Last Saturday the hard disk in my notebook computer started making strange noises. It performed lengthy retries and eventually produced write errors from Windows. This is usually a sign that a drive is on it’s way out. Not a good way to start a relaxing weekend, I thought.
My notebook is a 6 year old Dell. I bought it second hand on eBay. A disk upgrade from 12 GB to 40 GB about 4 years ago and a more recent memory upgrade to 512 MB have kept the 650 MHz Pentium III machine quite viable for me. I don’t see the point in purchasing more CPU power than I need, just as long as the rest of the system is adequate. It’s been quick enough and it was a reliable performer. Though I was worried about how long it would last, I was not keen on having to reinstall all the software on it if I were to move to a new machine.
Most of my data these days sits on external USB 2.0 hard disks. That way, if one machine goes down I just plug the drive into a USB port on another box and life goes on. I keep copies of the same data on multiple drives, but still, you always need a C: drive. The Windows registry and all the application settings in there don’t travel that easily. With the disk errors announcing the eventual failure of the drive it looked like I didn’t have much of choice.
I went out to local computer stores and ended up buying two items:
- a 300 GB USB drive (IO DATA / Maxtor). Eventually I didn’t need this for the upgrade, but my 160 GB USB drive had too little space left for making a 40 GB image and I would have had to get something bigger soon.
- a 60 GB USB notebook drive (Logitec) – I was originally looking for an internal drive (2.5″), but the USB version proved very useful.
My first approach
To be on the safe site, I first copied a few essential folders from the internal drive to the USB drive. Next I installed PowerQuest Disk Image 7 (DI7), which allows you to copy an entire drive to an image file on another drive and later restore it to another disk. That’s how the upgrade from the original 12 GB drive had been done. I had no luck. As soon as I started DI7 the program terminated, no error message. Probably the activiation mechanism realized I had previously activated the software on another machine, a desktop which I had used to try to copy the notebook drive to another internal drive because there I can hook up multiple drives to ATA cables.
I talked to a friend and he mentioned Acronis True Image. At just under $50 it was $20 cheaper than Noprton Ghost, the equivalent product from Symantec, which acquired PowerQuest’s product line. I found the product was available with a 15 day free trial and the reviews looked good.
Later in the afternoon my hard disk had recovered somewhat, but I still wanted to move on to the new drive because computer problems that go away on their own have this nasty habit of coming back on their own…
I installed Acronis on the machine (download Acronis True Image 9.0 Home 15 days trial here) and hooked up the notebook drive. It first wasn’t recognized because my notebook USB card did not supply bus power, but once I hooked up the USB power cable to the USB hub of my desktop monitor the drive came up. I selected the “Clone Disk” option, asking it to copy from the first hard disk to the USB hard disk. Then Acronis told me it was going to reboot the computer, which it did. I left it like this overnight.
In the morning I rebooted and found the complete original data on the USB drive. I then shut down the machine, removed the 40 GB notebook drive, opened the external USB case and transplanted the drive inside the notebook. The first reboot was unsuccessful, Windows reset the machine, but after the second reboot I was in business. I ran scandisk, viewed a couple of folders, everything worked. I had all my data and programs on a new drive and 30 GB of extra free space. This is excellent. I fully recommend Acronis True Imagine for anyone who wants to upgrade a hard disk in their machine. Using a USB hard disk as the target drive this process is fairly painless even if only one hard disk at a time can be fitted inside the machine.
Acronis and network drives
There was one small hitch, which I found later in the day. I could no longer map a network drive to the 160 GB USB drive on my notebook from other machine in the network. The NET USE command from a DOS prompt gave the following error message:
System error 1130 has occurred.
Not enough server storage is available to process this command.
A quick Google search found a ready-made solution to the problem. Aparantly, Acronis installs a driver that watches writes to the disk drive so that it can determine which data needs copying on an incremental backup. This driver causes problems for the network server on Windows. The solution is to set a registry value in Windows to make the network server allocate more space when handling disk requests.