[IMGCAP(1)]Over the years that I’ve been writing, in almost 4 million words, I’ve come up with two statements I feel actually have some value.

The first of these, written in a column about a long-defunct PC in a long-defunct magazine, was “Needleman’s Law.” This was in the early days of microcomputing, and after once again being stung by vaporware, I very snappishly stated ,“If it ain’t in my hands, it doesn’t exist!” not realizing that I had subconsciously plagiarized “I’m from Misssouri…”.

More original was my definition of an expert as “someone who has fallen on their face enough times to have callouses on their nose.” Not long ago, I added another layer of callous to mine.

Recently, I booted up my production machine to receive a message asking me to insert boot media. Often, when this happens, it means that something has screwed up the Master Boot Record (MBR) on the hard disk. This unfortunately happens often enough that there is a fix for it built into Windows, accessible using the Windows install disc.

Didn’t work. Next step was to pull the drive, put in another used drive, performed a low-level format using KillDisk (a great free utility for wiping a drive), installed Windows on it, and booted up into Windows from the hard drive. Powered down the machine, found the CD generated during backup, went through the restore, and…

“Please insert boot media.” I could feel my nose start to ache. Best guess is that there was a failure of the motherboard drive controller. I generally have enough stuff lying around to build several systems, so I bit the bullet and built another PC using a nice ASUS motherboard and an Intel I7 Extreme CPU salvaged from another system. Another 2TB Seagate drive, my copy of Windows, and a few hours’ work, and I had a working PC that didn’t give me the dreaded “Insert” message. Now I faced the problem of what was recoverable.

Back in my “Moving Day” post a few months ago, I mentioned Acronis had a backup system that offered a Universal Restore onto a different hardware platform. Unfortunately, that isn’t what I use in my day-to-day backup.

Apricorn has a nifty little device called DriveWire, which is an adapter that lets you hook up any SATA drive (desktop or laptop) to a USB port. I hooked up the unbootable drive, and using the DriveWire was able to see all my files and applications. Maybe all was not lost.

That same Moving Day blog mentioned Laplink’s PC Mover. In the past, I’ve been able to migrate a USB drive rather than the regular Drive C, so an email to LapLink got me a copy (and a cable very similar to Apricorn’s DriveWire). I plugged the drive I was trying to recover into a USB port on my laptop, checked to see that it was recognized and the files were visible, installed Laplink on the laptop and my new production machine, and went to do the migration. For some reason Laplink couldn’t find the USB drive and the migration failed. I spent some time with their tech people with no better luck.

Zinstall was another product I mentioned back in the “Moving Day” blog. So they were my next email. They have a product called “Computer Rescue Kit.” It’s similar to their migration application, but gives you a lot more options. It’s more expensive than Zinstall WinWin, but at this point I’d already lost two days of productive time, and besides, they were nice enough to give me an editorial copy to try (there are times when being a writer and reviewer has its perks!)

I installed the “Computer Rescue Kit” software, hooked up the old production machine’s hard drive to the new system using the DriveWire adapter, and the migration went flawlessly. As with other migrations I’ve done in the past, I had to re-register MS Office, Adobe CS Suite, and a few other applications, but I’m back up and running with my critical apps and files.

So what are the take-aways from this experience other than putting another layer of callous on my already calloused snout?

First, while LapLink’s PC Mover didn’t work in this instance, it has worked numerous times in the past when migrating from one laptop to another.

Second, Zinstall’s Computer Rescue Kit proved, at least in this experience, to be worth every penny of its $169 price tag.

I lucked out this time. The wonky motherboard controller just nuked Windows and left the files and applications alone. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll be that lucky in the future, so this was a wake-up call. And what do you do if your backup is also corrupted?

I’m not sure I know the answer. In my case, I don’t know if switching backup software is the best approach. The Seagate Backup I use (which is what comes with the Seagate NAS units that are attached to my network) is probably as good as most other applications of this type.

Another possibility is to virtualize my production system so it can be run as a virtual machine on any of my PCs or laptops. This last approach seems to make sense, but I’m not sure I have enough experience with VMWARE or Hyper-V to actually implement it.

In the meantime, what I’m in the process of doing is setting up yet another backup drive, and doing a backup of just data files every few days in addition to the incremental backup that runs every night.

Then, when I get a few more dollars together, I’m ordering a PCI-e hard drive controller that can be just plugged in if I ever encounter a drive controller failure in the future.

And finally, fervently hope that it will be at least a while before I add another layer of callous on my nose.

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