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Hard disk scavenger

What is your worst digital nightmare? Without doubt it is a hard disk crash that can completely disrupt your life, financial records, and even your entertainment in the form of songs and movies.

So how does one deal with this potentially dreaded disaster? There are two possible ways a hard drive can become corrupt. One is a hardware failure — when something mechanically goes wrong within the drive. The other is a logical failure — the drive physically works, but data on the drive are corrupted (this can be caused by viruses or a corrupt file).

Hardware drive failures are by far more difficult to retrieve data from, but logical failures, while not easy, are recoverable through third-party software, or costly services that specialise in data recovery. Either way, there is no guarantee that you can get your data back completely.

Here, I should warn you that if the data are extremely important to you do not attempt to recover them yourself. You might end up damaging the drive further. You need to take your hard drive to experts and, believe me, it will be a very costly affair.

However, I have discovered something free that Windows users cannot do without. Knoppix is a Free and Open Source Live Linux CD. Knoppix is a Linux distribution that boots and runs completely from CD. It includes recent Linux software and desktop environments, with programs such as OpenOffice.org, Abiword, The Gimp, Konqueror, Mozilla, Apache, PHP, MySQL and hundreds of other quality open source programs.

Knoppix allows you to restore corrupted system files. Using this I was able to instruct someone on how to replace a deleted explorer.exe on a Windows XP installation which was preventing Windows from booting. One of the most useful aspects is the ability to boot Knoppix and access a Windows hard drive to back up or retrieve important data. This is useful when you cannot boot into Windows because a virus, malware, or user mistake has rendered the hard drive inaccessible. This is by far the best way to get data back from a crashed hard drive. By using Knoppix you can safely back up your data before your disk blows everything away.

With the Resize Windows Partitions there is no need to purchase a third party tool like Partition Magic if you need to reconfigure your hard drive partitions. Likewise, the Clone Hard Drives makes it easy for users to back up an entire hard drive, or migrate to a new larger one without the use of third party software that needs to be paid for.

Windows users can also scan their machine for viruses offline (with Linux running from the CD), without fear of infecting the machine further, infecting other machines on the network, or sending keystrokes (and passwords) to someone else. You can also download patches from Microsoft’s website and put them on the Windows partition so that you can apply them from within Windows when you are not connected on the network. This is useful because a freshly installed Windows XP machine, on an unprotected network — like those that exist in most users homes — can be infected in just a few minutes.

There are also some very unconventional methods to get your data back.

Freezing the drive: You can place the hard drive in a sealed bag and leave it in the freezer for a few hours. This can work for some types of problems, but I would only perform this as the last resort.

Positional change: Placing the drive in different positions can also help. Some drives read only when placed upside down or placed on their side. If you get the drive to read, but it begins to overheat while recovering the data, it can be very helpful to cool it down. You could use an ice pack or a fan as long as you are extremely careful not to introduce any moisture, condensation or water which can destroy the drive.

If you get the drive working but start running into errors while copying the data, you might want to try a free program called “Unstoppable Copy” which will continue copying files even when it encounters a bad file. This can be really helpful especially for copying large picture or music folders that have a few corrupted files in them.

Send in your computer- related problems to askdoss@abpmail.com. The solutions will appear soon.


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