This is your bi-annual reminder about regular diagnostics and backup procedures.
“Jeez, Unca Kurt! That’s boring!”
Sorry, chirren. This is Important Stuff.
This past weekend, I was thankful I had taken my own advice.
About 2 weeks ago, during my regularly scheduled diagnostics run, the program (the HP-supplied Hardware Diagnostics Tool, powered by PC-Doctor), the tests reported errors on my main hard drive. Specifically, it was an HD521-2W error code which meant (I learned, after a quick search) that IO errors were occurring on the main partition.
Translation: my C: drive was dying.
The benefit of performing regular diagnostics on your computer is that you can learn about these things prior to their reaching critical mass. Had I simply plonked along, the IO errors would have gotten worse and worse, until one day the system simply would not have run. As it was, some critical Windows systems files had already been corrupted.
I had time, but not much. I investigated my options which were: (a) buy a new computer, or (b) buy a new hard drive. The first option meant the better part of a thousand dollars, and the second meant only about $100. Both options meant a large chunk of my time, so, since the computer was only 3 years old, I went with option (b).
I spent the interim time making several attempts to recover the critical files, scrub out the bad sectors in the HDD, and pick the brains of my best and brightest for advice. When all the results were in, the answer was pretty clear: Ye’re fooked.
There are several tasks you can do to prepare for this sort of breakdown. Here they are, in order of descending importance.
Beep Beep Beep
That’s the sound of a truck, backing up. Get it?
Yes, regularly scheduled backups are THE most important thing you can do. After all, you can reinstall any program you have (or should be able to), but you can’t recreate all your personal data. So, regular backups are critical, and they should be backed up on something other than your main hard drive.
I backup my personal files to external drives. I have a Click-Free drive, which has a built-in, platform-independent backup and restore program. I also have a removable hard drive, and an external hard drive. I have reminders to do weekly backups to the Click-Free and removable HDD, and monthly backups to the external HDD which I keep offsite. I do not backup to the Cloud; I don’t trust it, and I have sensitive information I don’t want “out there.”
Set up a regular backup of your pictures, your documents, your videos. Keep at least one copy of your backup off-site, in case of fire or theft.
Windows has the capability to create restore points and system images.
You can use a restore point to back-out of a bad install, so it’s a good habit to set a restore point prior to installing any new program. Don’t delete your restore points unless you have to; you might not realize the problems of a bad install right away, as sometimes a program will conflict with another program you don’t use as often.
You can also create a system image. A system image has all the files needed to install your operating system, and can be used to repair files that have become corrupted.
My system is an HP Pavilion, and it comes with the ability to create recovery disks. Recovery disks are similar to a system image in that you can use them to fix problems. But whereas a system image can fix Windows files in situ, a recovery disk is used to reset the computer to its factory settings. Yup, back to Square One.
As any Windows user knows, sometimes the best solution is a “clean install.” Over the years, updates and installs can corrupt or confuse the registry, programs can step on each other, upgrades can leave orphaned images behind, etc., etc. A set of recovery disks will put everything back to the way it was when you brought the machine home for the first time. This means you have to reinstall everything, but only everything you use, and not everything you’ve ever used. Chances are, if you take the time to do this, the machine will run faster and cleaner. It’s work, though, so be prepared.
Check Under the Hood
As I said earlier, regular diagnostics can alert you to imminent hardware failures and can also point out conflicts or problems with drivers, systems software, etc. Most major PCs come with some sort of diagnostic software, but you can get other suites that will do the same.
Set them up, and schedule them to run regularly. Monthly should be frequent enough.
If you take the time and care to set these things up, when things get pear-shaped (and it’s when, not if), you’ll be ready.
- Your regular backups will allow you to restore lost or corrupted files
- Your restore point will let you back out a dubious install
- Your system image will help you fix corrupted system files
- Your recovery disks will enable you to do a complete “do over” on your system, and start from a clean slate
- Your regular diagnostics will alert you to issues when they’re small, giving you time to react
Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.