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    Weighing up the tech value of an ounce of prevention

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver March 18-24, 2008; issue 960

    High Tech Office column

    In my home office, computer disasters often seem to happen in twos. A few issues ago, I wrote about how my Mac had stopped working – a problem that was relatively easily solved using Apple’s new Time Machine backup utility. Within a week, though, my Windows XP desktop system started running slower and slower. Sometimes operations would just grind to a halt, requiring a restart.

    These sorts of issues can be problematic. Hardware or software? If hardware, the faulty component might be the relatively cheap and easy to replace power supply. Or the motherboard that connects all the various components. Inconsistent voltage from old household wiring causes more computer problems than is generally recognized. In my case, though, it turned out that the hard drive was failing. I popped in a new hard drive, reinstalled XP, and the computer ran as fast and reliably as the day it was new.

    By then, though, it was too late to back up the data on the old drive. A Google search for “hard drive recovery software” brought up links for a variety of products – typical price around $50. Most let you download them and give them a trial run to see what they might recover if you bought them. But none of the test runs looked promising.

    On the page of Google hits, however, was an ad for a Vancouver-based data recovery service. I’d heard that such services were expensive, but could often successfully recover data from crashed or damaged hard drives. Data Recovery Pro, with offices in Burrard Street’s Marine Building, promised free estimates, so I dropped off the drive.
    A followup call discussed what sort, and how much data I hoped to recover, and quoted me a price. I was asked to provide a new working drive at least as large as the crashed one. Apparently they disassemble the non-functioning drive as part of the process of recovering the data.

    A week later (I didn’t need rush service), I got back both drives. I was pleasantly surprised. The new drive had a folder on it with my name. Inside it was what seemed to be the entire contents of the original drive: all files with the original names, as neatly organized in folders as they had been. And while I had been warned to expect to find the old drive in pieces, it had been reassembled and apparently was back up and running with all the data accessible on it as well.

    I plugged the new drive into my external case, and copied all the data files back onto the computer. It’s chugging away happily, and now has all the data back.

    And hopefully I’ve had an expensive reminder. Hard drives fail. Data Recovery Pro recovered my data far more successfully than I would have imagined. But it was time consuming and not cheap.

    External hard drives in the 320- to 500-gigabyte range are widely available for under $200. They easily plug into a USB port, requiring no fancy installation (though you don’t want to use the slow USB 1.1 ports on older systems); more sophisticated models include an Ethernet port for connection on a network, allowing them to be used to backup several workstations. Many come with backup software; if not, google Cobian Backup. There are flavours for all common Windows versions, it works well and it’s free.

    Did your mother say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Your mother was right. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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