Hard disk troubles a reminder of the need to back up regularly

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 12:00am

I have a laptop computer that is acting up. I keep getting messages that there are 'bad sectors' on the hard disk. This sounds serious. I have asked some people to help, but so far nobody has been able to do much. Can you suggest something?

I bought the laptop in the United States four years ago and it has the Windows 2000 operating system. I am not sure about the hard disk size or even how full it is. I think it can write CD-Rom discs.

Unfortunately, I must admit that it has been tampered with by quite a number of people already: my brother-in-law and some engineering students from Chinese University and a shop in Sham Shui Po. So far, nothing has been retrieved and they have given up.

A friend told me that if I have not done too much to the machine, it may be possible to restore the files. I am afraid it might be a lost cause.


Tin Hau

Let us first see what we can do and then talk about what should have been done. There are many tools out there that claim to rescue hard disks that have been damaged or even reformatted. I worked at a magazine once where an entire issue was about to be published when the designer's hard disk - with the only copy of everything on it - crashed. (We sent it to Australia and got everything back within a week).

I have spoken to a friend of mine who owns several shops and he is willing to look at your machine for free. I shall send you the information privately. What his team will do is use software that searches for data and tries to recover files. This can work if the tools are good. Someone who does this for a living is far more likely to know what the best tools are. Those of us who do not do this for a living must either buy what is available to us or take preventative measures. Sadly, most of us never believe it will happen to us, so we do nothing.

If you do get your files back, I strongly suggest you copy them to a CD-Rom and save them somewhere. You may want to get a new laptop as well. An old machine bought in the US from a company with no representative in Hong Kong is not the best way to take care of your computing needs.

If you do decide on a new machine, you may want to ask around for something that will truly fit your needs. Depending on the machine you get, you can do things to help make it easier to recover data. You will want to talk to somebody about this but you will also want to think about backup. The easiest way to prevent a problem like this happening again is to stick to a regular system of backup. You can buy an external hard disk and copy everything once a week or you can automate it with certain kinds of backup software. Once a month or so, you could copy the entire lot to a CD-Rom (or better yet, a DVD-Rom if your machine can handle it and you need the space).

Your problem is exactly the one that we are supposed to be preparing for when we make backups. It can be a pain, but surely not so bad as the one you are going through now.