Fixing God’s Computer

Being a guy who works with computers, I’m called upon by friends and relatives to fix technical issues. This also makes me the unofficial PC technical support for my mom’s church.

computer repair cartoon

Today my mom called me saying their main church PC wouldn’t boot. I took a copy of Spinrite and the Ultimate Boot CD to the church, discovering the BIOS reported that the hard drive was unbootable. Spinrite couldn’t even see it, although the BIOS did detect it. None of the Ultimate tools worked. So I unplugged it, dusted it off, then plugged it in again, and it still couldn’t be recognized.

Next step: plug it into my own computer and see if I can access it and recover any of its data using Disk Investigator and other free tools. If THAT doesn’t work, then I’ll be taking it to PCMedic and see if they can recover any of its data.

It contained ALL the church members for newsletters and all that fun information that churches collect, and they had no backups, of course.

20 Replies to “Fixing God’s Computer”

  1. Plugging it into my computer didn’t work: I couldn’t boot the PC from my own hard disk, let alone the broken. My own hard disk is SATA, while the church one is IDE. I played around with the boot order and other stuff in my BIOS.

    Stupid computers.

  2. After some googling I DID get my machine to boot with the other hard disk plugged in, but Window doesn’t recognize the drive; it doesn’t appear at all. Bummer.

  3. Update: PC Medic said if Windows couldn’t see the drive, then they couldn’t do anything; the chip on the hard drive is probably fried.

    I was surprised, thinking they’d have some low-level utilities that attempts to access it. I’m going to try it again on another PC, but I broke the news to my mom; they don’t know what to do now. ALL their data and software was on that drive, and they don’t even have the original CDs for most of it.

  4. Here’s something else you can try. I had a similar problem and found an identical hard-drive, took the green card with all the brains off it and put it on the bad drive. It worked fine. I was lucky to have an identical drive (I tend to buy them in pairs) but maybe you can go to EBay etc. and find even a used one that’s identical. Just a thought if the data is super critical.

  5. I called a couple computers shops in town and found one with the drive, but it doesn’t work; however, the tech. guy thinks the problem is with the physical drive, not the circuit board. He said he’d give me his broken drive, which I’ll use to replace the circuit board on mine.

    Fixing a broken hard drive with a broken hard drive. Some God’s intervention maybe needed.

  6. Well, I had to buy a T8 screwdriver (small star shipped thingy) to take out the circuit boards, but they’re switched. I’m now going to plug the church hard drive that has the different board into my computer. I’ll post photos later, maybe.

  7. The two hard drives with their circuit boards:

    hard drive with circuit board

    The church hard drive with other circuit board in my computer:

    hard drive being tested in my computer

    It didn’t work. Spinrite DID see the drive this time, but it wouldn’t do its magic on it, reporting it had undeterminate problems. Plus, it only reported it as having only 8 GB, when it’s a 40 GB drive. And XP still couldn’t see it.

    So, it’s fucked. I have to buy and put together a new computer (including the software they’ll need) AND a backup system for the church now.

    Thanks for the idea though, Jim.

  8. Oh crap. I tend to fixate on these kind of problems, determined to make the drive give up it’s secrets. But sometimes ya just gotta give up cuz the heads are physically damaged or damaged the drive surface. (Usually the drive will sound funny in that case though, clicking and clicking.) I’ve read, but not successfully tried, putting the drive in the freezer for a few hours then trying it again. I’ve tried, but not successfully, tapping then finally hitting the drive to maybe free up a stuck head. In the end, since the thing is hopeless anyway, I sometimes beat it, drop it, throw it – whatever. Usually a lost cause by that time. I can’t recall physical abuse ever fixing it either.

    I know Maxtor has a suite of low-level diagnostic programs (on their website somewhere) but usually those just report “Drive has errors” at this point. If Spinrite can’t do anything it’s probably hopeless. Damn. I assume you have one of the later versions of Spinrite – I think they came out with a newer version a year+ ago that was better than the old, old version. If not, try the newer version. (It was a major major update, not just some small tweaking update.) I’m sure this won’t be of any help (mostly was a problem with Win9x and old machines because of BIOS limitations on large disks), but what the heck: http://www.techimo.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-14591.html

    Good luck with the new system. I’m guessing they’ll be making more regular backups now. Sure wish we could have recovered that drive just for the challenge of it.

  9. Jim said: “I sometimes beat it, drop it, throw it — whatever. Usually a lost cause by that time. I can’t recall physical abuse ever fixing it either.”

    I once took an axe to a burner I was having trouble with. Smashed it and chopped it to bits. Felt real good. Fixed it too.

  10. I found the PowerMax 4.23 utility from Maxtor, although it says it doesn’t support certain onboard chipsets, which I think maybe one of mine.

    Incidently, I discovered the “broken” hard disk the company gave me isn’t broken; Spinrite detected major problems with it, but it’s cleaning those up right now. I wonder if there are any government secrets on it? I’ll soon find out. Once Spinrite is finished with that drive, I’ll put its circuit board into the church drive, seeing if that Maxtor utility can do any magic with it.

  11. Well, I have a decision to make: I recovered all the data from the “broken” hard drive a company gave me. It’s contains your typical family data: photos, videos, income tax…

    I haven’t look at any of file contents, but there’s a lot of stuff there.

    Should I let the company know I recovered the data, or should I contact the family themselves (I can probably track down their address from the files)? Or should I just erase all the data?

  12. I emailed the company I received the “broken” hard drive from:

    Hi there,
    last Friday I called you guys (speaking to Dennis, I think) asking for a specific Maxtor hard drive model (new or used). I wanted its circuit board: my similar hard drive failed so I wanted to switch its circuit board with a working one, to try to recover its data. Dennis found the same model, but after he tested it he said it wasn’t working either, but probably due to physical damage (not a circuit board error). I said I’d like to try it anyway, so later that day I picked the drive up, which you gave me for free, which I appreciate.
    I DID replace the circuit board successfully, although I couldn’t recover any data: the drive had physical damage.
    I then, out of curiosity, checked the drive YOU GUYS gave me, to see if I could recover any of its data, and I did. All of it. It contains personal files from a family: photos, videos, music, income tax…
    I didn’t look at any file contents, but I suspect you could easily determine who the hard drive belonged to, giving it back to them. They’d probably appreciate the vacation photos and videos (okay, I admit: I looked at a couple photos) they thought they permanently lost.
    I’ll be glad to return it to you. Let me know if you’d like me to do so.
    By the way, your website (http://www.unisondigital.com) could use a LOT of work: it’s nearly unusable with Firefox (Flash is overrated and overused anyway).
    Cheers
  13. Because you care, I bought the church a new PC:
    – 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 Processor 3800+
    – 1GB PC-3200 DDR RAM
    – 200GB 7200rpm SATA hard drive
    – 16x DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer and LightScribe Super-Multi Drive (Maximum Speeds: 16x DVD+R, 8x DVD-R, 4x DL)
    – NVIDIA integrated graphics
    – 10/100Base-T ethernet and 56K modem
    – External Ports: 9-in-1 memory card reader, 6 USB, 1 headphone jack, 1 side speaker out, 1 rear speaker out, 1 centre speaker out, 2 line-in, 1 line-out, 2 microphone, 2 PS/2, 1 VGA, 1 LAN, 2 FireWire.
    – Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with Update Rollup 2 with Service Pack 2, English
    – A shitload of preinstalled software

    It comes with a 17″ flat-screen monitor and a fancy printer/scanner.

    I also bought a 200 GB hard drive and a DVD burner for the computer that broke.

  14. The company I emailed about the data I recovered hasn’t got back to me, sooooo…

    I think I’m going to try to find the address of the family the data belongs to, burn the data to a cd or dvd, and mail it to them anonymously, maybe enclosing the URL to this post in the letter.

  15. You lovely man you bought the church a computer … your way to eternal salvation is at hand…12 virgins will draw you to the pearly gates where thor will escort you to valhalla…i may have gotten my afterlives mixed up….you a good man charlie brown…

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