Less than 12 hours after I get my Inspiron back to my house, the machine refused to boot past the Grub list, and it kept spitting out “Error 29: Write failure” or something to that effect.
Hard drive crash, of cataclysmic proportions.
It was a spectacular thing to see. It was like watching a car crash. Sparks, flames, explosions. Great stuff. Okay, maybe no sparks or flames.
(The drive itself is a 60Gb Hitachi Travelstar 7200 rpm drive, an E7K60 or something like that. It was a great drive, really. I’d never had any problems with it, although I will admit it was only three years old when it crashed. I don’t know if my warranty is still valid, although I will probably just buy another one to take its place. I feel I got my money’s worth.)
Anyway, without a proper Internet connection (and a working fallback machine, really), I was stuck for a solution other than a complete rebuild.
Which proved equally problematic. My efforts to wipe the disk clean (I saved a Killdisk 4.1 disk for situations just like that) were impossible — every sector after 0 yielded errors that Killdisk wasn’t prepared to handle. After 10 minutes of watching error sectors stack up, I pressed escape and went to plan B.
But plan B was likewise doomed. The live CD wouldn’t boot, since the automatic drive sensing sequence was prepared to scan the entire drive for eternity, looking for a viable partition to read. Error messages spewed past at a high rate.
Fearing I would be an octogenarian before the Xubuntu live environment would boot, I decided to go to plan C, and yank the system drive (I have two drives in this machine, and one is an identical drive I use to stash data).
That was an additional trick. I don’t have a proper tool set right now (it’s on my list, as soon as I get paid), and the 8000-series has a restraining screw — a small restraining screw, I might add — that locks down the drive door. The screw itself is inset slightly, which means I couldn’t just roll it with my fingertips. I needed something with a small, strong tip.
After trying everything from miniature paper clips to an Xacto knife to a mechanical pencil, I finally managed to loosen the screw with the foil cutter on a wine opener. Not one of those butterfly wine openers either. Those are for sissies. This was a true-blue bartender’s friend wine opener — the kind that looks like a Swiss army knife with only one blade. A real wine opener. (I used to be a bartender, so please forgive my zeal.)
The foil cutter was just sharp enough, broad enough and strong enough to work the screw loose, although the screw head was rather mangled as a result. Never mind that! With the restraining screw out, I could pull the drive and reboot to the live CD.
Or not. The 8000s seem to assign the side hard drive as the primary master and the fixed (side) optical drive as secondary master, and without a primary master, the BIOS refused to acknowledge the secondary. And so booting wasn’t possible without something else in there.
And so plan D. Like most people, I keep a spare 40Gb 5400rpm hard drive in a modular bay and doghouse, just for emergencies like this. (What do you mean, nobody does that but me?!) I removed it from the doghouse and bay (using the foil cutter for the screws again), pulled the dead drive, replaced it with the spare, and restarted.
It’s alive! An hour or so later, I had a fresh Xubuntu installation in place, I can listen to my tunes and even type blog posts, offline. I even managed to install the proprietary nvidia driver, because I had stashed a Ubuntu 7.04 alternate CD in a pocket of my backpack, and the driver is on the disc (I’m not sure why it’s not on the Xubuntu live CD. Perhaps it’s a space issue).
And so, boys and girls, the moral of the story is (1) always keep a spare laptop hard drive in your backpack, and (2) never underestimate the value of a good wine opener.