Damn, this getting downright scary. And annoying.


Last Monday my work laptop drank some water and was replaced with a new one. Rather than reusing the old hard disk, I got a copy of all my old data. That's good except for all the re-insatlling of applications and reconfiguration I needed to do.

That's what really prompted my 30 Day Webmail Challenge.


Later that week, Jeffrey Friedl's server (regex.info) became unresponsive. I'm heading to the colocation facility tomorrow morning to look at it. I live 7 minutes from his server and he lives in Japan. You do the math. :-)


Last night my Dell 8400 froze up and then wouldn't boot into Windows. Today I ran the diagnostics and they confirmed what I expected: dead hard disk. Luckily I had a semi-recent backup, but there's still a lot of stuff to re-install and configure.

I called Dell tonight. They're sending me a new disk and I'll install it myself. They offered to have a tech come do it (yay for the warranty) but I've been building computers since I was about 14 years old.

While I was in the BIOS, I noticed that the system has onboard RAID. I didn't kow that before. I guess I'm going to be installing another disk that Dell won't know about so that I'm a bit more protected in the future.

I wonder what will break next...

Posted by jzawodn at October 03, 2005 11:54 PM

Reader Comments
# Kevin Burton said:

Just stay away from the Yahoo search servers.. You're bad luck and I have some search queries I need to run!


on October 4, 2005 02:16 AM
# Jan said:

> I guess I'm going to be installing another
> disk that Dell won't know about

Well, then you shouldn't blog about it :p

on October 4, 2005 02:40 AM
# Andrew GJ Fung said:

I used to think the same about my onboard RAID and used it for RAID0.

FWIW, the performance turned out to be terrible (noticeable when doing more than one thing at once), more so than I expected. Later I read that the onboard RAID controllers tend to be of lower quality (and speed) than dedicated controllers.

I also tried Windows' software RAID for awhile (dynamic disks), but I don't remember the results of that. Presumably the software solution could be more effective, since Windows knows its own access patterns and has a fast CPU at its disposal.

Oh, and I also later found this USENET post by Linus Torvalds on RAID0: http://groups.google.com/group/lucky.linux.kernel/browse_thread/thread/ffde8d64f861c311/8b47ef4d3bcb78df?lnk=st&q=linus+stripes+raid&rnum=1#8b47ef4d3bcb78df
He made an interesting observation that modern hard disks are good at streaming (huge buffers and all that), and RAID0 access patterns can mess that up. In the end, I think this is the main cause of the difference I saw when running with a single disk vs. RAID0.

on October 4, 2005 04:45 AM
# Richard Thomas said:

Andrew, RAID0 is for speed, It seems to me jeremy is more worried about hard drive failure and is most likely going to use RAID1.

All the computers I use have some form of RAID1, either motherboard supported to with an extra card.

Now I havent had a disk fail yet ( knock on wood ) but when one does I will be gratefull

on October 4, 2005 05:11 AM
# Martin Plante said:

Hmmm, my Dell 8400's hard drive crashed on me too a few weeks ago... If the diagnostics indicate the drive still seeks, but can't read, you may try Restorer 2000, with a "Number of read attemps" set to "1". It saved my life.

on October 4, 2005 05:34 AM
# Brent Ashley said:

After some similar grief, I have prepared myself well and it has saved my butt a couple of times already.

I use Acronis TrueImage (www.acronis.com) to automatically make biweekly full and daily incremental disk images of my laptop and any other critical machines. I then use rsync to mirror the backups across a couple of cheap 160gig drives on two different $99 used small-form-factor Compaq Deskpro P3550s (just for fun, one running Linux, one Win2k). I have a cron job that limits storage to two full plus incrementals.

The upshot of this is that I can either mount the images as drives and get any file I want, restore from bare metal when necessary, and perhaps most usefully, when I want or need to start with a new machine, I can restore the image of the old machine into a VM running on the new machine. This allows me to run for as long as I need with the old programs and data intact while I complete the transition, and I can then copy the VM to DVD and clear the space.

I chose Acronis because it will do Windows partition imaging in the background while you continue to work, and it's got a great boot cd for restoring from bare metal over a network. It will also do OpenBSD partitions, apparently an acquired taste for partition imaging software.

on October 4, 2005 05:45 AM
# Anjan said:

Dude, you got a Dell! Welcome to POS machines :) Just wondering, Dell still does not put SMART hard drives in its systems? Granted it only detects about 70% of errors but that's still a lot better than no warning. I could've asked you to run Diskwarrior but you've crossed over to the dark side ;)

on October 4, 2005 06:32 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Andrew, why do you think I'd want to use RAID-0 after having a crash?

I'm thinking that RAID-1 makes waaaaayyy more sense, no?

on October 4, 2005 07:34 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Anjan, the drive is SMART capable.

on October 4, 2005 07:36 AM
# Bubba said:

If your Dell is not running Windows, try using sw raid. Its faster than using the internal RAID card (once you blow through the on-board cache of the controller).

on October 4, 2005 08:41 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It runs Windows XP Pro, and I'm really not concerned about tweaking every last bit of speed out if it. I want stability and reliability.

on October 4, 2005 08:44 AM
# Joe Beaulaurier said:

You say nothing about the your email (remember you're in the middle of your 60-day web mail experiment). Maybe becuz your email messages and archives sat unscathed on the web mail servers i.e. a non-event?

Yea! That's what I'm talkin' about.


on October 4, 2005 12:21 PM
# Pete Cashmore said:

I feel for you, buddy.

on October 4, 2005 12:23 PM
# Brandon Fosdick said:

What colo facility are you going to? Would you recommend it?

on October 4, 2005 01:04 PM
# Mike said:

> Later that week, Jeffrey Friedl's server (regex.info) became unresponsive. I'm heading to the colocation facility tomorrow morning to look at it. I live 7 minutes from his server and he lives in Japan. You do the math.

Japan doesn't have colo companies?

on October 4, 2005 01:16 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Beats me. The box was hosted here before he moved, so there wasn't much point in shipping it half way around the world. Besides, it's hosted as part of a friend's hosting business.

on October 4, 2005 01:20 PM
# Mike said:

> my Dell 8400 froze up ... I've been building computers since I was about 14 years old.

But you bought a pre-built packaged computer? I've always had Heinz 57 computers (except laptops). If I did buy packaged computers, it would be Dell though.

on October 4, 2005 01:56 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It was a time vs. money tradeoff.

on October 4, 2005 01:59 PM
# wbwither said:

As you may find out, "onboard RAID" usually means "software RAID with crappy drivers". I doubt it even has any cache on the motherboard. You're just as well off putting a 2nd drive on the IDE controller and using Windows' built-in Disk Management RAID utility. Better yet, follow the *nix way and create several partitions. 10GB for OS, 5GB for swap (having a separate partition for Virtual Memory is sweet, and you can get Photoshop and other swap-using programs to use it too), 20GB for apps, 10GB for temp use (web browsers and P2P programs wreak havoc in terms of fragmentation), and the rest for storage.... and the storage is backed up to another drive (whether by RAID or otherwise). This is what I've finally established as my basic setup after dealing with too many disk crashes, and it means I'm never worse off than having an OS and app install. Also it means that my OS and app partitions hardly ever need defragging.

on October 4, 2005 03:35 PM
# Patrick Mullen said:

Just three computers broke down?

There are eight creaky old Pentium 2s at the convent school here that the students are always messing up. I'll trade you jobs, Jeremy, but good luck on getting a salary!!

I need a magic wand.

on October 4, 2005 06:31 PM
# Jeffrey Friedl said:

Thanks for getting me back up, Jeremy!

on October 5, 2005 05:21 PM
# Andrew GJ Fung said:

Thanks for pointing out my stupid use of the term RAID0 instead of RAID1 (which is what I had). Other than to claim I was sleepy, I'll just accept looking like an idiot. :P

Still, for whatever reason, I found my RAID*1* performance worse than I would've expected, considering I mostly read and rarely wrote.

on October 5, 2005 05:31 PM
# Yogish Baliga said:

Well.. That's what you get for using Microsoft Windows.. :-)

on October 9, 2005 10:00 AM
# said:

Hi, itís horrible that three computer dead in one week. I donít know what kind of software you are using in your computer. You should be careful about the product you use in it. It should use a quality one if Iím not wrong so that it may last long like my computer which has been almost 7 years since Iím using. I have installed some tools or software which is best quality in a city. Why donít you try some good one to keep your pc more safe because itís very sad when somebody lost their all their important data or picture whatever. So what I want to suggest you that try the products of HDRC www.hdrconline.com I found it really good and yes, they have some very good tools for platter exchange and read write exchange for the physical crashes too.

on August 22, 2007 10:19 PM
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