| By Fred Langa |
Having hard-drive trouble? Don’t panic! Odds are, there’s a fix.
If the CPU is your PC’s brain, then the hard drive is its heart, pumping necessary data throughout your system. Hard drive troubles are the PC equivalent of a heart attack, but the tips below will ensure that your data has a long life!
When to put your drive in the freezer
Unbelievable! It’s been a month, and the reader e-mails are still coming in about heat and cold, and their effects on various storage media. We first discussed “How to predict CDR and DVD-R longevity” in the Feb. 8 issue. We continued with “CD-Rs don’t survive freezing temperatures” in the Feb. 22 issue, and “Cold weather can damage hard drives” in the Mar. 1 issue. We then ran “Worldwide responses to CD longevity” in the Mar. 15 issue, which covered data tapes and flash drives.
But, there’s more — as this reader note from Ken Stewart suggests — beginning with a way that extreme cold can actually benefit an ailing hard drive:
- “Your article on hard drives having issues with cold temps brought to mind an old wives’ tale about freezing a bad hard drive, then trying to get it to work for one last time. This was a last-ditch effort to get a bad drive to come back to life one last time. I guess that was not a good idea after all. Do you know of any last-ditch method for getting a drive to come back from the dead?”
Clearly, these fixes run the risk of further damaging a drive. They truly are last-ditch efforts to be called upon only when you’ve already tried the normal drive fixes without success and have nothing left to lose. (We’ll come back to this in a moment.)
The freezing trick sometimes works because the mechanical contraction/expansion may help free up binding parts. Other times, the cold can help an aging, failingelectrical component to remain within specs for at least a few minutes — perhaps enough time for you to recover your essential data from the drive.
Here’s how the freezing trick works:
Take the dying, otherwise-irreparable hard drive out of your computer, and place it a Ziploc bag (to help minimize condensation on the drives). Put the bagged drive in a freezer for several hours. Then, working fast, take the drive out, remove the bag, and reconnect the chilled drive to the PC. If the drive spins up and seems to be working, get your essential data off the drive as fast as you possibly can.
The best option for this is to selectively copy portions of the dying drive to a new drive. Start with the most essential folder trees (My Documents, for example), and then copy increasingly less important folders as the drive warms up. Odds are, the drive will again become erratic or fail. But, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to squeeze one last brief use from it.
The above method can work, but it’s classification as a "last-ditch effort" begs the question: What are the front-line techniques? Glad you asked! Here’s a series of articles I wrote that will walk you through a whole range of proven techniques for resurrecting a dead hard drive (including the in-the-freezer trick mentioned above):
Dead Drive Fix
Hard Drive Repair Options (Part One)
Hard Drive Repair Options (Part Two)
More Dead Drive Fixes
Finally, a gem: 200 ways to revive a hard drive. It’s from TechRepublic, and you have to register (free) to download it. But between that and the four items mentioned above, you’ll be well-equipped to handle just about any hard-drive problem you may encounter!
How to stop repetitive patch-update offers
Ever had Windows Update repeatedly offer you the same patch again and again, even after you’ve downloaded and installed it? Reader Rick Framme finds himself frustrated by this problem:
- “Help! My Sony VAIO laptop gets repeated automatic updates for KB 924885: Windows Outlook E-mail Junk Filter. I keep installing it, and have even run IE 7 Windows Update to ensure the update registers, but I can’t find that number in my Add/Remove Programs list, so it seems the install hasn’t worked.”
It’s actually not that hard to fix, but the explanation takes some space. Rather than eat up the rest of this issue on that one topic, please allow me to point you to Web sites with the information you seek. The Windows Update Resource Page has an enormous number of tips relating to specific update problems, but the information at the top of the page is rather dated. Instead, scroll two-thirds of the way down the page to the text section that appears after the list of links. Try steps I-V. I’ll bet that will fix what’s blocking your update.
If this doesn’t work, try cleaning out any reference to the failed install in the C:WUtemp folder. Then manually download and install the troublesome file. See How to download updates and drivers from the Windows Update Catalog. You can also try the Windows Update Troubleshooter, especially if you have a specific error message to look up.
Find out what’s bogging down your PC
Reader Les Griffin’s PC is running with the brakes on, and he’s looking for a fix:
- “Recently, our Windows PC suffered a flat battery on the ASUS A7N8X-X motherboard. When I booted up with the flat battery, I used the option to set the BIOS settings to their default values to enable the system to run. Since replacing the battery, the PC seems to be running slow.
“Question: Is there a program that will check the hardware against the BIOS settings and advise the user of the most suitable BIOS settings?”
Now, to address the problem at hand. Most modern BIOSes offer several built-in default settings, usually labeled something like “Safe,” “Normal,” and “Optimal.” The Safe setting almost always works, but disables most or all advanced and speed-enhancing features.
You can think of this as the hardware equivalent of Windows’ Safe Mode. The Normal setting uses the most common enhancements, but doesn’t push the hardware to its limits; this is often the Default setting, which you say you enabled, Les. The Optimal setting turns on most or all of the motherboard’s advanced features and speed enhancements. If your BIOS offers the Optimal settings, your first step might be to try them rather than the normal or default settings, which may indeed be slower than what you’re used to.
If none of the built-in settings give you the performance you seek, then you may have to try making individual adjustments. Two of the more common problem areas affecting a PC’s speed are the CPU Multiplier and the speed of the front side bus (FSB). Getting these speeds wrong can do anything from drastically slowing down your PC to even preventing it from working altogether.
If you need to adjust these speeds (i.e., if none of the built-in, preset values work), your best bet may be to contact ASUS tech support and simply ask them to tell you what the correct settings are. The ASUS support page is a little hard to find, but I located it for you here.
If that doesn’t work, or as a parallel inquiry, check out your favorite search engine and fire up your newsgroup reader to see what other people with the same setup are using. For example, a group of Microsoft Certified System Engineers have created their own, independent online discussion board that already has a section on ASUS problems, such as this thread.
The “overclocking” crowd (users who push their PCs to speeds beyond what the manufacturer intended) can also be a rich resource for motherboard and BIOS information. For instance, Overclock.net has more than 425 discussion items on motherboards alone.
Surely, one of those resources will get you going again!
Does Vista really need 4GB of RAM?
Reader Paul was alarmed at what he recently read in a computer magazine:
- “What do you think of this Computerworld article? Is 4GB RAM what Vista really needs?”
For Vista, Microsoft says you need at least an 800MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and a graphics processor that’s at least DirectX 9 compatible. Vista will indeed run on such a system, but you won’t enjoy the experience. You’ll also lose key features of Vista, such as the new interface.
Microsoft’s “recommended” standard — including a 1GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, a graphics card with at least 128 MB of video RAM, a WDDM driver, and 32 bits/pixel output — is a more realistic minimum for real-life use, where you’d actually be trying to be productive with Vista. A system like this should allow all the key components of Vista to load and run. But even then, a “recommended” hardware standard is not the same as an “optimal” setup.
Many pundits recommend at least 2GB of RAM, which was a sweet spot for XP. Vista is larger and more complex than XP, so it will not run as well on 2GB as XP does. Nevertheless, many users will find Vista’s performance perfectly acceptable in this range.
That’s where the 4GB recommendations come in. All the 32-bit versions of Vista can handle up to 4GB of RAM (the 64-bit versions can handle more). So, the reasoning goes, you might as well throw in as much RAM as Vista will allow. That way, you’ll have access to all of the new operating system’s features with no performance loss compared to XP.
So, does Vista really need 4GB? No. Vista will run in a limited way with as little as 512MB. It will run passingly with 1GB, and fairly well with 2GB. But, if you’re looking to get as much out of Vista as it has to offer, then yes, you need 4GB of RAM.
Fred Langa is editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others. He edited the LangaList e-mail newsletter from 1997 to 2006, when it merged with Windows Secrets.
The following LangaList Plus tips are in today’s paid newsletter:
• When should you load new software?
• Update reads legacy help files in Vista
• Getting HyperTerminal back into Vista
• MSN Messenger Sidebar widget for Vista
• More about monitoring children’s Internet usage
• How to understand Windows system services