No, I was not sleeping off Thanksgiving overindulgence instead of writing this backup reminder on Friday morning. I was just absorbed in completing my delayed-and-necessary reinstall before heading to work. I thought a late reminder would be better than none, and now that I’m finished with all but those last little tweaks that drag on for a week or two, I can pass on the backup-related lessons I’ve learned as a result of this adventure.
1. Set Aside at Least 3 Days
I realize that for many of my readers, reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling your operating system falls into the “Kids, don’t try this at home” category. But even those who leave these things to someone else should be aware of just how time-consuming and tedious a job it is.
It took me most of one day to make a list of the software I’d need to put back on the machine when I was finished, make sure I had the most recent versions of Audacity, Firefox, Skype, Karen’s Replicator, and all the other freeware programs I use regularly, download all the most recent drivers from HP (the manufacturer of my computer), Epson (the manufacturer of my printer and scanner), and Wacom (the manufacturer of my pen tablet)—and, of course, to back up all my data in as many ways as I could think of. If you’re a computer owner preparing to have someone else reinstall your machine, you may be able to do this part yourself and save some money.
The second day was devoted to reformatting the C drive and reinstalling Windows XP Pro. A full format on an 80-GB drive takes about 40 minutes, with about 40 minutes more to install Windows. Except I ended up doing it twice, because the first time around I forgot to delete the restore partition that CompUSA had put onto the drive and which I’d failed to notice and eliminate during my last install. (I’m one of those people who thinks putting your system restore onto the same drive as your system makes no sense. Think about it a bit.)
But even if I hadn’t had to do the formatting twice, there are all those Windows updates to download, many of them requiring restarts. And then there are the drivers. Without the correct display driver, for instance, everything on my widescreen laptop looks weirdly stretched out.
Once all the updates were finished and the drivers installed, I had to make a Ghost image so I wouldn’t need to do that part over if something went wrong later on.
I also got quite a bit of the software installed on the second day, but not all of it. That put the main focus of the third day onto restoring my data–once I’d made a Ghost image of the installed programs.
Copying documents back onto the C drive was straightforward enough, though it takes a bit of time. Other things have to go back into specific places: the settings for Replicator, for instance, or my Outlook data file. (And I discovered that if I also copy my Outlook Extend.dat file along with the .pst file, Outlook magically remembers all my rules and other settings.) I’m still finding little details of program options that I need to set—that’s part of the ongoing tweaking.
The other part of the third day I spent re-configuring backups, in the course of which I made some other discoveries.
2. Don’t Get a Rebit if You Have Multiple Internal Drives
I understand from the Rebit people that they’re working on this issue, but while I’d known Rebit would only back up my C drive, I hadn’t realized that the presence of two internal drives would cause their bare-metal recovery option to fail.
Since I was about to reinstall the machine anyway, I figured I had nothing at all to lose by testing Rebit‘s PC Recovery CD. So I inserted the CD and rebooted my machine, which brought me into a friendly-looking non-Windows interface designed to lead me through what they call a bare-metal restore. (That means it restores your operating system and software as well as your data.)
Unfortunately, it didn’t lead me very far, because it couldn’t tell which of my internal drives was which. They are the same make and size, so I probably couldn’t tell which was which if you put them in front of me, but there are ways for other programs to tell them apart, because one is set as the “master” drive and one as the “slave” drive. (The operating system goes on the “master” drive, which is Drive0, and if you try to put it anywhere else, you’ll have no end of trouble.)
I imagine that Rebit’s engineers will be able to fix this problem fairly easily. Not that many laptops have two internal drives, so it’s possible none of their users have run into the problem before. But meanwhile, I can’t use their restore CD.
3. Some (Backup) Programs Won’t Recognize Your Computer after a Reinstall
I had suspected that Rebit might not recognize my newly-reinstalled computer as the same one it had been protecting before, since the log information it had installed before was now gone, along with any recognition signals that go into the registry. (The registry is where Windows keeps all the really important information about how to operate. Don’t mess with it. Especially don’t mess with it without backing up your whole system first.) And, indeed, when I connected the Rebit, it offered to start protecting my computer. (I said no, not having enough time right then for it to go through that lengthy initial backup sequence.)
What I hadn’t expected was problems with Mozy, the free online backup service I use. While I could log into Mozy and see or restore my previous backups, creating a new backup set was a problem. I didn’t really want to create a new backup set at all, but to use the old one, but Mozy isn’t set up to recognize that even I wouldn’t have two computers named “Enheduanna.” Instead of adding new files to the existing backup, it wanted to create an entirely new backup from scratch. (I only discovered this because I kept getting “over quota” warnings that didn’t make sense when I did the math on the files in the folders I wanted backed up.) I ended up deleting the old Mozy backup file and starting over—which means that my slow initial Mozy backup is still running. (Though I trust the current prediction of 1 week and 4 days to back up 2 GB is only a product of wildly fluctuating upload speeds, and not an accurate estimate.)
4. Some Drive Problems are Beyond Baffling
More or less immediately after reinstalling Windows, I ran Chkdsk to see whether the reformat had cured my drive problems. The answer: apparently not, as Chkdsk thinks I have 4 KB in bad sectors. This despite the fact that I haven’t seen any other sign of drive errors–or not in the C drive, anyway. (I’ve had some error messages relating to controllers and other problems with my external drives, which may be a matter of their built-in software not being entirely compatible; I’m not sure and need to investigate further.)
A geek friend let me use his copy of SpinRite, a handy tool meant to find and fix problems like bad sectors. It has a good reputation, and my erstwhile colleagues at Kickstartnews.com like it. Since I wasn’t feeling well enough to actually do anything with my computer yesterday afternoon, I put the CD in as soon as I’d finished the data transfer and made my final (for this reinstall) Ghost image.
Nine hours and six minutes later, SpinRite woke me out of a sound sleep to tell me it had finished. I looked over its graphical display of all the sectors on my C drive (SpinRite had no trouble at all telling which drive was which, but prompted me to choose the correct drive to test). Every single one was the nice blue color that indicated it had passed the test and was fine. Not one was marked “recovered,” much less “defective” or “unrecovered.” In other words, my drive is fine. (And it didn’t even get all that hot while spinning continuously for 9 hours.)
So what did I find when I started Windows again (at a more civilized hour of the morning) and ran Chkdsk again? I still have 4 K in bad sectors. Except they seem to be illusionary bad sectors. The Ur-Guru is just as baffled as I am, but says that any serious problems with either the drive or the electronics that control it should have shown up in the course of that 9 hours. So maybe I can ignore Chkdsk’s 4K.
On the other hand, maybe there really is a strange and subtle problem with my drive. So I have to be even more diligent about creating Ghost images and file backups than usual.