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Serviceman's Log

Why is it that people who should know better often fail to back-up important files on a hard disk drive? Retrieving data from a faulty HDD in a machine that won't boot can be a lot of work but perseverance sometimes pays off.

by the Serviceman

Items Covered This Month

• Retrieving data from an Apple Mac

• Earwigs & non-payers

• Now that I’ve retired

• Non-existent quality control

• Mrs Bleep’s new TV antenna

My first story this month comes from W. S. of Numurkah, Victoria and concerns the hoops he had to jump through to retrieve data from a Mac laptop with a faulty hard disk drive. Here it is in his own words . . .

I teach at a secondary college and at the beginning of last year, the decision was made to go to Mac laptops for the staff and students. This subsequently proved to be a steep learning curve for both the teachers and IT staff, as they came to grips with the Mac OS (operating system) after eight years of using Windows XP.

Click for larger image

Recently, our computer technician Dave came to me with a 6-month old MacBook and noticeably less hair than the last time I saw him. The problem was that the Mac would not boot. Instead, it was giving the spinning beach-ball of death and a teacher had years of work on it that he was now unable to retrieve. It’s the old, familiar story . . . “I was going to back it up but didn’t get around to it”.

Now if the machine had been a PC, the files would be easy to retrieve – you just phone the supplier and ask if it’s OK to pull the hard drive out. The answer is always “yes”, so you simply remove the drive, pop it into a desktop PC and copy the files across.

With a Mac, it’s a different story. In this case, the answer is always “no, removing the drive will void the warranty and you should send it back to the factory”. And so that’s how the laptop found its way into my hands. Its owner was not willing to risk the factory losing all his years of work and since I have experience with Linux and a history of fishing computers out of the dumpster and getting them to work again, I was just the person to get him out of trouble!

The first thing I did was insert the Mac operating system disc, turn the machine on and hold down the option key to get it to boot from the CD-ROM. Macs don’t have a BIOS screen like a PC – instead, there are a number of keys that can be pressed on start-up to make the machine boot from different disks.

All seemed to go well initially and the resulting installation screen gives you some options to repair the operating system using a program (sorry, “application”) called “Disc Utilities”. It has a number of menus, including first aid, erase, partition, RAID and restore. Unfortunately, these would start up, make me wait for an hour or so and then fail, with an error message stating that the hard drive had lots of bad sectors.

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