Troubleshooting Hard Disk Problems – The Curse of Beginner’s Luck
Beginner’s luck is a curse. Winning the first bet lures you into believing that you are a brilliant gambler (I know, because I have been there). In the case of hard disks, my beginner’s luck lasted for 15 years; during that time I never lost so much as a cluster, consequently I began to believe in my disks’ immortality.
You knew it would end in tears, and in the last two years I have suffered two disk failures, so now I am humbled, and at last I truly understand the odds of disk failure. The other side of this success / failure coin is that we only truly learn through making mistakes.
Guy’s Disk Recovery Mission
As ever, my mission is to help you learn from my blunders. I also want to give you hope that while it may look like your server is completely dead, with a few tricks you may be able to resuscitate the operating system until the cavalry arrive with a new disk.
My solutions are not always orthodox. However, the oldest, and the best computing troubleshooting tip is still – ‘Read the screen’. This has extra resonance when you write down the precise error message and type it into your favourite search engine. If someone somewhere has not seen a similar message, you have mistyped the words!
The Root Cause
Day-to-day I work with Vista and Server 2008, but I still have a few roles for a Windows Server 2003 machine, such as email server. One day I noticed that my old W2K3 machine suddenly rebooted. Guy ignored it. However it kept on happening at irregular problems, thus I thought I better investigate.
My first piece of evidence for a disk problem came from the System Log,
Furthermore, when I was sitting at the server I heard an unusual disk ‘clunk’, followed by a keyboard and mouse freeze, finally a blue screen. If you are ever unfortunate enough to see one of these viscous blue screen of death messages, have the presence of mind to write down the first eight-digit hex number; you can then research it using your favourite search engine. For example,
Just to reinforce the point that this is a disk problem, I also ran the command-line program chkdsk, it said: 32 KB in bad blocks, it does not sound much, but a) it was previously only 8 KB, and b) this is a figure where you need zero tolerance. Once a disk goes, bad it only ever gets worse.
When looking for the root cause, beware of coincidences and avoid wishful thinking, those are two of your worst enemies when troubleshooting. To digress, my mate ‘Barking Eddie’ thinks that I just swallowed a manual and regurgitated it here. Not so. A few anecdotes should convince you that I have ‘been through the mill’ trying to hang on running a machine with faulty disk.
My wishful thinking was that hoovering the dust from inside my computer’s case and pushing in the disk connectors extra tight had cured my problem.
Nasty Boot Messages
Sometimes my Windows computer just rebooted, on other occasions the operating system reported that it could not find one of the following:
Solutions for Windows Booting Problems
The obvious solution was to replace the disk. However, since the machine was four years old and was not up to spec for Server 2008, I thought it would be better to replace the server. Unfortunately it took ten days for the new machine to arrive, meanwhile I had an exciting journey flying on wing and a prayer. Here are the techniques that I used to keep the server running until its replacement arrived.
Two Related Troubleshooting Tools
A second, or parallel operating system does not have to be the same as the original, in fact XP may be a good choice because it will boot faster. The benefit compared with cmdcons (CD Repair) is that you can see the files in explorer. In addition, you can not only use the Disk Manager to see which partitions are still there, but also you can experiment with different active partitions.
Two Repair Options
A) Repair (CMDCONS) Command Console. This point of this option is that it dumps you at a command line so that you can copy files and stop services that maybe hanging. The trick is you need the administrator’s password, the one you gave during the installation, but have probably forgotten. The other strange feature is where the console asks you to press 1) to select the operating system, if you don’t read the screen or understand the need to press numeric one, that particular screen can drive you around in circles.
B) The other ‘Repair’ is a variation of ‘Upgrade’. This is an option that you get when you boot from original CD, and then run setup. This technique looks very much like an install, the difference is that leaves all the old files that are intact, and just ‘repairs’ by copying new versions of corrupted files. It is tricky sequence because it looks like a fresh install, even to the point of asking for the Product Key.
Cannot Find Configuration File
The point is that ‘system’ is not a folder but a file full of configuration data. Fortunately, there is a replacement in the \Windows\Repair folder. Beware, this will replace your present configuration with the one that Windows made just after installation, thus you could lose an awful lot of configuration data.
Launch the Recovery Console and type these commands to replace these configuration files.
Avoid Fools Gold
A fool and their money are soon parted. Whenever you search for solutions to your disk or other computer problems, you soon stumble across all manner of programs claiming to have the magic bullet to return your computer to its former glory. Be very wary, I have even been caught with trial versions that are very difficult to get rid of when I found they were useless. My friend ‘Mad Mick’ once got caught with paying $25 not just once, but they surreptitiously signed him to paying $25 every month.
To take an example, with disk failure you may get corrupted files and cyclic redundancy check faults. It looks like you cannot copy, delete, or copy over a particular file. As usual there are programs claiming to help you, whereas all you really need is the built-in command del /f troublesome.file (f for force).
Tools4Ever – The Real Deal
After that dire warning it would seem impossible to recommend a computer utility! The difference with Tools4Ever is that I have been advertising them for 4 years, they have free trials of pretty much everything, they uninstall no problem, and no reader has ever complained that they have been ripped off.
Tired of writing scripts? The User Management Resource Administrator solution by Tools4ever offers an alternative to time-consuming manual processes.
It features 100% auto provisioning, Helpdesk Delegation, Connectors to more than 130 systems/applications, Workflow Management, Self Service and many other benefits. Click on the link for more information onUMRA.
Summary of Troubleshooting Hard Disk
The best help that I can give you is belief. While your disk maybe damaged, with skill and patience you may still be able to boot the operating system, and thus struggle on until you get a new disk.
Begin your troubleshooting by recording the precise reason why the machine won’t boot, then research those precise words in your favourite search engine. My final message is to open your mind to a variety of work-arounds, for example, installing a parallel operating system. See more about disk performance.
Will and Guy’s Humour
This week Will and Guy are checking out the bikes at theTour de France.
Lots of useful disk and file articles