Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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December 2001, Week 4 -- When Bad Things Happen to Good Hard Drives



 HDD Sheriff PCI

   I've never had a hard disk crash. (And I'm knocking on all the wood I can find as a I say this). This is serious stuff. It can ruin a business, and at the very least cost a lot of money and time.

   We've talked before about making backups and about the use of mirrored systems. There are other things you can do that warn of approaching disaster and/or easily recover from bad situations.


The hardware approach


 HDD Sheriff USB

   "HDD Sheriff" comes in several configurations for Windows, each costing around $50-$60. In operation it has the appearance of magic.

   My favorite is the HDD Sheriff USB. This is a little memory stick that plugs into a USB port on Win 98 and up computers. Load the software into the computer and from then on it stores the essential information needed to restore your computer to its pre-crash or freeze-up operating condition. You simply turn the computer off and then on again, and the Sheriff boots it up as if nothing has happened. You can also designate a key sequence as a "reset" and that will restore the computer to the status quo ante.

 HDD Sheriff LAN

   This is such a common problem that there ought to be a warning sticker on every computer sold. Because every programmer believes that their program is the only one worth running, and that certainly you will never want to dump it, they seldom care about conflicts with other programs. Yet these conflicts are so common that one of our technical sources in Florida confesses that he has to wipe his hard drive clean about every six months and start over.


   HDD Sheriff also comes as a small circuit card that plugs into the computer's mother board and a slightly more expensive version that also plugs into the mother board but protects a network from corruption. Sheriff uses about five percent of your hard drive to keep track of changes and the routines needed to eliminate those changes.


   Using the reset or restart functions to take a system back to its more pristine condition has a built in problem: namely that you might have wanted that new program in there. The software permits a manual over-ride by the user, to keep the new program in place.


The software approach

  Disk Alert

   The new "DiskAlert"  for Windows 2000 and NT takes a software approach, monitoring drives for the telltale signs of approaching failure. Before a drive fails it typically starts giving read failures to queries and has a slowing response time. At that point you can guts it out and hope for the best, but it's really best to backup everything and get a new main drive.

   DiskAlert costs $50 to cover one computer, $25 per machine for up to 20 computers.


A couple of trouble preventing tips


   Here are two easy tips to keep your system from hanging up when it needn't and to make it run cleaner and faster:


   The first is "defrag." It stands for defragmentation and is a built-in PC routine for pulling together fragments of programs and files so they are more readily accessible when called for. It not only speeds operation but also cuts down the wear and tear on your hard drive. I know a corporate systems guy who comes in early and defrags all the company's computers every morning.


   The second system saver is patience. Let the entire system load before you start typing. Sure it will take a minute extra, but leave it alone! Entering keyboard commands in the middle of a startup can cause problems.



--  All about healthy bones, from the National Institutes of Health.

--  Diet affects your health. Info here covers food and arthritis, diabetes, cholesterol, weight management and much more and delves into the problems of caffeine, snack foods, child feeding, allergies, etc.

--  Follow the 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition to find a navigable route across the North American continent. There isn't one but their exploration opened the continent for the new United States. Site is beautifully done.


-- Vacation rentals around the world. There are several sites for this sort of thing and we have mentioned others in the past. If you want to look at many do a search on the key words "vacation rentals" with a search engine like google, profusion or vivisimo.

  Star Trek Armada


That's entertainment

   Things are usually quiet around this time of year. Maybe time for a couple of games. Here are two new ones for the action crowd:

-- "Star Trek: Armada II," for Windows from Activision. The title tells you what's happening. This follows the popular Armada I and features beautiful 3-D graphics, more action and longer battle campaigns.

-- "Return to Castle Wolfenstein," also from Activision and for Windows, extends a computer game classic. The original Castle Wolfenstein ran on an Apple II as I recall and was a straight shoot-em-up. Your mission was to escape from a Nazi prison (the Castle in the title) during World War II. There have been at least a couple of updates since then but the scenario here is still Nazi Europe. Only this time the action is not confined to the castle.

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at   or