then there’s micro-SD flash, which puts 2 GB on a chip the size of a fingernail. Sweet Electra, where could you not hide one of these things? Data smuggling just became undetectable.)

    There’s a simple registry hack that forces Windows to use a drive or partition other than C:\ for the Documents and Settings directory. It’s best done when setting up a new machine, but there’s a Profile utility that can move an existing profile on C: over to D:. That’s been useful more than once, because my experience is that C: fails more often than D:. Let me know if you want it, and I’ll dig out the procedure.

    I just bought a wonderful little tool called a DriveWire. This is a USB dongle that plugs into any IDE or SATA drive. I love it, because it allows me to test all the suspect drives I have lying around without having to repeatedly turn my computer on and off, and without worrying about a bad drive blowing out my on-board IDE controller.

    Finally, I also just discovered some utilities that monitor the so-called SMART tests built into almost all modern drives. SMART allows the drive to test itself, to report all kinds of internal conditions such as cumulative error counts and even temperature, and to log the last five errors it encountered. It looks to be a fabulous tool for predicting imminent drive failure, and I don’t understand why it’s not in wider use. I’m still trying to figure out if the Linux-compatible SMART utilities can work over USB connections, but I’m for damn sure going to start using it on my internal drives.

    OK, enough. I need to get out to see the afternoon matinees of Hellboy and Batman.

  27. BvG says:

    Although this might not help you in the current situation, I suggest installing some form of automatic backup and archiving system (for example Acronis true image). That way, you can always get all the data back, and never have to worry about what is where. Of course this costs some money, especially for the drive space.

    As I said, won’t help this time, but definitely for the next time.

  28. Using IE to get Firefox? I would use wget:


    Of course, how do you get wget? Sadly, with Windows is almost seems like have to start with IE somewhere.

    However, there is a way to get Firefox without IE. Use the provided ftp client: Download Firefox 2.0 in Windows Vista without Touching IE7, or Any Other Browser.

  29. Insanodag says:

    I have one of those WD hard-drives too. I carry all the gigs of video-data from work on them, and so I can spend lots of time being productive away from the office. Of course because it is so #%%£!”!!! small and I am the messiest person alive, it keeps getting lost and I lose hours and hours of potentially productive activity by searching for it. I have also left it in taxis, in airports, hotel-rooms and with the local laundry.

    It is the best thing ever.

  30. Deoxy says:

    OK, that last line is going out via email right now. Good stuff, man.

  31. Roxysteve says:

    May I suggest Acronis? It's pretty awesome.

    I wouldn’t recommend using Acronis if it was the only game in town. After using Acronis to make a so-called backup of my XP machine it became unbootable. Note I didn’t ask it to restore a single file, just to copy some to a safe place.

    I use “Acronis” as a curse word now.


  32. Stark says:

    If all you need is data files backed up I have to recommend SyncToy. It’s one of the Power Toys for Windows and free. Google it. It’s a nice little utility – can be setup on a schedule or left to monitor your selected folders and synchronize your main and backup folders automatically.

    I use it to push copies of all my wanted files (photos, music, etc) both to my NAS and across the VPN I setup (hardware VPN, always on) to a NAS at my folks place across town. My folks wanted items do the same thing back to my NAS. Geographically dispersed backups are a good thing.

  33. Damian says:

    Ha ha, the problem with IE isn't that it's good at downloading Firefox, it's that downloading Firefox is ALL it's good for.

    Not true! I use it for connecting to my company’s java screens, and that way I don’t, say, lose MY ENTIRE FIREFOX SESSION every time I exit. For example.

  34. Bill Anderson says:


    If you are still trying to recover data, you might want to try “GetDataBack for NTFS” from Runtime software, The software copies your entire drive to another drive, then tries to get back as much of your software as possible. It’s roughly $80. The nice thing is that you can download a demo program, which will do the recover and let you see the data (but not save it elsewhere). If you think its worthwhile, you can then pay for it – the data is then unlocked.

    I just used it when a hard drive with most of my mp3s had the directory structure corrupted – It got back roughly 95% of my data, but some files were lost.

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