Are you prepared for computer meltdown?

Yesterday world was after my PCs. It was going reasonably well when I picked up my first notebook (was always getting my computers in desktop flavor), checked it on spot, packed and headed home.

Then it all went nuts.



Photo by Focal Intent

Tiny details

I came home, ignored my desktop, that was quietly humming in server mode with monitors turned off, and unpacked the new toy. It was nice shiny notebook that had cool bluetooth mouse and power cord that was definitely unfit for any wall sockets in this country. I hadn’t checked small stuff and it had immediately bitten me.

I called person who ordered notebook, shared my wtf moment and tweeted @Kara_atDELL, who was eager to hear about my unboxing, that it was far from successful.

Troubles come in pairs

Then I reached for my monitors and turned them on… to display blue screen of death in all its pixel glory. My home desktop is old but really stable – I run… ran it 24/7 for months (literally) without reboots. Drivers of new WiFi adapter were acting nasty a bit so I blamed them and hit reset.

It blanked and never showed anything again.


  1. I removed power and let it cool off. Still dead.
  2. Methodically stripped everything that can be stripped (UPS, drives, PCI cards, external video card, most of memory). Still dead.

It remained blank and I started to hear high pitch sound (I am too sensitive to those) electronics make – sometimes when it feels like it, but mostly when it is broken. I reasoned that power supply is most likely culprit and packed it to take to work next day.

Sad evening

So it was just the beginning of evening and I was out of PCs to use. I connected to Internet via EDGE on my N810 and started to think what can I actually do.

  1. Tweeted what a ****************** evening I am having.
  2. Answered to email from @Robert_P_atDell, who offered to help with power cord issue, that I am way too far from Dell home market and expect it to be fixed tomorrow anyway (or heads will roll).
  3. Checked more important feeds in newsgator mobile.
  4. Approved and answered comments at this blog.
  5. Fell asleep four hours earlier than usual.

Damage assessment

Fast forward to next day, replaced power cord and working PSU (meaning it is something of core desktop internals that is fried).

I have access to:

  • my external hard drive:
    • all of portable software ready to use;
    • all of setup packages;
    • all of materials for this blog;
  • Internet:
    • Opera bookmarks and notes;
    • docs and backups in Dropbox;
    • RSS feeds in newsgator;
    • mail boxes via web interfaces.

I have no access to:

  • video archive;
  • torrent/RSS setup (I kept procrastinating moving uTorrent out of Program Files folder);
  • settings for all non-portable (really hating .NET Framework);
  • part of feeds I had not migrated to newsgator yet;
  • local email settings;
  • server stuff must all be reconfigured for different folder structure.

Rapid move to notebook was definitely far from painless especially since few issues could be easily prevented if I had bothered to include them in backup or sync routine. Still everything important is safe and accessible.

Emergency measures

I had tried to make notebook usable as fast as I could. At home I plugged main monitor and most of peripherals into it, making pretty good replacement for dead desktop.

As horror of being computerless for another day is now reduced – I need to pack my desktop and get it to work for proper diagnostics and replacement of fried parts. Glad I have spare finances left for that even after notebook purchase.

Lessons learned

  • external hard drive is extremely useful;
  • every single non-portable app is huge problem when trouble strikes;
  • desktop apps had started to get cloud sync capabilities but are far from complete at that (no watches in FeedDemon, feeds, passwords and interface settings in Opera);
  • small form factors PCs may seem underpowered but usual desktop is pain to transport;
  • email accounts must be consolidated for easy access under any circumstances;
  • three years is too long without motherboard upgrade;
  • NAS still seems overpriced but more interesting despite that.

Had you ever experienced your main PC suddenly dying? Are you prepared for such?

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  • Angelo R. #

    I've had numerous meltdowns over the past few years.. everything from shotty power supplies to faulty ram, to corrupted mbr's and dead hard-drives. And even once a sparky motherboard. Of course, a few of these were easy culprits, and for me working on a computer is as much fun as actually using it, so it wasn't too much of a loss. However, I was disconnected from the internet for two days, which proved to be my undoing. The first day I spent calling Rogers (my cable provider) who assured me (regardless of the "IT" rep walking me through various steps and fixes that didn't fix) that the problem was on my end and not theirs. and complaining endlessly to anyone who talked to me. The second day, I was sick of it. A quick walk around the neighbourhood revealed that my cable box was open and one of the wires was actually cut. I called them and they had someone out there within an hour to fix it. If my computer dies, I can survive.. but without the internet, it just sits there, taunting me.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo Sounds like string of bad luck, I had experienced my share of faulty hardware over recent years but was spared from hard drive troubles. Losing hard drive actually scares me because there is no reliable way to backup ton of video (mostly anime) and it will be pain to re-gather from friends' archives. I hope my drives survived current meltdown fine. :) I like tinkering with PCs (mine or not) as long as they don't have important stuff on them. Otherwise I get nervous and will worry even if I know for sure that everything is properly copied away.
  • Angelo R. #

    Yea, I have an external that I backup videos and music to, but I'm always worried that my external will fail. I suppose I could go with a redundant-backup, but.. what if that fails as well? I'm paranoid. :P As for the NAS question, I'd suggest scrounging together a PC with a nice network adapter. Toss in a couple drives and voila, instant online storage.
  • Seelenwahnsinn #

    Sorry to hear about your fairly unlucky day. I have a computer turned on 24/7 for 3 years now (except for my HDs that have less than 1 year of usage) and I'm always afraid this kind of thing will happen to me. To prevent myself from (too much) troubles, almost all of my softwares are portables (and for the ones who aren't I have the portable version with all my settings up-to-date) and are synchonized with my pendrive on a daily basis. And I always upload my Opera settings (the ones that can't be synchronized with Opera Link: wand.dat, search.ini and opera6.ini) to an online backup service (I'm using SkyDrive atm). I don't backup all my data, but everything that's important (musics, photos and porn - no documents... I guess I should revise my priorities) is somehow safe (I carry my music library on my iPod, my photos are always on Flickr and the porn is the only thing I bother to burn in DVDs). The rest, like movies, animes and games, I can always download again.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo My problem is I am bit of silence freak and it is hard to put extra PC together, keep it silent and for sane money - all at the same time. I hope upcoming small form factor PCs (Atom, Ion) would serve as good home server in the future. @Seelenwahnsinn I am similar in my setup - plenty of portable and sync off PC. I screwed up with Opera this time by not including rest of stuff into backup/sync. :(
  • Seelenwahnsinn #

    Now you know better. I hope you have everything backed up next time it happens. I started backing things up after my HD died last year. Fortunately I could recover all my files (after a few hundred hours with the right programs) and nothing of value was really lost. I guess we need this kind of thing to remind us how vulnerable is all our digital life.
  • Rarst #

    @Seelenwahnsinn Well, most probably drives are alive so I am not really losing much here. It's indeed good reminder that shows where holes in backup and sync are. Just finished taking my desktop apart to take it to work tomorrow. Main HDD is dam heavy in sound dampening enclosure. :)
  • Jonny #

    Wow, I've never had something as bad as that.....that reminds me when was the last time I did a disk image? Never - and I installed a free copy of macrium reflect a couple of months back.....whoops. On the bright side I'm running Carbonite backup which is awesome for me. Still need to get round to backing up my website properly too......(which I think I might set up with syncback). I think I'm asking for trouble at the moment and this could be a timely reminder for me :)
  • Nihar #

    I remember you told about this yesterday in our chat. Hope you are now back with full force and hope that new notebook serves what desktop served for you.
  • Rarst #

    @Jonnny I've seen worse. Still it sucked. :) At least it left my tablet out. I am using Cobian Backup (files) and WP plugin (database) for this blog. Hoster doing some backups as well, but those have to be requested, etc. @Nihar Thanks, I still need to get desktop fixed and fast. Point of buying notebook kinda was to have second computer. It it much less useful as single PC tied to table.
  • Jim Sefton #

    I wrote a post recently about the importance of backup. It's a little bit related to this but I run on Macs so it is slightly different. The solution I came up with is a home-built NAS running FreeNAS (based on FreeBSD). My Macbook uses Time Machine to backup to the NAS every evening, incrementally. It does this over wireless so I hardly notice. On the NAS there are several shares, archive, arachive_nobackup and time machine (there are others but I wont go into that) The time machine just stays where it is, as the data is already on my Macbook. The archive folder is for things I wish to move off my macbook for storage. This gets rsync'd from the NAS to an external HDD every evening The archive_nobackup share is for things like Linux ISO's, downloads etc that I wish to move off my macbook but are not critical if they were lost. This solution works well for me. The time machine backup means I can restore the mac in the case of hard drive failure and any critical data is always in more than one place. The only thing I haven't accounted for is fire, but I'm working on that. Nice post, I hope you get everything sorted soon
  • Rarst #

    @Jim Yeah, I shared my setup in the comments at your post. As you remember I was not completely happy with it - and bit later I have meltdown that shows what exactly is unfinished. :) NAS is cool but I am reluctant to bother for now. Enclosures are way too expensive for amount of stuff they can do and custom PC is bulk and noise. As above - I hope for those upcoming SFF computers to fill NAS role in the future. Came home to fetch cash and off to pickup new desktop internals. :) Hope to get it running by night today.
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