Freeze Your Hard Drive

(Full disclosure: Bob at Bainbridge Computer Services showed me this trick a few years back.)

Sometimes a dead or dying hard drive can be resurrected long enough to rescue important files, or even pull a full clone.

Drives sometimes fail in a heat-related way.  Freezing and then quickly pulling off important data works in a surprisingly high percentage of cases.

I wrap a drive in plastic to prevent condensation (an anti-stat bag is preferred) and freeze it for 2 or 3 hours.  Then pull it out of the freezer and quickly attach to a computer.  If necessary, re-install it in the original host machine, but it’s better to connect via an external USB to IDE/SATA adapter so it can be kept cold longer.  Another approach is to connect to a desktop machine with the case open so the cables can be brought outside the machine.

If using an external adapter or cables to the outside, with the drive still wrapped in plastic, sandwich it between two freezer gel-packs (or bags of frozen peas) and wrap the whole mess in a towel.

If you are lucky, the drive will return to life long enough to copy the important stuff.   In the best case, you may be able to clone the drive and avoid a long re-install process.

Here’s an example of an external USB to  IDE/SATA adapter.  Most of them are USB 2.0 just now.  Since speed is of the essence, USB 3 or a direct IDE or SATA/eSATA connection would be better.

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Bainbridge Computer Services

Looking for computer support in the Bainbridge Island, WA, USA area?  Check this out.  The dude has skills.

Bainbridge Computer Services

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Notes About Laptop Drive Noise and Performance

After experimenting with three 500GB 7200RPM laptop drives for the ThinkPad T400, I’ve finally settled on one.  For now…

The StinkPad had a perfectly good 320GB 7200RPM Hitachi drive installed, but it was rapidly filling up with virtual machines.  Time for a 500GB drive.  Simple clone job using Acronis: Cloning Hard Drives With Acronis

I specifically wanted an old-style 512-bytes per sector drive to avoid possible problems with Advanced Format drives.  That didn’t actually go that well: Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive, but back to the story…

Drive number 1: Western Digital WD5000BEKT.  Performance seemed excellent but it made a maddening intermittent noise: Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh”

Drive number 2: Hitachi 0S02858.  This had been shipping as a 7K500 drive with 512-byte sectors.  Mine had the 0S02858 model number on the box but it contained a 7K750 Advanced Format drive (see “Windows Update Broken…” above).  Hitachi support says that 0S02858 model number is only guaranteed to be a 500GB 7200RPM drive, but could be either “7K” model, or even some other drive.

I got past the AF issues, but performance didn’t seem as snappy as the WD drive.  Purely subjective observation.

Drive number 3: I found a good deal on a SAMSUNG Spinpoint MP4 HM500JJ.  $50 at NewEgg.  That’s a 512-byte per sector drive.  I was hoping for better performance.  No joy there.  Subjective performance was the same as the Hitachi.  In addition, the Samsung introduced a very noticeable vibration in the StinkPad palmrest.  Some folks, with some laptops, might not find it objecionable.  I’m waaaay to picky for my own good.

As of now, I’m back to the Hitachi drive.  Its vibration level is almost imperceptible.  Performance is OK.  Advanced Format issues are solved.  And it runs a little cooler than the Samsung.

Below are the HD Tune reports for all three.

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Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive

You just migrated your system to a new hard drive by cloning or restoring a backup.  Things seem to be working, but Windows Update fails.  The error popup says that the service isn’t running but task manager says that it is.  You’ve just been bitten by the new Advanced Format (4k-byte sector) hard drives.

I recently upgraded my ThinkPad T400 (Windows 7 Pro 64) from a 320GB 7200RPM drive to a 500GB 7200RPM drive.  It was a simple process using Acronis: Cloning Hard Drives With Acronis.  I specifically shopped for an older style drive that used 512-byte sectors.

The industry is rapidly going to “Advanced Format” drives that have 4k-type sectors: Advanced Format (wikipedia).  The AF drives can cause problems with performance if their partitions aren’t correctly aligned, especially when running Windows XP.  Unfortunately, the on-line drive documentation I consulted when selecting a drive was incorrect, and I ended up with an AF drive.  I’m running W7 – which supposedly supports AF drives.  It wasn’t that simple…

First, a note about how I ended up with an AF drive.  I was aware of possible issues with 4k-byte sectors, so I specifically looked for a non-AF drive.  My first choice was a Western Digital WD5000BEKT from Amazon.  It worked OK, but was too noisy: Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh” Next choice was a Hitachi 0S02858.  All the comments on Amazon indicate that it’s a 7K500-500 drive with 512-byte sectors.  The one I received was actually a 7K750-500 Advanced Format drive.  So was its replacement.  A Hitachi tech told me that the 0S02858 part number indicated a 7K500 drive, and that I should have Amazon replace it.  He later said that Hitachi might ship either model under that part number.  Grrrr!

Back to the Windows Update problem.  Windows 7 is supposed to understand AF drives, and correctly aligns partitions.  Sort of.  Without the updates in a hotfix (or SP1 ??) , Windows can’t detect the drive’s physical sector size, and Update (and some other features) fail.  I was already running SP1, so it should have been OK.  Microsoft explanation and hotfix link: An update that improves the compatibility of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with Advanced Format Disks is available  On my ThinkPad T400, the hotfix just errored out with no additional information.

To cut to the chase, SP1 and the hotfix weren’t correctly updating the storage driver, so it couldn’t report sector size to Windows.  The clue here was that fsutil (see that Microsoft link, above) was reporting “bytes per physical sector” as “<Not Supported>”.

My fix was to manually install the latest Intel driver: Intel® Rapid Storage Technology  (link may be stale – see update below) That installs a lot more than necessary – AFAICS – but was an easy fix.  fsutil now reports the 4096-byte sector size, and Windows Update works.  I’ve also heard that installing the AHCI driver from the Lenovo driver matrix for one of the Huron River ThinkPads (T420/T520/X220/etc) would also do the job w/a smaller install (and less Intel crapware) but I have not tested that.   After updating the storage driver the hotfix happily announced that it (the hotfix) was already installed.

Update 2012.12.12 The Intel driver download is a moving target.  Try this search link if the one above doesn’t work:

Update 2011.10.04 Have a look at the readme that comes with the Intel driver.  There are some command line options that allow installing the driver only without all the other unnecessary stuff.

Update 2012.10.15 That Intel link target keeps changing.  Try going to and searching on “rapid storage technology”.  Pick the latest result that matches your operating system.  Then download the iata_enu.exe and readme files.

For XP users, the story is more painful.  Here are a couple of links to drive manufacturer’s tools – that should help:

Western Digital documentation and tools: Advanced Format Software

Hitachi whitepaper:  Advanced Format Drives   Hitachi Alignment tool:  Hitachi Align tool

Those alignment tools are the private-labeled Acronis alignment tool.

Sorry about the long post.  Hope it helps someone.

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Thunderbird 5: Slow (and incompatible with ESET)

I recently upgraded to Thunderbird 5.  First impressions: pretty, and pretty slow. Lots of lag when deleting email made for a real pain when removing the 100 or spams and viruses that show up in my inbox every day.  There’s a fix.  It also doesn’t play nice with ESET security.  No fix available.

The lag when deleting each bogus email in the inbox was intolerable.  It’s likely the delay wasn’t so much in the deletion, but in displaying the next email in the list.  Like the FireFox font issues, this also relates to hardware acceleration.

Per this thread Why is Thunderbird 5.0 so SLOW? CAUSED by direct2d toggling gfx.direct2d.disabled and layers.acceleration.disabled to true (Go into Tools → Options → Advanced → General and click Config Editor)  speeds things up.  It did for me.

More troublesome was finding out that ESET is not compatible with Thunderbird 5 – or 4.  I’ve tried ESET a couple of times, but always gone back to Avast + Sphinx because ESET seems to make the S3 sleep issues worse on my desktop.  I decided to give it another try and went through the thrash of uninstalling the other stuff, fixing up my POP3 and SMTP settings, and installing ESET.  None of the ESET features showed up in T-bird.

ESET has said on various security forums that ESET 5 (the next version) will support T-bird 5.  Of course, by then we will be at T-bird 6.  Or 7.  Or 8.  Thunderbird 5Is ESET Smart Security compatible with Thunderbird?

I’ve decided to continue with the ESET experiment, so for now I’ve reverted Thunderbird to 3.1.11.

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Cloning Hard Drives With Acronis

I previously wrote about using Acronis True Image Home or Lenovo Rescue & Recovery to back up a hard drive – and using that backup to migrate to another drive.  I’ve since used the clone tool in TIH 2011 to directly clone a laptop drive.

Those backup and/or clone notes are here: Acronis Backup vs. Lenovo Rescue & Recovery.  Of course, the authoritative writeup is over here: Hard Drive Clonewars – Klonkrieg der Festplatten

This post just adds a few notes to my previous post.  This effort came up when I had to quickly replace the new drive mentioned in “Acronis Backup…“.  The new Western Digital drive worked well, but made a maddening noise:  Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh”  It was quickly replaced with a Hitachi 7k750-500 500G 7200RPM drive.

Update 2011.08.04:  Yike.  That 7k750 drive is an Advance Format unit with 4k-byte sectors.  Big fun: Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive

This time I used the clone tool in Acronis True Image Home 2011 to clone the drive directly, rather than going through a backup and restore process.  It was very straight-forward, and apart from a couple of wrinkles, automatic.  First,  when cloning (using any tool) the target drive must be installed in the ThinkPad, or the operation is likely to fail.  This seems to be a quirk of ThinkPads, and requires removing the drive from the laptop and putting it in some kind of external SATA-to-USB adapter, and putting the new drive in the laptop before cloning.  Before removing the original drive from the laptop, I’d suggest running a drive cleanup, and possibly capturing the volume ID.  More on that below.

Once the drives were in the appropriate configuration (old one in an external enclosure, new one in the laptop) I booted Acronis TIH from my “swiss army” flash drive.  The CD version works too, but I prefer the convenience and speed of a flash drive.  Some notes about bootable flash over here:  Bootable USB Flash Drive Tools and hopefully a more detailed writeup later.

Selected the “Tools” menu, and “Clone”.  Since I wasn’t changing drive configuration, it pretty much went automatically from there.  Both drives were 500G, with about 160G of actual data.  The full operation took just under 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Not bad.  Shut down, rebooted on the new drive, and Bob’s your uncle.

Now, about that volume ID.  Some of my software is tied to the volume ID of the drive on which it is installed.  The TIH clone tool makes no provision (that I could find) for preserving the ID during a clone operation, so the new drive ends up with a different ID.  Most software doesn’t care, but mine does.  It’s fairly easy to relicense, but easier yet to clone the ID.  This can be done manually by capturing the ID before removing the old drive.  Use the “vol” command in a command prompt window.  After the new drive is up and running, the volumeid command can be used to restore the ID on the clone.  Volumeid is available here: VolumeID v2.0

The only other detail I had to deal with was getting Rescue & Recovery to boot instead of Windows when the “Think” button is pressed.  The bootloader must need to know the location of the bootable R&R image on the drive.  After cloning, that location has changed and the “Think” button just gets you to “windows failed to load” or something.  It’s easy enough to fix.  Just reinstall R&R – or easier yet, just fix it by launching the original installer and selecting “repair”.  On my machine, it’s located here: C:SWTOOLSReadyAppsrndtvtrnr.exe.

For the edification of all, here are the HDTune results for the WD and Hitachi drives:

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Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh”

I recently upgraded the 320G 7200RPM drive in my ThinkPad T400 to a 500G 7200RPM drive.  The new drive works, but intermittently makes a really annoying “whoosh, whoosh…” noise.

I had a perfectly fine Hitachi 320G drive in the StinkPad, but it was rapidly filling up with virtual machines.  I intended to upgrade to a 500G Hitachi, but they were out of stock at NewEgg.  I ended up ordering a Western Digital Scorpio Black WD5000BEKT from Amazon.

I cloned the old drive to the new with Acronis True Image Home 2011: Cloning Hard Drives With Acronis.  The new drive performs a little better than the old Hitachi, so that was a plus.  It runs fairly cool, and is mostly pretty quiet.  Mostly.  From time to time it starts making a “whooshing” sound that is plainly audible in a quiet room.  It isn’t quite constant, and is random enough to be very irritating.

It isn’t the normal rotational noise, or the head actuator “click”.  Both of those are present, but not particularly loud.  The “whoosh” may be associated with head actuation, or perhaps disk activity in general.  It sounds somewhat like the disk RPM rising and falling, but I don’t know if that is actually what is happening.

Apparently this has been an issue going back several years: Does your WD 320GB or 500GB hard drive make ‘swoosh’ sounds?

I contacted WD support, and they said the drive should be replaced.  Amazon replaced it promptly with another drive that did exactly the same thing.  Amazon let me return that drive and I’ve now installed the Hitachi that I wanted in the first place.  It’s a 7k750-500.  Fast, cool, and quiet.  Nice.

Update 2011.08.04:  Yike.  That 7k750 drive is an Advance Format unit with 4k-byte sectors.  Big fun: Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive

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Acronis Backup vs. Lenovo Rescue & Recovery

In the past, I used Lenovo Rescue and Recovery to back up my ThinkPad, and for disk migration.  This time I used Acronis True Image Home.

Rescue and Recovery – the backup and restore solution provided with ThinkPad laptops – has been my tool of choice.  I use it to take occasional full-disk backup images.  I’ve also used an R&R image to migrate to a larger hard drive.  It’s a simple matter of making a backup (not a bad idea anyway), installing the new larger hard drive in the laptop, and restoring from the saved backup image.

That has always worked OK for me, but as the drives and images got larger, the backup process got progressively longer and slower.  I use Acronis True Image Home on my desktop for weekly backups, so I gave that a try on the StinkPad.  The short version is: it worked.

The ThinkPad is a Lenovo T400 running Windows 7 Pro 64.  The “original” (not factory) hard drive was a Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM unit.  The Windows install is a Microsoft clean install (not from a Lenovo factory image) updated to SP1 with all available/appropriate Lenovo drives and apps installed.  The MS install divides the disk into a 100MB System Reserved partition, with the remainder assigned to C:  The new part is a Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 7200RPM drive.  I chose the WD drive for several reasons:  5-year warranty, good reviews, and 512-byte sectors.  Many larger laptop drives have gone to “advanced format” using 4k sectors.  There can be alignment and performance issues with the AF drives and I was uncertain about restoring a 512-byte sector backup to a 4k sector drive.  The external HD used for storing the backup image is a Seagate 750GB 7200RPM 3.5″ drive in a USB 2.0/eSATA enclosure connected to the laptop via USB.

Update 2011.07.01 The new Western Digital drive didn’t stay long.  It got replaced by a Hitachi drive.  See Strange Laptop Drive Noise: “Whoosh”

Update 2011.08.04:  Oops.  That Hitachi  7k750 drive is an Advance Format unit with 4k-byte sectors.  Big fun: Windows Update Broken After Cloning Hard drive

I used Acronis TIH 2010 installed on the laptop to make a full disk backup image on the external drive.  I didn’t time the process (more on time below) but IIRC it took less than two hours, as did the restore.  When using the backup/restore process to a different sized drive, Acronis doesn’t offer the option of manually chosing the target partition sizes.  It scales each partition according to the overall drive sizes.  I believe the Acronis direct cloning option does allow choosing final partition sizes.

NOTE: when cloning (using any tool) the target drive must be installed in the ThinkPad, or the operation is likely to fail. Drive cloning wisdom available here: Hard Drive Clonewars – Klonkrieg der Festplatten

During the restore, I selected both partitions and the MBR for restore, and chose the “preserve disk signature” option, since some of my software is licensed to a specific disk ID.  After the restore Windows booted without complaint.  The only thing (so far) that needed fixing was the option to boot direct to Rescue and Recovery via the “Think” button or F11.  The magical code that can boot a WIM (or whatever it is) directly must need to know where that file is located on disk.  Reinstalling R&R corrected the problem.

The whole save and restore process seemed to be much quicker using Acronis than R&R so I ran a “quick” test to compare the two.  I only compared backup times and image sizes, not the restore time.

Same hardware and installed software as above, but now using the new WD 500GB drive as the source for the backup.  The C: partition shows about 165GB used out of 465GB in Windows Explorer.

Backup Tool Backup Time Image Size
Acronis TIH 2010 1.5 hours 93GB
Rescue & Recovery 4.31 8 hours 84GB

My guess is that the compression algorithms used by R&R are very expensive.  I’ll give up the 10% advantage in space used for the huge improvement in backup time.

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Add some Maguro Sashimi, and  you’ve got yourself a party!

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Repairing Boot Problems Without a Windows DVD

Yike. Windows won’t boot.  Microsoft says to boot the Windows install DVD, and run the windows recovery environment, like this:  How to use the Bootrec.exe tool in the Windows Recovery Environment… (Note the note about trying the Startup Repair option first)

That’s fine, except that your computer vendor didn’t include a Microsoft install DVD, only their proprietary install image, or maybe nothing at all.  Maybe you have an install DVD, but no optical drive.  Don’t give up hope, there are several ways to skin this cat.

That’s where you want to end up, and here are a couple of ways to get there.

Of course, if you have the appropriate MS install DVD, just boot it.  If you had the foresight to create a System Repair Disk ( Start -> Maintenance -> Create System Repair Disk) before the crash, just boot that.  Failing that, ask a friend with same OS – Vista or ‘7, 32 or 64 bit must match – and boot that.

If you don’t have access to a repair disk, Neosmart had made free ISO downloads available: Windows Vista Recovery Disc Download, Windows 7 Recovery Disc DownloadBe sure to burn the ISO to CD as an image – not as a data file.

Update 2012.04.18  Neosmart is now charging for those ISO downloads.  Another option (with a reasonably fast internet connection and a DVD burner) is to download a (legal) ISO of the Microsoft full install DVD, burn that, and boot it.  As stated, chose one with a “bitness”(32 or 64) that matches your install.  LEGAL Windows 7 Download Links

Those without a built-in optical drive will need either an external drive, or if their machine will boot from USB (most do these days) the recovery media can be put on a bootable USB flash drive.  Neosmart instructions are here:  How to make a windows 7 or Windows Vista USB Recovery Stick (thumb drive)  In my experience, adding “QUICK” (without the quotes) to the format command will speed things up.  A lot – especially if this is being done with a large external hard drive instead of flash.  If you select the wrong disk, you may trash your system!

This approach can also be used to copy a System Repair CD, or the entire MS install DVD if available to bootable flash, if the flash drive is large enough.  If physical media is available, just create the bootable flash drive, and copy the files.  It isn’t necessary to fool with ISOs.  If you do have to go the ISO route, I prefer 7zip for extracting the files from an ISO.  It’s a very versatile tool that can do much more than just unroll ISOs.

Finally, it’s also possible to boot an ISO file directly.  I use grub + memdisk, since that’s the way I boot my multi, multi, multi boot “swiss army” flash drive.  That makes it easy to have multiple versions of the rescue software (32 and 64 bit, for instance) on a single drive.  More on that later.  In the meantime, other approaches are here: Bootable USB Flash Drive Tools.

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