Computers are just like human beings, sometimes they just refuse to work and you have to perform some “Magic” to make them behave again. On Thursday night, I was confronted with a situation where I have to fix a hard drive with a partition table problem! To make things more complicated, the data on the hard drive wasn’t backed up at all because all of the USB ports on the laptop failed to work!!! To be honest, this is the first time I come across a situation like this, hopefully I will learn something from this computer. And here is what I have gone through to get fix the problem.
1. The first thing that comes to my mind was to try the Windows PE(BartPE 3.1.10a) that I have got, with that CD, I should be able to get into the file system, maybe I can use the network to transfer the files! But it turns out that for some reason, I couldn’t even see the “Window XP boot up screen”…this is the first time that PE failed to work on a computer!
2. OK, so PE couldn’t save Windows, how about a Linux Live CD? I found my Ubuntu 7.04 CD and tried that on the laptop, again, after I select the Options from the menu, I couldn’t see anything! The cursor just blinks and nothing happens. Looks like the situation is more serious than I thought!
3. Since the hard drive have a separate partition for Windows(originally it wasn’t like that, but I asked my friend to do it, because its safer in situations like this), how about reinstalling Windows? This sounds easy and straight forwards, why didn’t I thought about that earlier? So I found his Windows XP CD and pop that into the CD-ROM, foolishly thinking that reinstall the operating system will solve the problem. At first the installation process seems fine, but it got stuck when it finished copying the drivers and tries to start Windows…again…nothing happens, the screen just stays the same! What is going on?
4. In order to check out the partition table, I use my startup disk and let Partition Magic (version 8.05) to check for errors. The D drive of the laptop returned an error number, which makes no sense until I found their manual online:
#1516 Partition improperly dismounted
The partition dirty flag is set in a restart record in the journal file. This error may have been caused by a power failure or system crash while the Windows NT operating system was writing the partition.
This problem can often be resolved by running CHKDSK /F on the affected drive. For instructions on running CHKDSK, see How to run Microsoft CHKDSK from the command line.
If running CHKDSK /F does not help, please send the following items to Norton Technical Support:
- A debug report. See Running a Debug Report.
- A PARTINFO report. See Generating diagnostic reports with PartitionInfo.
- The information outlined in Information needed for a Trouble Report.
- If possible, an image of the machine or the actual hard disk so Norton developers can examine the source of the issue more closely.
OK, so CHKDSK can fix the problem, but I can’t go into Windows anymore, not even Windows PE works, so now what?
5. (the next morning) I went to work (@ the ITS) and borrowed Chris’ 2.5inch IDE to USB converter (thanks Chris :)) to transfer the files to my external hard drive. The converter was amazing…it can convert 2.5inch IDE, 3.5inch IDE and SATA2 to USB! It also comes with a power supply too. With the help of Chris, I can delete all the partitions and do things like Low Level Format! After I finish work @ the ITS, I went home and delete all the partitions, re-create them again and thinking that will solve the problem…but that didn’t do the trick either 😦
6. The next thing that I though was using a software to do a surface scan and see whether its a physical damage or just a logical one. The scan took quite a while, and the result shows that there is nothing (physically) wrong with the hard drive…so that tells me that logical error was the problem.
7. Since its a logical error, I tried to do a low level format, hopping that will sort out the logical error…the whole process took a long time, but again…it failed! I need to find another magic spell!
8. Rebuilding the partition table seems to be my last choice, so I use DiskMan on my Startup disk and tried it on the hard drive. After a while, the partition table got rebuilt, and I can see some partitions has been bought back to life! But I still couldn’t use Windows PE to boot up the computer…am I missing something? At that time, I basically thought and tried everything I could…so I thought…to get it going again, I might need to do something else other than using a software to fix the problem. I remembered that normally when people do things like that, they will take out the fixed hard drive and put it back into the original machine, so I removed the hard drive from the laptop and put it back in again…the problem is GONE!
Right now I am still not sure whether the last step (removing the hard drive from the laptop) is the key to solve the problem, but at least the problem is gone for now 🙂
I have to say, things like “Partition improperly dismounted” can happen to anyone, so make sure you are prepared for situations like this! Here are the things that you can do to avoid losing any data when your hard drives begins to misbehave:
- Make sure you have more than one partition. On my laptop, I have one partition for the Operating System and one partition for my data. Of course, you can have more than one partition, but the idea is to put the Operating System into a separate partition so that you can reinstall Windows when ever you can without affecting most of your data.
- Back up your data every week! If your data is very important to you (e.g. Assignments / Photos), you should back them up as soon as you got the chance to do so. Backing things up on a CD/DVD would be a better choice than putting them on an external hard drive. Remember…hard drives can break down anytime! (I had two hard drives failed so far, lost heaps of photos)
- Run some kind of test tool every now and then to test your hard drive. e.g. If you got Seagate hard drives, you should check out SeaTools 184.108.40.206, its the latest hard drive testing tool for Seagate hard drives (it works on other brands too).
- Last but not least, make sure you understand that hard drives do have a life time, they won’t last forever 🙂
The advice above is given by someone (me :)) who had two hard drive “accidents” and as a result, lost heaps of valuable photos. I told most of my friends about hard drive problems and ask them to backup every now and then, but most of them just don’t seem to listen 😦 Oh well, you won’t feel the “pain” unless its your hard drive. Do remember that once it fails, its really really very very hard to recover your data! (that’s one of the reasons why professional data recovery services are so costly)