Hard Drive Hell

Things have slowed to a crawl around Nuketown, and I can blame a lot of that on two failing computers.

The first to go was Sue’s Vaio, which had been freezing up and hibernating unexpectedly since the day she first powered it up. Within the last few weeks however, things got much worse; where as before it might crash once a week, it was no crashing at least once a day.

A few days spent talking with Sony customer support didn’t solve the problem, and even the ultimate fix of wiping the hard drive and re-installing the initial configuration accomplished nothing. After that final try, Sony relented and agreed to take the computer into their lab for repair.

This is about the point where I make some snide comment about the superiority of Macs. And I would … if my PowerMac wasn’t also in the shop.

I’d had a nagging suspicion that it was in trouble — the hard drive had been making … unnatural … noises. Then, shortly after the Vaio went south, and when my guild was trying or organize a run through World of Warcraft’s “Ragefire Chasm” instance, it died. Fortunately I was able to get it up and running long enough to offload all of my data, and after a two nights on the phone with Apple Support, I convinced them that yes, the hard drive really was dying. So now the Vaio’s winging its way back to California via FedEx, and the PowerMac is waiting for “triage” (Apple’s actual term, taken from the “repair status page”) at the Bridgewater Apple Store.

Losing Half a Brain

Losing the PowerMac is a hell of a blow — it’s my workhorse machine, the one that I use for most of my writing and all of my podcasts. Without it, I’m limping along on my old iBook, which barely has enough hard drive space to record the podcast, and I’ve got 75% of my files — everything from my freelance work to my e-mail to my campaign notes — burned to DVD archives …and thus inaccessible.

It’s like losing half my brain — I had all this information squirreled away, and now it’s all out of reach … at least until the PowerMac arrives home a week or so from now. Only a week … but I think it’s going to be a damn long week.

Lessons Learned

I’ve learned a few lessons from all this. First off, in a world in which we’ve got 180-200 gigabyte hard drives, DVDs just don’t cut it for back up. Oh they’ll work just fine for doing a simple documents back up, but when you’re talking digital audio or video, you’re looking at spending several hours burning DVDs. It’s horribly inefficient, and while it was an important task, it’s one that could have gone much easier. That’s why I’m on the look out for a FireFire/USB 2.0 external hard drive — probably with around 250 gb — that I can use to back up the PowerMac and the Vaio. Yeah, it’ll still take time to back up to a hard drive, and yes, biannual updates to other media will still be necessary, but I figure that drive will still pay for itself in no time.

Second, make sure you’ve got a backup plan and that the plan is current. I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my essential files archived, but I had no idea how long it would take to back up the entire PowerMac.

And finally, at least in this case, getting the extended warranty on the PowerMac was worth it. It cost me about $150 or so (it was a few years ago, so I’m not sure on the exact number). Having Apple do all the repair work to verify the problem and then replace the drive would have cost $389. I might have been able to replace the hard drive myself for less … if it was the hard drive. But having Apple do it is a heck of a lot easier.