As a special welcome home, Helaine’s computer decided to suffer a near death experience today. It was one of those things that can happen to anyone.
She turned on the computer, but forgot to plug it in the wall. Having been away for nearly two weeks, and with an elderly battery, there wasn’t more than a minute or two of juice. It was just enough to allow it to die while booting!
When she plugged the laptop in and tried to boot again, it got to the first Windows ‘splash screen’, churned its disk drive for a while, briefly flashed a ‘Blue Screen of Death,’ and began the boot cycle all over again. Uh oh!
I was called in for my technical expertise. You like to think in a situation like this you can just boot to the ‘Safe Mode,’ restore the computer to an earlier time, and merrily resume computing.
If only it were that easy.
Attempting to get to the ‘Safe Mode’ produced exactly the same result. I told Helaine it was possible her emails and bookmarks, the things she really wanted, might be gone. she wasn’t thrilled.
I called for tech support – my friends Peter and Kevin. They had some suggestions and I plowed on.
With Windows XP you should be able to put the original Windows installation CD in the disk drive and watch it repair itself. Good idea, but it didn’t work.
Since the ‘splash screen’ came up, I assumed the drive wasn’t a total failure. Maybe there was a way to read this laptop drive in my desktop?
They are normally incompatible, but sure enough, there was a cable for sale at CompUSA to allow them to talk. I’m trying to think if there are any good circumstances when you’d want this little device? No.
This was too easy. It’s a 25 minute drive to CompUSA and the cable was around $8… and they had it in stock¹!
In order to use it, I had to remove the drive from Helaine’s laptop, physically open my desktop’s case, free up an IDE port (I unplugged the CD and DVD drives), hook everything up and fire up the PC.
I crossed my fingers and pressed the button.
My desktop booted very slowly, as if it knew it was entering uncharted waters. Finally it flashed a screen saying the “H” drive (that was where the laptop drive ended) needed to be checked.
I gave my permission and watched the errors fly. Four clusters were unreadable, an index file was wrong, some corrections were made and a small section of the disk was being marked as bad. It was bad, but it could have been much worse.
When Windows finally finished its booting, I tried to move all of Helaine’s files to my PC for safekeeping, but got an error message. What had looked promising a few seconds ago now looked bleak.
Kevin suggested I just take the semi-repaired drive out of my PC and put it back in the laptop. I did, booted, and watched the disk warning again – this time with a few different files.
Then a strange thing happened… the laptop finished its disk check, ran through its boot sequence and worked! Helaine was overjoyed.
You know, in the movies the geek never gets the girl. Maybe we should?
¹ – Interestingly enough, there were two of the needed cables on a hook at CompUSA. The one in front had obviously been used and poorly repackaged. I passed on it for the other. The next purchaser gets to be their guinea pig.