Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Computer problems on my vacation

On Monday morning I went to check my Windows desktop PC which I'd left on overnight. I found that it appeared to be dead. Moving the mouse didn't wake up the monitor from sleep mode and when I power-cycled the computer the monitor insisted that it had no signal. I opened the case and poked around. Everything looked OK inside. The PC was getting power because the optical drives' lights flickered when I turned it on, the fans came on, and the hard drive light worked. But I never got any POST messages or beeps indicating that the PC was trying to boot up. So it looked like the motherboard had died overnight. It's a three-year-old Dell PC that's out of warranty, and I bought my MacBook Pro to replace it, so it's no great loss. But it is now trash.

I wasted little time in dismembering the PC. I took out the hard drive, installed it in a USB enclosure, and used SuperDuper to clone my MacBook Pro to it. Now I have a spare, bootable copy of my Mac that I can run on any other Mac, or use to restore my system in a hurry if I have a hardware failure. This backup is in addition to the Time Machine backup drive that I keep at work. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm a zealot when it comes to data backup.) I might cannibalize the DVD drives as well, though I don't really need them.

I have another backup drive that I used to keep for the Windows PC. It now holds the last good backup of the PC, from just before my move to Brooklyn in July. I can access it from my Mac, but because it's in NTFS format, I can't write data to it from the Mac, I can only read it. I tried writing data from my Windows Vista VM on the Mac, but that didn't work either. If I want to edit that data or reformat the disk, I'll need another Windows PC. I could always bring home my work laptop and use that. Or I could take this as a sign that it's finally time to give Boot Camp a try and install Vista on the "bare metal" of my MacBook Pro. While I'd be able to access Windows resources natively with the Mac hardware, I'd lose 20-30 GB of hard drive space to my Windows installation. I've resisted that temptation until now, but without a reliable PC at home, I think my hand has been forced. But that will be a task for after my vacation. In order to use Boot Camp, I need to print out the software manual. However, my home printer has been out of order for a few weeks with ink cartridge issues. I need to replace the ink cartridges to get the printer working. So I'll have to wait to install Boot Camp until I go back to work after Labor Day, print out the instructions, then have a free day at home to play around. I love tinkering with my computers, so that sounds like a fine way to kill an afternoon.

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