Monday, November 06, 2006

Happy hard drive failures, no more!

Everyone's worst nightmare; the normal comforting hum of your computer is disturbed by clicking, pranging, banging... It happens to everyone because it's inevitable (hard drives are mechanical, as sure as a car will break down your hard drive will fail eventually). However, no matter how often you see it you never quite get used to it happening, the heartache of all the files you lose forever because you were "just about to back it up, honestly". This is not a matter of explaining to you how you can best avoid data loss or how to protect against your hard drive dying.

I have had few hard drives die and it's a painful period where you're without a functional computer. I, like many others find it impossible to survive without computers and the internet and therefore the frustrations of being forcibly cut off from the e-world is one I endeavour to avoid. This led me on a quest for information where it suddenly dawned on me - you can't stop your hard drive dying (everyone knows that) but you can have a solid backup in place, one that cannot die... So let me start from the beginning:

So, your hard drive shows signs of dying, you spend a few days running chkdisk, kneeling on the floor cuddling your rig and listening for faults when it dies. When you're done crying you have to RMA the hard drive (if within warranty, if not order another) and then wait for the new drive to arrive. Traditionally you would have to leave your computer alone and wander off, scared and confused into the real world... Well no longer, Live-CD environments are so good that you can comfortably survive without a working hard drive if need be and provideding you have some way of saving the files.

A Solid Survival Pack:

1) An up to date Live-CD environment like the Knoppix live CD.

2) A secondary hard drive with a Fat32 partition OR a USB flash drive for saving your files

3) Backups of your work, documents, pictures, music etc for convenience.

If you have these basic provisions you can manage sufficiently. You have Firefox for web browsing (The Ubuntu live-CD environment picks up DSL and Cable broadband without issue). Evolution for email, GAIM for messaging, OpenOffice for your office needs (word processing, spreadsheets etc), GIMP for image manipulation and editing... More than sufficient to allow you to "get by". This coincides nicely with the wealth of applications that operate entirely at the web tier, removing the need for installing some applications. WebFTP clients, Meebo for messaging, you can even edit images online. There are even Flash based pseudo online operating systems that give you 1gb of storage - so to say the world ends when your hard drive dies is a gross exaggeration.

The dark ages of being helpless to the god of hard drive failure is over, Live-CD's are the way to go for an emergency.

You can remain connected and in charge from a Live-CD environment in reasonable comfort - you can even continue work on your essays or reports while listening to music (streamed from the internet or otherwise). This is of course an ideal situation, unless the lack of dual screen support leaves your face twisted in a ball of rage, unable to operate on a single screen. Or if your computer doesn't matter to you and you can leave it for days on end without use (the very thought of it makes me shudder) then you may as well wait until you get a replacement hard drive. Otherwise, a Live-CD environment such as the ones offered by Ubuntu, Knoppix and Mepis are ideal for keeping you connected while your beloved drive is replaced.

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