Sunday, 12 June 2011

When your computer's hard drives fail, you'd better have a plan...

It had to happen. In spades.

One drive already removed
A few weeks ago, my computer's second Hard Disc Drive showed errors. I backed it up to a Network Attached Storage device. The HDD failed shortly after. I have been busy with other priorities, and as its continued silent presence didn't seem to hinder my Iyonix, I kept putting off its removal. It's raining today: there's a good chance I would be doing that removal right now. But, last Thursday, my primary, only remaining and boot drive became audible. It whirred. "I must back that up tomorrow, order a new one and remove that duff second drive to boot......Ha ha! 'To boot'!"

Tomorrow came and my Iyonix would not boot. Not even as far as any display on the still-black screen. Instead it sits there, making horrible mechanical noises. Whine-click-whirring repeated ad nauseam. The machine has failed in completing its Power On Self Test and gets no further. Keypresses do nothing as the machine hasn't got as far as looking for a keyboard. It is, to all intents and purposes, dead, save for its dying whirrs. My heart grows cold. Have I backed it up? When? What about all those web sites I look after? My photos? Hyper-important files? I calm a little: the last complete disc copy was six months ago. I panic again. I backed up some essential files last week. My heart stops racing. I can think of a couple of outstanding emails in the past few weeks and have already asked the senders to re-send to my gmail address (in the Cloud). I'm not sure I want to continue using the download-and-store-locally method for mail any more.

I have not installed any new software this year, bar stuff that I can re-download. Most files I create these days find themselves - albeit in a finished state - on the internet somewhere. This even includes a massive spreadsheet kept in Google Docs (phew!). I have a bad habit of keeping absolutely everything and deleting nothing so some of those files representing intermediate steps may have been lost but no biggie. My most important - financial - files are safely backed up. I can remember one letter to my bank recently of which I have no copy but I remember what it was about and to whom it was sent. I just have to wait for the reply.

My order for a new drive is already with a reputable dealer. He's a bit dearer than most but I can at least expect him to use a courier who could be entrusted with a packet of digestive biscuits and the drive will be pre-formatted correctly and without the associated crass assumptions that pervade most box-shifters. If I ask him nicely, he may even pre-install some software for me which will have me up-and-running quicker than if I had to do it on arrival.

The Iyonix is unusual in that it is not Windows, MAC, or other Linux variant. It contains RISC OS and by today's standard has tiny hard drives, thanks to a legacy limitation of its filing system, a mere 120GB is what's ideal. RISC OS 5 and the Iyonix is the grown up great grandson of the BBC Micro which you may remember from school. Its limitations mean that a modern, cheap, huge, SATA drive simply won't work.

The footnote to this tail is that the new drive arrived by courier and when fitted it turned out that the second drive, which had already failed, had failed again. Worse this time. Thankfully, that meant the boot drive is okay. Phew.

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