Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fixing a failing hard drive from 2 states away

The "trick" in this story, is that the user had two hard drives in their computer and the second hard drive was large enough to accept all the system/data from the first hard drive.

I get a call from a relative of mine "I need the Helpdesk, my computer is giving me an error saying that my hard drive is in imminent failure. Also, when I turned it on there was a black screen that in white letters said that the S M A R T system detected a failing hard drive."

For most users, this means a trip to the computer store to buy a new hard drive, and pay for a technician to install the OS and copy the data over, and unless you are friends/family, that's what I'd recommend you do as well.

So I fire up TeamViewer8 http://www.teamviewer.com/ (free for personal use), which allows me to remote into his machine, and see the error message he is getting; and click around to further check out the situation.

(X) Microsoft Windows
(X) Windows detected a hard disk problem
Back up your files immediately to prevent information loss, and then contact the computer manufacturer to determine if you need to repiar or replace the disk.
(Clicking "Details" indicates it's the Disk Name "HDS722020ALA330" and Volume C:\ D:\

He lets me know that when he turned on his computer that day, it also had a black screen with white text say that "SMART" was reporting the drive was bad and prompting him to either enter setup or continue.

Just to make sure (in hind site, I probably should have skipped this step) I download and installed HD Tune http://www.hdtune.com/ (free trial), ran an Error Scan and several sectors were returned as "Damaged". I also went to the HP website to check if the machine was in warranty, it had expired 3 months prior.

Ain't that always the way?

Since I had TeamViewer8; and was able to see what was going on with his computer and poke and prod it myself, I picked up on the fact that he had two hard drives, which is somewhat unusual in a home system, and honestly if we had only been speaking on the phone; I wouldn't have though to ask and check for this.

The first drive was 1 partition at 160 gigs of data and two more HP recovery partitions totalling less than 175 gigs. The second drive said "No files" and listed itself as 400 gigabytes free.

I had just heard the guys on the "DogHouse Systems" podcast http://www.doghousesystems.com/ Episode64 talk about an Acronis product being able to clone a system disk by rebooting the computer and entering a special boot mode and doing the boot automatically there.

So on my computer, I go to Acronis http://www.acronis.com/ and see that they are selling "True Image 2013" and giving away a copy of "Disk Director 11" with purchase; assuming True Image will do what I need, I purchase it, then skim the user guides about disk cloning and notice that the Disk Director is really more what fits this situation.

Acronis gives you a link to download Disk Director after purchase, so I email that to my relative, and open the email on their computer; download the program, install it; then tell Disk Director to clone drive 1, onto drive 2; resize, and "Copy NT Signature" (to make it bootable), "turn off computer when done". Then I "commit" the actions, and it prompts to reboot the computer, which I do, and of course TeamViewer8 has to shut down as well.

The relative did have to click past the "S M A R T" error message that comes on before the computer boots. And sure enough, he reported that the special boot mode was entered, and it took most of the night to copy the data (probably because the drive was damaged in some places).

I send the relative a text message saying to call me tomorrow before turning the computer, so we can go into the BIOS and turn off drive 1 so the computer will boot from driver 2.

The next day I get a text message saying that the error is still coming up. I know this is because we haven't turned off drive 1 in the BIOS, but I go ahead and fire up TeamViewer8 again and verify that the copy went through to the other hard drive.

So then I fire up Apple's FaceTime for a phone call, and have him reboot the computer and enter the BIOS by pressing a button as the computer booted up (F10 as I recall for an HP E-490t model) and then I visually walked him through turning of drive 1 in the BIOS. A "Save and Exit" later, and we were back in what looked identical to his previous setup, but now without an error message about a drive failing.

Amazing times we live in.

Is there a device that I could remote into to use a computer (move the mouse, type into it, see what's being displayed), even in the BIOS? If so, please comment and depending on how much it costs, I'll buy it and install it on every relatives computer. I'll pay more if it will let me remotely cut the power to force a reboot of a frozen system. Then I'll get two so in case one freezes, I can reboot the other one :-)

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