Laptop – Faulty hard drive

An old customer from York contacted me about a laptop they had, a little over a year old (so out of warranty) and not booting. They were getting a “S.M.A.R.T” error when booting which told them to back up their data as the drive was about to fail, the machine then failed to boot.

They dropped it round my house to look at last Tuesday, so on Wednesday I set about seeing what was up. Booting the laptop gave the error they described, and I had little luck in getting it to Windows (Vista. Ugh). Once or twice it’d boot but it was extremely unreliable.

So out come the screwdrivers and out comes the sata hard-drive. I’ve got a handy little usb caddy that I use when repairing computers, it’s pretty ugly but takes IDE and SATA. Plugging that in to my main machine (a 10 year old thing, that’s far past it’s prime but is great as a file-server/general testing pc) the drive repeatedly “ticked” over. Eventually I was able to get it recognised by windows and get a couple of minutes out of it before it fell over. Not enough to do a full backup.

Being a Vista machine, and a HP (I think) at that there were no recovery discs, no CDs with it, just the recovery partition on the drive. Great(!). Cloning the drive was my preferred option, less data loss for my friends (and no faffing about re-installing everything, setting up their email, etc etc) and easier for me.

I needed to pick up a spare drive from PC World before proceeding. As a quick aside I nearly ALWAYS use PC World where possible. Their in-store prices can be a bit higher than buying elsewhere on-line but it negates waiting for delivery and their refund policy is fantastic, I’ve never had an issue taking anything back. If my customer’s happy to wait though I’ll always offer to order online.

So I needed to pick up this spare drive, which gave me a bit of time. I decided to try something that worked on an old hard-drive of mine. I popped the drive in a ziplock bag to prevent condensation and shoved it in the freezer. It stayed in there overnight, I picked up the drive from PC World the next day, got home and removed the faulty one from the freezer, getting frostburn in the process. I immediately plugged it straight in to one of the SATA ports on my main pc (I avoided using my caddy as the transfer rate is a little slower and given how unreliable the drive was I wanted to get this done as quick as possible) and plugged the new drive in to the other port and set the cloning software going immediately. The hard-drive whirred in to action and succesfully copied. Huzzah!

It then went on to fail on the recovery partition, drat. Still, not too important. I made sure the Vista partition was the primary and active and shoved it in the laptop! Success!

Then failure! It started to boot Vista then failed to locate one of the required .exe files (winboot.exe I believe). I dug out a Vista recovery cd from a previous job, put it in and set the repair going. 30 seconds later, and another reboot, and the laptop was fine. Well, as fine as a laptop running Vista can be.

Aware the recovery partition failed I made sure to burn some recovery discs out and popped them in the laptop bag in case of future problems.

My fee: £30
Hardware: £44.99

Total: £75

(Though they gave me £100, which was awfully kind).

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