Hard Drive Failure but Recovered all the Data

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The other day I had scheduled a technician to come in and get my three computers networked together. I always get up early, so having a few hours to kill and not wanting to start a new project, I decided to burn four backup DVDs from my D Drive (which contains my data) of the image files that I currently sell. Maybe I sensed something was about to happen.

I work with multiple hard drives, three internal (and a DVD burner) and two additional in external IDE USB2 enclosures that I turn on when needed. I also have a mountain of CDs that contain the sized files of every image Iíve printed in the past five years. All my client work is backed up to an external hard drive at regular intervals and then burned to DVDs when I think about it, though not on a regular basis. In the event of a catastrophic failure, I can recreate most of the data and be back in business. But in the event of a hard drive failure, you donít really know what youíre missing until you need it.

Drive crash but recovered all the data - 250 Gig Maxtor
My C Drive was a 300 Gig Maxtor and the D Drive was a 250 Gig Maxtor. While doing the repeated setting changes and reboots in setting up the network, I got a Windows error message that the D Drive wasnít formatted and should I let Windows format it. I had been using the 250 as my C Drive until a week ago when I decided to put in the new 300 Gig drive and reinstall all my programs. Therefore I knew that the 250 contained about 100 Gigs of data, which now couldnít be read. I rebooted and received the same error message. I took the drive out and put it into one of the IDE USB2 housings and it still couldnít be read. I connected it to my other computer and got the same error message asking me if I wanted Windows to reformat it. I called Maxtor tech support and they had me run a diagnostic, which generated an error code of DEA8A771, which told them the drive was dead. Maxtor left the issue open and would issue me an RMA at a time when I decided to send the drive back. The drive wasnít making any noise so I assumed that there was probably no physical damage so I put it in an anti static bag and set it away while I figured out the next step.

I called three data recovery services and all three gave me a ballpark figure of between $2000 and $2500 (plus the cost of a newly formatted drive to copy the restored data to) based on the size of the drive. I wasnít having a good day at all. Later that day after making a forum post someone suggested trying data recovery software. I regularly use PhotoRescue to salvage image files from corrupted digital camera memory cards. Hard drive recovery software works the same way. Basically, you run a trial version that reads the hard drive. If it can see the files, paying for the license lets you recover all the files the trial version sees. I downloaded a trial version of a non-destructive program called Stellar Phoenix NTFS that could read NTFS formatted hard drives and installed it on my other computer. Then I connected the crashed hard drive and ran the program. I felt it was worth taking a chance because the drive still seemed to spin normally. Sure enough, I could see all the files in a Windows Explorer type interface. I immediately paid the $99 and was given a code to download the full version. I then connected a back up hard drive and when I ran the program, I was able to restore all 98 Gigs of data onto the back up drive, which took about three hours. I ended up sleeping better that night. Then I called Maxtor back and they issued an RMA to replace the drive.

Another 250 Gig Maxtor bites the dust
In a totally unrelated sequence of events, I had another 250 Gig Maxtor go bad within a few days of the first problem. I had a back up drive that contained 60 Gigs of client scans that I wanted to back up on DVDs to be safe. I connected the drive to my other computer where the new Plextor 716A was installed and started burning DVDs. After successfully burning 17 DVDs (always with verification) I went to reformat the drive and Windows wouldn't let me. So I changed the boot sequence and loaded the MaxBlast CD to format the drive, but it wouldn't let me partition it larger than 137 Gigs. I called Maxtor support again and after running a diagnostic, they determined that the drive firmware was defective and issued me an RMA. Two RMAs in four days.

The first replacement drive came and it was a Maxtor refurbished drive - no way. Both 250's were under a year old. Instead I took them both back to Costco for a full cash refund and purchased two Western Digital drives for backup.

Time to back up
As a result of this close call, Iíve set up a more structured backup system. I purchased the top rated Plextor 716A DVD burner. It burns DVDs at twice the speed of my of my current DVD burners. I installed an Adaptec 2400A ATA Raid card (set at Raid 1) and two 400 Gig Seagate drives for my current data. Now everything I do will be written to two different drives simultaneously. Iíve also started being more religious in creating backup hard copies of my important data. For example, my sports images folder took 21 full DVDs to back up, so I feel more secure than just having the data on hard drives, though I do keep a hard drive in the safety deposit box at my bank and update it from time to time. I've taken the time to condense all my image files from my multiple hard drives onto one Seagate 400 Gig drive, which filled it up with 372 Gigs of data. The older drives are now stored away and I'm only using one drive to access files when I need them. Iíve installed Dantz Retrospect and did a complete back up of the 400 Gig drive to 87 DVDs. That gives me a backup that can be searched and have files restored from as needed. Retrospect also allows me to back up across my network to my external IDE USB2 drives on a regular basis.

Iíve used PowerQuest Drive Image 7 (now owned by Symantec) to back up my old Dell laptop and I successfully restored my drive three times in the past two years. I now use an IBM ThinkPad  which I back up to an external hard drive in an IDE USB2 enclosure on a regular basis, including prior to each time the laptop leaves my house. I use a pocket size 100 Gig USB2 drive to carry with the laptop so I always have access to my back up files. The 100 Gig pocket drive also allows me to travel with my music files and best selling sports image files so I can fill editorial or commercial licensing requests while traveling.

The moral to the story and what you can do
Is there a moral to this story? A back up only works if it's done before you need it. I may have gone overboard, but with the increasing amount of income I make through my computer and Internet related businesses, it only took one scare to make me change my ways. I've now scheduled time to do backups on a regular basis.


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