Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Have Returned

Almost exactly one month ago my home computer developed not one, but two major (and unrelated) hardware problems.  In under a day it went from acting weird to being totally non-responsive.  Since that time, up until last night, I have been in computer hell.

What Do You Do When You Are Shit Out Of Luck?

There is something terribly unnerving about looking at a hard drive that holds ALL your files and wondering, “Is everything still there?” 

Yes, I have backups.  But without a functioning computer I couldn’t access those backups either.  And, to be truthful, I haven’t been diligent about making external backups.  One of my drives is set to keep an automatic mirror (exact duplicate) of the drive with all my data.  This gave me some piece of mind.  A reason to believe that even if one drive failed the other would have all my data safely stored on it.

Unfortunately, one of the major hardware problems was my mirror drive crashing and becoming unreliable.  Add to this a fried motherboard at the exact same time (meaning I was unable to even look at my primary data drive to see what was on it) and I began to worry that I had lost everything.   That fear intensified as what should have taken days, building a new computer, instead took weeks.

Why The Hell Was Recovering So Freakin’ Hard?

The good news is that, having finally crawled out of the rubble and rebuilt my computer from the ground up, it looks I lost nothing at all, or at least nothing significant.

Why though, I must ask myself, was getting back to having a stable computer so hard this time.  I have built computers before.  It is annoying and requires attention to details, but it isn’t hard to do.

Except this time.  This time everything that could go wrong did.

Murphy Can Take His Law And Shove It

Parts were backordered and I had to wait on them.  Days spent twiddling my thumbs rather than building my new machine.

The new motherboard wouldn’t talk to my video card and had no built-in video capabilities, so I couldn’t even get text to show up on my monitor.  I spent days of mucking with hardware, swapping cables, monitors, and videos cards around, all to no avail.  Finally I got a response from the motherboard manufacturer on how to correct the problem.  (Basically I forced a reset of the CMOS settings.)

After that, I screwed up while configuring the new system.  Yes, I did it to myself in a moment of rank stupidity.  I feared that I may have accidently wiped my primary data drive.   For several days I couldn’t see if there was anything on it at all.   When I did finally get to where I could see the drive, there were important files missing.  (Such as an up-to-date copy of my first book.)  Fortunately I was able to retrieve copies of this missing data, the details of which I will return to later.

The first time I installed my new copy Windows 7 Ultimate, it wouldn’t accept the product key that came with it as being valid.  Eventually I started the install over and the second time it worked without a problem.

Once I had Windows up and running, the computer began buzzing me to warn me about a hardware problem.  (Yes, a new hardware problem in a brand new computer.)  Turns out that my new CPU, the Intel I7 920, runs a wee bit hot.  Almost hot enough to boil water.  Seriously. 

A little investigating revealed that the heatsink and fan Intel ships with the I7 chips is not capable of cooling these chips.  The solution: buy a better heatsink/fan.  More waiting, more hardware to install, more tests to perform.

And then there were the endless days (yes, days) trying to coax recalcitrant data off the failed mirror drive.  Even though I could see the primary drive at this point, some of its files had been damaged.  This meant I needed to get whatever I could off the failed mirror. 

The process of getting that frackin’ drive to hand over its data was akin to wrestling a greased warthog from hell.  I was unable to get everything off it, but I got copies of all the files I really care about.  (Such as the latest  copies of all my writings.)

On top of all this was other problems that demanded I switch from focusing on my computer to working on other issues.  Most notable, my mother and niece both had (unrelated) major computer problems at the same time which required my help to solve.   This included fighting nastiest virus/spyware I have ever personally encountered.

And Now?

Finally, last night, everything began working like it was suppose to in the first place.  The new heatsink is keeping the CPU nice and cool, Windows boots up quickly and without warnings of screeching beeps, and  (most importantly) all my data looks to be intact.

I still have a lot of work to do on the computer.  A long list of software need to be installed, and I need to look into some kind of online backup service so I won’t have to deal with the fear of losing everything ever again.  But as of this moment, for the first time in a month, my system is stable and reliable, and my data is safe and secure.  The situation isn’t perfect, but it is a damn site better than is was a couple of days ago.