Hard Drive Problems

Where do I start?

About a week ago, Wednesday June 25, I’m getting dressed for work and the power goes out. Then it comes back on about 5 seconds later. No big whup. So then Thursday night I’m using my computer when all of a sudden it starts running really slowly. I thought maybe my antivirus software had started a full system scan, but that’s scheduled to happen on Friday nights. Eventually everything just stopps. Mouse won’t move the pointer, nothing. I have to hold down the power button to shut down. It was late, so I went to bed.

The next day I boot up and everything works fine. I don’t think twice about the problems from the previous night. Later I use the system again and all of a sudden it starts working slowly, and completely stops about 5 seconds later. I hold down the power button to shut down, then restart, and the system basically tells me I have no hard drives. I reboot again, and this time it boots, but within a few minutes everything freezes again.

So I open up the case, unplug the hard drives, then plug them back in. I close everything up, it tells me I have no hard drives. I open the case again, look at everything, close it back up, turn it on, and it boots. A while later, it freezes. Now it boots sometimes, other times the BIOS tells me there are no hard drives, other times the booting Windows screen appears and then it restarts and tells me I have no hard drives. So I call Dell.

The guy tells me to unplug the hard drives and plug them back in. Instead of telling him I already tried that, I do as he says. What do you know. The system boots up. I thank the guy and hang up. Less than ten minutes later? It freezes again. I call Dell again, and tell them everything. The guy tells me how to do this hard drive diagnostic. The program tells me it can’t even run a diagnostic on the drive. The guy tells me I need a new hard drive. Unfortunately, the system is about 20 months old, and I’m no longer under warranty. I tell him I have a second drive I bought recently, so I’ll try that. I also mention that when I got the system, I had to have the hard drive replaced then. He seems to ignore that tidbit, and I end the conversation.

So I’ve got the second hard drive and my Windows installation CD, but there was data on that failed hard drive that I’d rather not lose. Since I got the Compaq during my Freshman year at RIT, I’ve lost data exactly one time. I lost about a week’s worth of stuff when the Dell’s first hard drive failed. This time I was dealing with about a month of stuff. It’s not like I don’t back stuff up … I have a ton of stuff on the Compaq that I copy to the Dell every time I format. But I don’t backup every day.

So before I worry about getting the Dell up and running, I throw the failed hard drive into the Compaq. I can access the data, but after varying amounts of time, the system always freezes. So I try putting the bad drive on the second IDE cable, separate from the main hard drive. Bingo. Now even if the drive fails, the system keeps running. This doesn’t really help the data situation, but it does improve convenience.

The problem was, I would try to copy data from the bad drive to the good drive, but it would always keep failing. And when it fails, it disappears from My Computer until I reboot. Once after I shut down I inspected both drives and I discovered that the failed drive was really warm to the touch. So my current theory is that the thing is overheating for some reason. How do I solve this problem? I don’t have any spare system fans lying around. What about some kind of water cooling system? Warning kids: don’t try this at home. I put cool water in a Ziploc bag, but not filled to capacity – I wanted the bag to spread out and cover as much surface area as possible. It seemed to work at first. I got about 70% of all my MP3s before it locked up, and the second time I restarted the Compaq everything worked for an hour and five minutes.

Since then I’ve thought I had everything twice. Tonight the bad drive twice in a row failed quickly even with a Ziploc of cool water sitting on it, so I got a second one, mixed some ice with the water in both bags, and put one above and one below the drive. I guess it helped. I again believe I have everything new copied off the bad drive.

I don’t mind formatting, and I got all my data back … but this really pisses me off. The failed drive was 60 GB and my current one is 40 GB. I didn’t fill the 60, but it was nice to know the space was there. I also had the second drive because Photoshop likes to have its scratch file on a separate disk from the Windows swap file. It seemed to actually run a little faster when I put it on the second hard drive. Now I’m without that luxury again.

Short Take 1: Has anyone seen commercials for the new Spider-Man cartoon on MTV? It looks pretty hot. It’s all computer graphics, but it’s all cel-shaded, so it looks more or less like a traditional cartoon. Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame voices Peter Parker/Spider-Man. In the show, Peter is in college. I’m hoping that because it’s on MTV it will be more … serious than the Saturday morning fare. Maybe some actual chracter development, even some college-years angst? I think it premieres July 11, even though I couldn’t find anything about it on MTV.com.

Short Take 2: Does anyone actually use the crossfader in Winamp? I don’t like it. When I listen to MP3s I don’t want it to be like the radio. I want to hear songs in their entirety.

Hard Drive Problems