Monday, March 16, 2009

report from March 09

Your scribe has been configurating a new Linux netbook to do things that aren't in the instruction book which meant a day lost in Software Configuration land - and with a large public event in Bath at the weekend I've been working on, not much time left over for scribing.

Disk Drives and backups appeared to be on our minds this last month. The ominous ticking sound from the drive in my MBPro led me to do some checking. Nothing ominous in the logs or in Disc Utility - but the system became very unstable (and HOT) so it was time to do some first aid. As recommended by Elliott, I'm now using SuperDuper as a backup app - which means I have a bootable firewire drive with the last stable system always to hand. So I boot off that, finish the job, and decide to reformat the HD in the laptop. I had a hunch there's something wrong with the drive (the ticking is Not Good) and although the initial file system checks are good, what I really wanted to do was reformat at low-level (ie marking the bad sectors). You can't do that as such any more - even if you find a utility on the web it's not recommended by the manufacturers - but what you can do (through Disk Utility) is reformat, with 'Write Zeros' under the Advanced Options. When the system writes to the drive, it also reads - and any errors lead to the sector being marked - so the end result is the same. Guess what - the suspect drive stalled at 60% through each time, presumably a mechanical fault or a persistent write/read at a damaged sector.

So (and I won't go into details here) it's a surgical replacement of the drive, the patient has made a full recovery (no pun intended) and is running much cooler overall.

Full marks to SuperDuper - and a strong recommendation from at least two of us. My current setup is to use SuperDuper to clone the entire drive (bootable) on one partition of the F/W drive, and use the other for Time Machine. I've found TM to be a disk hog in the past, as it stores images of the system and the virtual drives that Parallels uses - and restoring from TM, easy to do though it is, takes an absolute age. So I've configured TM just to backup my documents and ignore the system files. Much quicker to run and much smaller too. There are a couple of flaws here - some annoying programs (like Mail) don't store data in the Documents folders, but inside ~/Library . iWeb is particularly obscure when it comes to finding the data for the websites produced. But the cloned drive has latest copies at least. (And my email archives are now in the cloud, as I use Gmail with an IMAP configuration).

We also heard reports of serious problems with Seagate drives - to be precise, the Barracuda 7200.11 models. Start reading here (Slashdot) and here (TechReport).