- Kelly's World- A View into the mind of Uber Geek, Kelly Adams - http://www.kgadams.net -

Hard drive failure + Vista’s broken image backup = unhappy geek

I seem to attract hardware failures like rotten meat attracts flies. Maybe it is because I sometimes run slightly “bleeding edge” gear, or perhaps it is something environmental (* /em looks accusingly at seven cats shedding hair into computer intakes*) Whatever the cause is, I take steps to make sure I have reasonably current backups of my systems. Unfortunately, that rarely seems to save me from frustration…

The Failure begins, and plans are laid

A few weeks ago, my RAID 0 (striping for performance not reliability) drive array consisting of two 10k RPM 150GB WD Raptor drives started posting some errors. Frustratingly, the Western Digital drive diagnostics only work on drives that are *not* in an array. To bring technical folks up to speed, I’m running Vista Ultimate 64 bit edition on an Intel-based Asus Maximus motherboard. That means RAID is handled by Intel’s X38/ICH9R [1] (warning: PDF) chipset. Intel’s RAID BIOS didn’t help much: it was reporting a drive error on one of the two drives in the array with an error code. There was nothing else available to give me a clue as to the failure condition.

I pondered trying to break the RAID array, run diagnostics on the separate drives, and get to the root of the problem. Or I could just assume it was an actual physical drive problem and buy new hardware. Given that I’d had problems in the past with my attempt to run a RAID desktop, I decided to cut my losses: buy a new drive, and give up on RAID at least for now. I ran a thorough chkdsk (including bad block scan) on the array, which found some problems and corrected them. Then I ran a Windows Image backup and placed my order for the new drive.

I decided to give Western Digital the benefit of the doubt and assume, although this was my second failed WD Raptor drive in a year (my old 75 GB RAPTORS also failed), that the drives themselves were basically sound. Bad drives happen, or maybe the RAID hardware just was causing some sort of non-hardware problem with the drives. Since I didn’t want to invest in deep diagnostics on the drives, and since WD still makes the fastest drives out there, I wanted to give them one more chance. The new drive I ordered was a single WD Velociraptor 300 GB drive. Note: two 150 GB Raptors in a RAID 0 configuration provide 279.5 GB of formatted capacity, and a formated 300 GB Velociraptor also provides 279.5 GB of formatted capacity. My thinking was that this would be a match from the perspective of restoring my Vista Image Backup.

My order was placed just after Christmas, and took a couple weeks to arrive. I also ordered a couple of other parts

While I was waiting for delivery, the second drive in my array turned up with the same error. Intel’s BIOS still said that the array status was normal, but both drives in the array were reporting errors. More worrisome- my machine started crashing, and more bad sectors and file corruption started occurring during operation. The arrival of my replacement hard drive couldn’t have been more timely.

The wheels begin to fall off

I was prepared for having to do some messing around to move to my new drive, but hey, I have a perfectly good image backup, so I’m golden, right? My objective seemed simple enough: completely duplicate an existing bootable drive configuration from an existing drive to a new drive with identical disk capacity. To move things along quicker, I decided to use Paragon’s Partition Manager 9.0 [2] to duplicate the contents of the original drive configuration to the new one. I had bought and used Partition Manager previously when the 75 GB drive RAID array on my wife’s computer failed, and it had worked perfectly. If I had problems with that, I still had that image backup- how could things go wrong?

My path of last resort to getting my system back to an operational state was to perform a full Vista install and restore my individual files. Yes, that worked. No, I wasn’t happy about knowing I still have to re-install all of my applications and configuration settings. My one happy moment: realizing I have largely stopped using my Vista machine as my main system, and have moved most of my “productivity” apps to my Macintosh. That means far less to reinstall…