Oh, how I wish that I had heeded my own suggestions for your concern. Along about a week or so before Christmas, I discovered that my backup was not working properly. It had worked before, and somehow it turned to mush. I put off the major chore, realizing that I didn’t really have the time, and besides, I’d never had a major crash before… what made me think something like this would happen anytime soon.
Friday, January 6, I awoke to see that my computer rebooted in the middle of the night, and was having some problems. No matter… it’s in the PC Recovery, and it’ll just solve itself. I’ve seen that before, and everything will be alright… yes? I arrived home, and the system was at the POST… Power On Self Test, and it was telling me that the drive was in imminent danger of self immolation, and that my information was doomed if I didn’t do something right away…
In the immortal words of Luke from Empire Strikes Back… NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
CES was the following week, and I knew things were going to be busy. I didn’t have the time for troubleshooting, for determining exactly how bad this was. Of all weeks… but I spent the better portion of Saturday the 7th, alternating between weeping, terror, and diagnosis. It wasn’t good. By mid-day, I knew that I had a better chance of being elected President of the United States, than solving this on my own. So, I sent the drive out to a hard drive recovery place. $885 and 10 days later, I was back on track to load my information. This is a brief tale of the journey back to civilization…
OK, so the first thing that we have to do is address the rebuild of the system. It’s not pleasant, but it has to be done. Many manufacturers have a nice neat recovery partition, and I specifically asked the folks at the drive recovery place to restore the partition onto a dedicated hard drive… the new one. The data was going to go on a new external hard drive that I had already purchased to store the data that was recovered.
So, we first recover from the hidden partition. Each manufacturer does it differently, and you can look this up in a number of places on-line. This recovery includes all of the drivers from the original installation, the basic Windows program, additional programs that you may or may not want, and so forth. It returns the system to the condition in which you purchased the computer. Sometimes the manufacturers have DVD’s that you load, but most companies are getting away from that. Some of the “white-box” companies do create their own partition recovery systems, and there are tools out there for you to do this on your own, but they are more for the in-depth nerd than your average Joe. If you want details on one of them, drop me a line…
Now, before anything else goes wrong… protect yourself. Anti-virus software is a must. You’ve heard me say this before, but the Big 3, who each sell far more than the rest, are Norton, McAfee, and TrendMicro. Pick one of them, and put it on your computer ASAP. If you don’t have one… ahem… you run the risk of repeating this chore again very soon. Anti-Malware, Anti-Virus, Internet Protection, whatever they call it, you want the one that will handle everything that the bad guys will throw at you. The expense is well worth it, as without one of these programs, you’ll be forking over twice that to the nerds when they remove the virus from your computer.
If you are connecting to the Internet with broadband, tthen you most definitely need a broadband router to act as your firewall. This is a must as well, and it allows you to add more computers to your network. If it’s a laptop, you can consider something like ZoneAlarm Free firewall software, and I suggest it strongly for those who are on the go about town.
Take this moment too, to check your password strategy. Do you remember all of your passwords? If you don’t, then you’ve got a building problem. Check out a software like LastPass, which remembers your passwords, user logins, etc, and it’ll keep you safe from those “senior moments”. Too many people rely on one password, and now, while your working on cleaning things up, move to something like LastPass, and get yourself on multiple passwords that are hard to guess.
Check with your manufacturer, as well as the manufacturer of key components in your computer (if it’s a white box, or if you’ve made upgrades). You want to be running the latest public versions of your video drivers, your DVD drivers, Ethernet card, and so forth. It’s something that takes a little while, but it may have your computer running even better than when you first bought it, so take the time to do this right. These drivers work as the intermediary between your computer and software, and help keep things running smoothly. A driver update on your computer may make the difference between a program running halfway decent, and awesome. If you’re running the old drivers, then they lack the fixes and updates. It’s just like the next step.
Windows Update and Patches
Now that you’ve completed the first few steps, let’s start securing your computer down. Run Windows Update, and get all of the patches. Reboot. Repeat. Do this until there are no more patches to download. This step takes a matter of a couple of hours on some systems, so don’t get wild. Just work the process towards a safe recovery. These patches secure your computer from all of the bad stuff that gets thrown at it, but also improve some of the operation of the computer.
Next, install Microsoft Office, or your particular office suite, and run the update process again. Microsoft Update is what you use for Microsoft Office, and it can be run at the same time with Windows Update, but I like to keep the tasks separate for this rebuild process. Nothing solid, just a suspicion that it works better. Update it all, check it out, and make sure it’s running clean.
Take this opportunity to create a Restore Point, as you are going to be chomping at the bit to get operational now. As time goes by, you’re going to be excited, and want to clear some of these things away too quickly, and mistakes will be made. Instead, take your time, and create additional Restore Points after every few programs. These Restore Points allow you to back up a few steps and undo problems before they bury your system.
Now, if you do this like I do, then you’ll be ahead of the game the next time you have a problem. First, create a folder on your desktop which will contain every software that you install on your system after this point. This is a big thing, and will save you lots of time. You’ll remember what you installed, and you’ll be ready to tackle other problems before they get too big on your next restore. You can also download multiple programs into this directory, and install them a few at a time, creating restore points and rebooting as needed. So what goes here? Everything you reinstall… all of your downloads go here, and I even place shortcuts here to get the updated files for the next reinstall. I also make notations in txt files, so that I know of issues in regards to the installation, and more. Document your installation keys while you have them out, and you’re doing the work the first time, and it’ll make your next time a breeze.
Backup that Install directory to an external hard drive or large thumb drive, and place it in a safe spot. If you have the space on your hard drive, then you can keep it in a safe spot, but this backup is what speeds your recovery next time. But don’t stop there.
I learned this the hard way, as my backup failed, and I decided to drag my feet. Make backups. Backups are your friend. Backups are the difference between a few hours of madness, and a few weeks of forking over money to other people. I was set back about $1000 overall, as well as 20-30 hours of time that I could have used elsewhere. It wasn’t pretty, and I don’t want to do it again. I’m making backups to a new backup hard drive, and I’m ensuring that nothing get’s lost. I’m changing how I backup key information, and I’m making sure that multiple locations store the data that I need at hand at all times. You need to review the exact same thing, or you may be in the same boat that I was.