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Hard Disk Recovery (or “what a way to spend a weekend”)

Last weekend, I had a hard disk failure on one of my external drives. It was kind of frustrating, but I have recovered data from a failed disk before. Of course, the corruption occurred late at night, and just after I had archived some data off my Shuttle XPC. Note I had "archived", not "backed up" so I really did need to get it back.This is an external enclosure made by Welland ME-740 Classic with a Seagate 160GB drive with USB2.0 and Firewire connectivity to my Shuttle XPC. I had it connected to the Shuttle via the firewire port.

First up I ran Chkdsk and it fixed up some errors and I was away again. But not for long. Soon the entire disk was unreadable!

Given the suspected disk crash, I turned to a product called SpinRite, which although required a bootable CD to run in DOS mode to directly access the disk, did its job of scanning the disk. Mind you, I had to remove the disk from the external enclosure and plug it into the PC's IDE port, because the standard bootable SpinRite disk did not include firewire or USB drivers.

SpinRite reported not a single physical problem with the disk. Of course it didn't. It was a Seagate disk.

OK, so my efforts now needed to shift to Data Recovery, not disk recovery. So after a quick Google search I settled on a product called GetDataBack, since that is what I wanted to do, and it allowed a free trial. It was reasonably priced assuming the scan that it performed (free) found the data that you wanted to recover. Nice trick that - holding me to ransom. But it worked, and it worked well. I have no idea whether it is the best product on the market, but it did what it said it would do.

So, the disk was ok, I had the ability to recover my data, and all I needed was somewhere to put it. I brought my other Archive disk home from work the next day and late that night proceeded to recover all my data. It was at the point of verifying that I had recovered everything that I needed that the other disk failed. Same thing.

OK. I get it. Disk not a problem. Computer a problem. Or at least the connection between the computer and the external enclosure was a problem. This other disk had been working at work for months, so I was pretty confident that it was ok, so I think it had something to do with the firewire port on the Shuttle.

But these enclosures were USB2.0 as well, so I started up GetDataBack again on the other drive and waited to see how I went.

I also had another problem to solve. I now had well over 200GB of data to recover off two disks.

With my heart in my mouth, I purchased yet another enclosure and hard disk.

To cut a long story short, I was able to recover well over 95% of the data with a couple of files corrupted beyond repair.

I also found one reference to a similar problem on the shuttle and an external drive, but as a friend pointed out this weekend, it could simply be that the firewire cable is the problem. I did use a different cable at work (it had a mini plug on one end). But, I think that I will never know, because I am quite reluctant to plug any of the drives in the firewire port...

UPDATE: Edited link to the Welland site

XP Hint:Screen refresh rate

This is a big one for me: Flickering monitors. I personally find them very annoying, but others seem to tolerate them much more than I do, but complain that their eyes are tired. Whenever I help someone out at their PC I fix their monitor refresh rate. Why is this a problem? On CRT monitors, they need to constantly refresh the screen to display the image, otherwise it fades away. If the refresh rate is too slow, under certain conditions the flicker (fade then refresh) becomes noticeable. This is particularly relevant for larger screens, and irrelevant for LCD monitors which don't have the same fade issues - if a pixel is on, it is on.

What can be done to fix it? In XP the default refresh rate is 60Hz (times per second). For high resolution GUIs something above 72Hz. But you need to make sure that your monitor can handle the higher refresh rates. XP has some neat protection to help ensure that you don't end up with a blank screen, by allowing the setting to be confirmed (or not) before it times out and reverts to the previous setting. If your monitor is correctly detected by XP then you should be pretty right.

  1. You can make the refresh rate change by going to Start > Control Panel > Display to bring up the Display Properties dialog box
  2. Select the Settings tab, and click the Advanced button - the Plug and Play Monitor Dialog box will be displayed.
  3. Depending on your video card in your PC, you may see five or six tabs on the dialog box, or there may be more than 10.
  4. In the Plug and Play Monitor dialog box, click the Monitor tab.
  5. In the Monitor Settings area, ensure that the Hide modes that this monitor cannot display checkbox is checked. This will help ensure that we don't select a refresh rate that is too high.
  6. In the Monitor Settings area, from the Screen Refresh Rate drop down list, select a refresh rate higher of 72Hz or higher.
  7. Click Apply. XP will now test the setting. If the display looks ok, click Yes to keep the settings. Generally speaking, the higher the refresh rate the better.
  8. Click OK on the Plug and Play Monitor dialog box, and the Display Properties dialog box and close the Control Panel.
  9. Finally, you may need to adjust the monitor to optimise the display height, width and positioning on the screen as the refresh rate can sometime affect these. Use the controls on the front of your monitor to make these adjustments.

You can also get information from XP help by searching for screen refresh frequency in XP's Help and Support tool available off the Start menu.

By the way, the same flicker is present in most fluorescent lights in office buildings. If you can get some natural light in, this can help ease the load on your eyes, or alternatively get an incandescent desk lamp.

Cam.