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#1
frax

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Hi,

I had quite a bad hard disk failure last week, which lead to me preforming a major upgrade and reinstall - and I am finally back on track now. I thought I would write some notes for you, it be useful in setting up your own investement/backup/upgrade strategy!

As a background: I have used a 4 year old workstation up until last week, it was fairly top of the line at that time, and has seen some minor upgrades since then (maxed out memory, new disk). I have been eyeing a brand new workstation, possibly to buy next year sometime, but I have been fairly happy with it's performance - although in hind-sight, it was quite slow.

I have thorough backups of all project data, through backblaze and an external disk. But no backups of the actual system (windows vista system folders). My idea was that the project data was where the value is, and the operating system you can always reinstall.

Last week I learned a new term: capacitor plague, which got to the old power supply. This lead to the computer starting up, but then go black after some 5 minutes, and then refusing to boot up in some 10-15 mins, then starting up again (I had set the BIOS in the computer to booth up in case of power failure). This lead to the computer booting up/going down a whole night in cycles, and this seems to have lead to corruption of system files on the system disk, and possibly some minor disk failure. The data disk was not impacted at all.

I bought a new power supply, but the computer refused to boot up due to the corruption. The cheapest solution would have been to just buy a new disk and reinstall with the system disk I had, but I was not wild about reinstalling an old (Windows Vista) operating system on old hardware, and then just doing that exercise over again when it is time for the big upgrade.

So I decided to do a major upgrade instead of purchasing a new system (to save some money), and I went a bought a top of the line quad-core cpu, motherboard and a fast SSD (solid state disk) for the system, and a Windows 7 disk.

Assembling the system doesn't take much time, but what takes time is installing and configuring all the software I use! A lot of the configuration and settings I could copy over from the old system, but still...

Anyways - I am back online now, and the system is really really fast. I am looking forward to put it to test on some big data processing in ArcGIS, GlobalMapper and Photoshop to see how it goes. Next year I will upgrade the graphics card (4 years old) and buy another SSD to enable Intel Smart Response. The latter seems like a really good technology for working with big datasets, and still getting really good performance, without getting into dangerous territory (I am not getting into RAID0 again!).

Lessons learned: I think I will stick with a 3 year major upgrade strategy, and I will start backing up the system disk as well - I am looking at Norton Ghost for that, or something similar. I have lost a lot of time in this process!
Hugo Ahlenius
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http://nordpil.com/
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#2
David Medeiros

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This scenario is one that really concerns me, glad you're back up and running.

Being on a Mac I use Time Machine with a small external USB drive (500gb). Time Machine doesn't archive me work but it does keep a running mirror of the entire system as far back there is space for (at least a few months my new drive I think). If I crash I can, in theory, re install the entire system form the backup drive. I'd prefer not to test it though!

I need to add some archiving to this system. Possibly a second USB drive that just holds off loaded projects.

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#3
SaultDon

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Backup, backup and then backup again!

But those backups I try to have in different media formats (external hard disks, dvds, etc...) and different locations to help cover the "what if my house burned down" scenario.

I've been using Ubuntu and a piece of software called "remastersys" that allows me to create a distributable copy of my OS with all installed software and updates into an ISO that can be used to restore the entire system (but it lacks proprietary drivers like graphics cards and wireless devices).

#4
P.Raposo

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I mostly just rely on a big external drive where I periodically offload almost my whole laptop. I generally keep all my map-related files (mxd's, data, notes, etc) under one directory on my hard disk, and keep dated folders on that external drive where I copy the whole directory over, letting the computer copy files for the approx two hours that usually takes. I've been thinking about doing something in the cloud, but not sure what might be a good option in that way; I already do it with little files that would be crappy to lose in the short term. Any ideas or thoughts about cloud solutions?

#5
woneil

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I've just survived a computer crash with data intact, although recovery was more complicated than I would have preferred. With a new machine now on my desk I am instituting a refined version of the scheme which kept me safe the last time.

I currently have about 800 GB of data files that are critical to my business as well as our personal affairs. Because of the volume of data, online backup is not a practical solution. I have relied on local backup to external hard drives using ShadowProtect Desktop http://www.storagecr...ect_desktop.php which I found to be the best backup product for my needs, after trying several others.

ShadowProtect produces an image backup to permit an entire disk to be restored exactly as it was. In my old machine I had the software and data on one disk, so after a successful restore I would be able to resume just as before. However, I was unable to successfully make an image restore after my computer became unstable -- I kept getting boot sector errors and efforts to fix them with chkdsk did not yield results. As the computer was nearly two years old I decided that it made better sense to replace it than to spend significant money to fix it, so I bought a new machine (a Dell Studio XPS8300 series).

I did not try to restore the image from the old machine to the new one. I got the new machine configured with a 64GB solid state drive (SSD) as the system (C:) drive, and a 1TB fast conventional rotating hard drive (HD) for the data (the D: drive). I paid the store to clone the Windows 7 operating system from the HD to the SSD, although I could no doubt have done it myself. Then I rebuilt my software configuration (with a number of improvements and upgrades) on the remaining space of the SSD.

To get my data from the backup image to my new D: drive I used ShadowProtect's ability to mount the image as readable virtual disk and then simply dragged the files to the new D: drive. This took several hours of computer time (with no further intervention on my part) but at the end of it I had a D: drive with all of my data (and no software) on it.

I plan to continue my practice of daily backups of the data, which is to say the D: drive. Because software changes more slowly I expect to backup the C: only weekly. In both cases the backups will be to external hard drives. To be doubly sure, I actually backup the data to two different hard drives, one on odd days and the other on even. I am also thinking of mirroring the D: drive in real time to a drive with a high-speed eSATA connection using MirrorFolder http://www.techsoftpl.com/backup/ . This would provide some insurance against losing even the data which had been changed in the time since the last nightly backup.

I might add a word about the SSD. While I would not quite endorse the salesman's enthusiastic claim that it makes startup nearly instantaneous, it does make a very discernable difference in how fast the system starts up and how quickly software loads. I got a relatively cheap SSD (about $2/GB) and performance might be even better with the fancier versions. I'm quite satisfied, however -- it serves my purposes very well. One benefit is that it does not need defragmentation, thus saving some added time. In principle it should be much more reliable than conventional hard drives, although unfortunately divergences between theoretical and practical reliability are not rare in any class of components. The SSD was not assembled in China, which probably improves its odds of meeting its reliability claims.

Although SSDs have been around for at least 30 years, consumer models have appeared only in the past few years and only now seem to be catching on in broad terms. I anticipate that prices will fall to around $1/GB over the next year or two.

In short, I recommend:

(1) Good backup software such as ShadowProtect that can automatially back up your data daily (at least) to an external HD -- prefereably to two external HDs, to be sure.

(2) Using separate disks to store your data and software. This increases the security of the data, makes it easier to restore if need be, and speeds software operaation.

(3) Using an SSD rather than an HD for the system disk, providing a very distinct speed advantage.
Will O'Neil
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#6
frax

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Sounds like some interesting software tips, I am trying out Norton Ghost now for both mirroring and file backup. Not sure what the difference between Ghost and ShadowProtect are... !
Hugo Ahlenius
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