Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Drive Failure -- The Dreaded Event

Note: If you do not understand the following technological description of these recent events, then you seriously need to get into backing up all your data and learning some of the basics of protecting and maintaining those backups.

The genealogical nightmare in this age of electronics is a hard drive failure or computer crash. As I have mentioned frequently in the past, I am almost entirely Mac-based. My primary computer is an iMac and my secondary computer is a MacBook Pro. Some considerable time ago, I got a notice from Apple that my particular computer had a possibly defective hard drive. Apple offered to replace the drive for free, but when I called the Apple store, they said they would have to remove the drive and then send it back to Apple for a replacement. This process would take two or three weeks and I would be without my main computer for that time period.

At this point, I had been using this particular computer and drive for a couple of years and began to wonder if it was at the end of its duty cycle. But since the drive was working just fine and had been for a couple of years, I ignored the Apple recall. I did not want to face the prospect of having the computer gone for that length of time and still having the ordeal of reconstructing the entire computer.

Meanwhile, it is important to know that I have extensive backups. I use the Apple Time Machine on a 3 TB hard drive that back up my entire computer, including all the programs and operating system multiple times a day. I also had two other primary 4 TB backup drives with all my data files. Every so often, I buy a new hard drive and back up all my data to the new hard drive. I also replace the hard drive used for my Time Machine backups periodically.

About two weeks ago, I decided to upgrade to the new Apple OS X Yosemite operating system. As I started the upgrade process, I got an immediate S.M.A.R.T. error. This acronym stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. Quoting from the website, in an article called "About S.M.A.R.T. technology"
A S.M.A.R.T. drive monitors the internal performance of the motors, media, heads, and electronics of the drive, while our software monitors the overall reliability status of the drive. The reliability status is determined through the analysis of the drive's internal performance level and the comparison of internal performance levels to predetermined threshold limits. S.M.A.R.T.-capable drives can monitor several key performance factors to assess reliability and predict an impending device failure.
Subsequently, I ran the disk diagnostics and got the same error instantly. Hmm. Now the dilemma. I was on my way out of town, so I would not be using my computer for almost a week, so I decided to replace the drive. I contacted a local Apple reseller called Simply Mac, part of a national chain, and they said they could replace the drive in a few days.

This started the process of replacing a main computer drive. I first made sure I had a current and operating Time Machine backup of the entire drive. Then, I took the time to back up several thousand crucial files to other external hard drives so that if the Time Machine backup did not work for any reason, I would still have a copy of my current work. I also had some working files backed up on Cloud drives such as I also made sure that my laptop was operational and had most of my working files.

Now, I was ready to take the computer to the Simply Mac service department. The store was quite busy and I waited for a service tech. I kept mentioning the fact that my drive had a S.M.A.R.T. error until I found someone who knew what I was talking about. I had to go through several very helpful clerks before I finally got the service tech to come out and talk to me. As I expected, the Apple drive replacement program had long ended on my now older iMac and I would have to buy a new hard drive.

To my surprise, the tech offered to do the job while I waited. In all it took about an hour and a half, but I walked out of the store with a brand new internal drive. I also kept the old failing drive for security purposes.

Then, the real work began. I had to create a boot drive since there was no operating system on the new hard drive. I could have had the dealer do this, but it would have meant leaving my computer with the service department. I used online instructions to create a bootable drive on a 64 GB USB flashdrive by using my wife's iMac. I did this by installing a complete Apple OS X system on the flashdrive. Then I used the bootable drive to open the new blank hard drive on the iMac.

This way, I was able to use the Disk Utility to format the new drive in my computer. This would have to be done by the dealer if I had not already known how to manage the process. Then, I downloaded and installed the Mavericks system on the new hard drive in the iMac. This took a few hours. Then I restored the Time Machine backup to the new drive on the iMac. This took over eight hours of computer time. Then I upgraded the Mavericks system to Yosemite. This took another couple of hours.

With the new system, there were several programs and settings that needed to be updated. I am still in the process of updating those programs and settings.

Now, as I said at the beginning of this post, if you do not understand how to do all this, you will have to rely completely on the dealer. But what is more important is that I could have lost all my data. I had no warning of the imminent hard drive failure until I tried to upgrade my operating system. I could have simply had the drive crash without warning. This could happen to you. Backing up your data is incredibly important. This means maintaining regular copies of everything you want to save to safe backup drives and online.

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