When good computers go bad

I'm not looking for hints, ideas, suggestions or, least of all, the command to 'Get a Mac!' Not unless you tell me that Macintoshes never break. No, all I want is your pity.

I'm not looking for hints, ideas, suggestions or, least of all, the command to "Get a Mac!" Not unless you tell me that Macintoshes never break. No, all I want is your pity.

I'm actually too depressed to want to tell you this story. But I will because we all have nothing to learn from it. Besides, I have another hour before I can pick up my PC and start rebuilding my software environment, which I know from experience takes 30+ hours.

It all began when I noticed clicking coming from my hard drive. Foolishly, I didn't immediately shut down my machine and sacrifice an ox to the PC gods. Instead, I kept running it for a day, making sure that all my backups were up to date. Having lost a disk in the past, I now make three backups each night: one onto one of the three drives in my PC, one onto my kid's machine upstairs and one over the Web to a service I pay $US50 a year to.

The next morning I ran out to the local computer megastore and got myself a 180GB Western Digital hard drive to replace the 40GB boot disk that was about to fail. But when I got home, I discovered that the boot disk no longer was about to fail. It was totally in the past tense. Wouldn't spin up. No sign of life. Pining for the fjords. So, I lost my opportunity to clone the boot disk onto the new disk, i.e., now I'd have to reinstall not just Windows XP, but all of the software I'd put in place over the years.

But first I'd have to get the new drive to work. The system seemed to recognise the ATA drive card the drive came with. Sort of. I couldn't tell if the information about the partitions was funny on purpose or just funny. Further, Western Digital's diagnostic disk would hang at its first step: getting the disk's size. Ok, I thought, it's a big, honkin' drive so the diagnostics aren't happy. Big deal.

Because Windows doesn't like drives that big, you have to partition it into pieces. After reinstalling Windows, it recognised the big partition but couldn't see the smaller one. That's ok, I figured. I'd come back later and work on it. After all, it was a mere 60 gig.

So, I installed all my software, downloaded the updates, installed them, unzipped my backup files, got the Outlook datafiles moved into the right place, configured my e-mail accounts, set up the options the way I like 'em (hint: the Windows File Settings and Transfers Wizard works well and you should run it before your computer dies), fix all 40 rules I used in Outlook to auto-classify mail, started retraining PopFile to recognise spam, fixed the batch files I use for backup since the drive letters had, of course, switched mysteriously, fiddled with the graphics settings, found that Monet painting I've been using as wallpaper, played with DesktopArchitect to get the colors of my windows widgets right, chose a new set of animated cursors, downloaded a new copy of Opera, started to rebuild my Favorites list (forgot to back that one up), laid out my desktop icons, ran XSetUp several times to adjust little parameters, rebuilt my Quick Launch toolbar with the shortcuts I like, told Windows folders that I do want to see hidden files and I don't want familiar extensions hidden from me, and told the system over and over that I don't want "shortcut to" prepended to every shortcut (a setting that doesn't seem to take),

You know. The usual.

Then, when I was all done and on the verge of lighting up a metaphorical cigar, I decided to work on that partition problem. I started up the latest version of Partition Magic and even before the application window opened, it presented me with a little dialogue box. "We've noticed that the reported cluster size is 2 different from the actual cluster size. Do you want Partition Magic to fix it?" There was a yes button and a no button. So, figuring that if anyone knows about partitions, it's Partition Magic, I pressed the Yes button.

Kaboom. Crash to black. No boot. Apparently where there was once a hard drive, all my BIOS now could see was a shoebox with spiders living it. I had to repartition and reformat my 180GB boot drive.

Partition Magic gave me no warning, no "Caution: This procedure may plunge you into PC Hell." Just, yes or no. (By the way, the message I quote above is just my approximation. I was way too traumatised by the event to actually remember what it said.)

I will spare you the details of the rest of the story. Trust me, what I've told you was just the beginning. Here are just some of the highlights:

I returned the 180GB drive and got a 120MB that doesn't require an ATA card.

Another complete reinstall.

When my other two drives started acting funky, I took the entire kit and caboodle into my local storefront PC place. Since my drives worked ok in their machine, I opted for a new high-end motherboard. And, of course, RAM.

Another complete reinstall.

The RAM turned out to have been faulty. One of the chips worked fine. The other failed the diagonistics I downloaded. So, I took out one and tried again.

Another complete reinstall.

The PC has been in the shop for the past four days. They've replaced the motherboard and both RAM chips. But now they've discovered that my 120GB drive won't boot up Windows. They think that maybe the faulty RAM damaged the Windows install. I doubt it, but since they cloned my disk onto one of theirs and it crashed too, it's either a bad Windows install or I shouldn't have cut ahead of that old fortune teller lady at the grocery a couple of weeks ago.

So, I'm going to pick up my brand new machine in an hour.

And then I'm going to do another complete reinstall.

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