Thank you to those of you that offered such good suggestions on my recent hard disk crash.    My wife and I learned a ton and I wanted to share some of that with you. 


The Problem

On Friday morning we woke up to a bluescreen on our kitchen laptop (which is a Dell Insprion  that is exactly 1 month out of warranty).  We reboot is several times, hoping for different results...  At this point the visions of our unbacked up data dance through our heads.  We went and checked our OneCare backup and the most recent one was 6 weeks old, missing pictures from a trip to the beach, my youngest child's 2nd birthday party and the like.  Panic sets in.

We find the XP CD and boot off it into the recovery console and run chkdsk.  It fails 60% of the way in with an “The volume contains one or more unrecoverable problems”.  We repeat, make it 67% in and the same result.  Now panic really sets in.


The Solutions

1. Call an expert.  I called the nice folks at DriveSavers Data Recovery... The person I spoke with was really pleasant to talk to and clearly sounded like she knew what she was talking about.  She gave me a tip that you should not try to chkdsk more than once as it can eat good data and you should stop immediately if you hear any kind of scrapping or banging sounds (luckily I did not). She also suggested we make an image of the harddrive rather than work off the drive directly.  
We briefly considered this option, but for a few weeks worth of pictures the $500-2700 range was a bit high. She did tell me that if you are referred by a help desk (like and Dell's support center) you can get a10% discount, so it might be worthwhile to get a referral from them if you go this route.   The good news is that you pay nothing if they can get nothing, but if they can get all of what you need it will be in the "top 3rd" of that range.  Well worth it if you are really hosed I am sure, but too steep for my blood!   But if I am ever really stuck, I am going to call these guys. 


2. Get some hardware.  I have been wanting an excuse to buy some new computer toys.  On Saturday morning my wife went to Computer Stop and bought an external hard Drive enclosure.  This allowed us to take the sick drive out of the laptop and work on it from another machine.   We crossed our fingers, plugged the sick disk into the enclosure and tried to access it from another machine.. Nothing.   Next we made the trip down to Fry's and bought a 500GB external hard drive to use to store the recovery images as well as to use with our new found passion for backups ;-)    Finally, we got an USB 2.0 card for my wife's desktop computer to speed the process up considerable (USB 2.0 is about 40 times faster than USB 1.1). 

The bill so far:


$37.19    Vantec NexStar 3 3.5" SATA to eSATA / USB 2.0 External hard Drive Enclosure
$169.99  Maxtor U01H500 Basics Personal Storage 3200 500GB External Hard Drive with USB Interface
$17.99     4 Port PCI USB 2.0 Card


3. Get some software.   We downloaded a free trial copy of GetDataBack.  I just love this program!  The pricing model is great.  You get to use the full product, create an image, recover files from that image and inspect the files in their native programs (eg open up excel files in excel).  If you are able to get what you need, then you license it otherwise you own nothing!  what a great system. 


GetDataBack took forever to create an image.. literally 14 hours for a 100GB hard disk.  The next step was to analyze those results, that only took an hour or so ;-)    We got almost all of the files but the directory structure was a mess.  We were able to fairly quickly pick through the debris to find just what we were looking for by searching for specific files types (.jpg, .doc, .xls, etc) on just the date range that was not backed up.   We were able to view the files and verify they were all there.  We then gladly paid the $79 for it and exported all our files without a problem. 


4. Get a Fresh start.  Tonight we put the sick hard disk back into the laptop to see if the hardware was salvageable.  We booted off the Vista install disk, formatted the drive and installed Vista.  Ran chkdsk again and so far so good!  I suspect we will be taking another ride down to Fry's soon to buy a new hard drive, but until then, the drive seems to be working just fine.   We also installed OneCare  (or you can get it here for the full packaged product for gifts or what not) and got our backup frequency up to "every night".    Now we are looking for a good offsite backup... any suggestions ???? ;-)


Oh, and I know some of you were worried, so here is a picture we recovered of my son's 2nd birthday party that we recovered from the crash... 

Total cost of recovery: $304.17

Pictures from my two year old's birthday:  Priceless



Thanks again for all the help!