Recovering from Hard Drive Crash

My HA computer (running HomeSeer, Powerhome, USBUIRT, Virtual Weather Station, my home web site) had a hard drive failure last week. My first thoughts were holy crap this is going to take weeks of work to recover from. I do have backups but we all know that this only eases the pain because you still have to reinstall, etc.

Well long story short, my backups were all up to date and once I got my PC operating system loaded it took less then 4 hours to have everything back up and running good as new. My wife was actually impressed and this says alot. She has grown accustomed to all the automation and was nagging me to get it fixed. She even suggested we just go get a new computer instead of fixing the old one I was running.

Here is a summary of any interesting information and tips that helped with the recovery:

- My HA computer was very old so I just opted to trash it and get a new computer versus just getting a new hard drive. This was probably the most painful part because I got a good deal on a duo core HP open box item but it was set up with Vista. Not wanting to deal with incompatibilities with Vista and various hardware/software I'm runnning I wiped the system clean and installed XP Pro. HP doesn't make this easy because they don't tell you what drivers you need for XP so you have to do some investigating and guesswork to get basic things working (like the network card).

- I added a second identical hard drive to the system and set this up as a mirrored raid configuration. I will continue to keep back ups but this set up should minimize the pain of a hard drive failure in the future. I have never really tested mirroring before and assume it works well.

- I kept my backups on an external hard drive so recovering the various system and program files was a snap. I kept a backup of my important program directories as well as the most recent application setup files and patches.

- I installed my applications and then just overlayed my backup files in the proper configuration directores. For the most part this worked well.

- I did find that I had several things that I had to go reload that I didn't have backed up. Such as USBUIRT drivers, several windows DLLs that had been installed with various HomeSeer plug ins, etc.
Nice work! It can be difficult to recover from a hard drive failure, without a proper backup.

One thing you might want to consider for the future, is to use a program such as Ghost. This application makes an image of your hard drive, boot sector and all. If your hard drive ever fails, simply purchase the same or larger hard drive, and restore the image. The great part about this, is that you do not need an OS loaded in order to restore the image. Ghost lets you boot up from the Ghost CD, and restore your image. You could be up and running VERY quickly when using it.

Good call on the mirrored drives. You are correct; that should pretect you prety well in the future. Another suggestion, if your RAID controller has a monitoring application that constantly checks the RAID array, I would sugggest installing it. On a computer such an a HA computer, that doesn't get much direct use, you might have a hard drive in your array fail, and not know it for quite some time. A lot of the monitoring apps will send out an E-mail in the event of an error or failure.

BTW, isn't it funny how the wife always complains about technology; but when it isn't there any more complains even louder. :D
just an fyi...

I had always good luck with recovering data from a hard drive failure when I put the hard drive in the freezer for couple of hours. If the hard drive is really really bad, I always just let it go.

But YES, nothing can defeat backup. However, make sure that backup is readable and useful. I heard horror stories about big companies recovering from a blank tape. :D
But YES, nothing can defeat backup. However, make sure that backup is readable and useful. I heard horror stories about big companies recovering from a blank tape. :lol:

Good point. While it is a PITA, it is a good idea to run a test recovery. If that is not feasable, at least make sure that the data on your backup device is good.

Freezing the hard drive...interesting... :D
I have had good luck with Sprinrite Spinrite. I am not sure exactly how it works, but it does a great job of bringing back hard drives from the dead (at least those without a catastrophic failure).

I have been using a program called R-Drive for some time now. It makes a byte by byte copy of the hard drive and stores it to an image file. With my OS, Photoshop, and about 50 other main & crutial programs, the Image is around 4-5 Gigs. (You can set the amount of compression, more means slower, less is faster)

The major advantage of this, is that in the event of a HD failure, pop in a new drive, and boot with the R-Drive CD, and you will have your computer back to full operation in around 5 minutes! This works as long as the drive/partition is larger than the one you backed up, and does not have to be the same exact size ect.

The HUGE plus with this is that you can mount the image! So in the case of building a new computer, mount the drive, and you can get anytihing off it that you want. It works as any standard hard drive, as far as reading writing, and such.

I have Home Seer make a complete back-up of my main Hard Drive once a week using R-Drives command line options.

Other than backing up, it is a great way to install an OS on a new computer! Install, get it the way you want, then remove all hardware from device manager and you are set. It will then be able to put that image on a new computer in around 2 minutes! Far better than the fracking hour or so it takes to install XP.
I personally use Acronis TrueImage, they have been around for a long time, and works better than Ghost.
I personally use Acronis TrueImage, they have been around for a long time, and works better than Ghost.
Thanks for the input. I like the idea of the image software and will certainly give that a shot. I currently use Genie backup and have never had a problem with restores because I keep the backup files stored uncompressed so if need be I can find the latest copy without going through the backup software.

I am using the RAID monitor software recomended by the provider of my motherboard (on motherboard raid controller). It seems to work well although I will have to check into any external alerting capabilities such as emails.
I use Genie backup as well. I use the software to do nightly DVD backups of my 'data' (e.g., Outlook PST file, data drive, documents), and also backup this up to a remote share + ftp server. I use Acronis to take a real image snapshot as well.
How does R-Drive compares to Norton Ghost? Is it similar technology?

I think it is similar, but I personally will not use any of the bloat-ware from Norton......ever.

I have always made backups of important directories, data and such. The problem with that is, you still have to do the hour long reinstall of XP, all your programs, settings and such. Then pull the data from the backups, a long and tedious project. Many here know what it is like to reinstall Home Seer from a backup, it never goes without some hitch or another.

I started doing images around 2 years ago, and could never ever go back!

The procedure I use now is much simpler:

Personally, I did a clean install of XP Media Center 2005 on my main computer. I then installed all my programs, bookmarks, all devices, drivers and such (Programs like Photoshop, CuteFTP, and about 50 other programs) Customized the right click menu's. added various registry hacks, customized icons, wallpaper.... the whole thing. I then made an image of the drive. Now if I ever have a major problem, I simply restore from that image, and in around 8-10 minutes, I am 100% back to normal. In case of a problem, if it is a software issue, and not a dieing Hard Drive, I do an image of the bad drive before I do a restore, and can mount it to get any saved data that I may have had since the last auto back up by just mounting it as a drive when I get the system back up.

I just wish I would have done this many years ago, in the day when I was reinstalling everything every time something went wrong, spending a day or 2 to get the machine back to where it was.

So to sum it up, I have the main image I described above stored in a safe place. I then use the R-Drive scheduler to do an auto backup once a week. In the case my drive completely dies, I simply put in a new drive, restore the main image, and can then pull any saved data from the auto backups by simply mounting the drive as a drive letter. It makes like a whole lot easier for sure!

Don't you still have to manually install any software updates using your system? Or can you somehow pull those over as well? (Perhaps you keep the zip file or exe file in a "Update" folder). I understand pulling over your data and personal files, but don't grasp how you are getting your original system backup up to speed with updates, etc.


I don't backup very much and really need to. I do back up my digital pictures every so often, but even that needs to be done with more frequency.

I'm also considering moving to MS Home Server OS to make all this backing up of information more automated across my network.
I personally will not use any of the bloat-ware from Norton......ever.

Amen to that. Ironic, I think: back in the day, Norton AV was the bomb; as was Ghost (pre-Symantec). Bummer they do that to everything now.

Unless I'm missing something, isn't the consensus that imaging is the key?

I image now with Acronis nightly (diffs nightly, fulls weekly). Same general outcome?