Two dead hard drives, two days

There have been a plethora of hard drive problems I’ve had to deal with this year. In the past two days, I’ve had to repeat the wonderful Windows XP installation/update process three times – once for one of my servers (Windows XP/Apache2.2/PHP/MySQL stack) and twice for client systems whose hard drives just up and quit.

In January, my cousin’s P3/733 gave up the ghost in the same way – rather than buying a new hard drive and installing Windows again, he opted to go out and get a MacBook. It ended up costing him a bit more than he wanted to spend, but the system works for him now instead of Media Player giving a “Windows Genuine Advantage” failure every time he tried to play a video file. (Admittedly, I’m unsure exactly where this XP copy came from, but it shouldn’t prevent him from launching a previous version, like v10, of Media Player.) In the meantime, he ended up using VLC to play all video files. After attempting to reset the product key to a known, valid one, both using Microsoft’s official key change application and a widely-known registry patch:

How to Reset a Windows XP Product Keyavailable from Microsoft as well

  1. Start Registry Editor (Start, Run, regedit)
  2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WPAEvents
  3. Double-click the OOBETimer value, click anywhere in the editor, delete a hex value and replace it with “00”
  4. Exit Registry Editor
  5. Start, Run, %systemroot%\system32\oobe\msoobe.exe /a
  6. When prompted, choose “I want to activate Windows over the phone”
  7. Click the “Change Product Key” button
  8. Enter a new valid product key for Windows
  9. Save the changes, close the window when you’re returned to the Telephone Activation screen
  10. Reboot the computer, your product ID will be updated to reflect the new key

…the system STILL refused to validate as genuine. What? OS X doesn’t have this problem?

A common element in these cases is the drive brand. Different people have their preferred drive manufacturers; my preferred choice is Seagate, due to their large capacities and extremely competitive pricing from NCIX. Western Digital also makes a solid IDE drive – I have no idea about their SATA units. Another reason I end up using Seagate is their five year warranty, which is exceptional compared to most of the industry.

The one drive I will not touch in a personal system is Maxtor. Yes, I’m aware that Seagate bought out Maxtor; I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean for the end quality of drives. What I do know is that out of all the drives that have failed on me this year, three of them have been Maxtors, run in very low-stress environments. Last year, the Western Digital drive in my original Xbox died, but the system had been apart upwards of twenty times and the unit was kicked around fairly often – so I can’t blame the company.

Maxtor drives may be the highest reliability units in the world; I wouldn’t really be in a position to judge. I’m also aware that drives can fail at about a 1-2% rate per year of service under normal use – perhaps I’ve just gotten a bad set of drives. The entire sequencing, though, leads me to believe that I don’t want to trust critical data to a MaxLine drive.

I’ve stopped short of recommending RAID-1 mirroring for my clients, because of the oddities that different onboard storage controllers can have. There’s no sense recommending that solution until Windows offers a software RAID option or something comparable to Leopard’s Time Machine.