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Sunday, October 27, 2013
Further Adventures in Hard Drive Failure
Blog Entry #304

Tragedy befell me on the 11th of October: my Intel iMac's hard disk drive died. I was neither online nor doing anything out of the ordinary (e.g., working in the SheepShaver environment) when it happened. Upon attempting to open an OpenOffice spreadsheet file - BAM - the operation of my computer immediately ground to a halt. The Command-Option-Escape freeze shortcut had no effect and I couldn't access the Apple menu to either restart or shut down the computer. I unplugged the power cord to turn off the computer; upon plugging the cord back in and turning on the computer, I was greeted by a question-mark-on-a-folder icon that blinked at me.

I ran to the Everything Mac booklet and the Mac OS X Install Disc 1 that came with my iMac. Per page 42 of the booklet, I tried to re-access the desktop by
(1) holding down the Option key when turning on the computer, and
(2) resetting the NVRAM after turning on the computer,
to no avail; I couldn't even run (the) Apple Hardware Test. I was able to mount the installation CD, which prompted me to reinstall the original system software, but there was no volume to install it on; the CD's Disk Utility and Terminal utilities showed no trace of the hard disk volume, as though it had simply vanished.

The following day I walked over to the Children's Resource Center branch of the New Orleans Public Library and via a for-patron-use computer went online to research the flashing-? question. Not surprisingly - there are no new problems under the sun, eh? - a mac flashing question mark no disk Google search revealed that there are other Mac users who have faced what I was facing. The prognosis: "Your hard drive is dead and your data is gone." Uh-oh.

Hoping to find a Mac repair place in New Orleans proper, I went through the Computer & Computer Equip Repair & Serv section of the Yellow Pages and found three businesses that were located on Magazine Street (FYI: formerly at 5924 Magazine, Uptown Computer is now in Houma) and therefore a bus ride away from my home. A 14 October library computer session suggested that Magazine Street Computer Services (MSCS) had the best reputation of these businesses* and I took my computer to MSCS later that day. Two days later MSCS's proprietor, B.J. Haggerty, called me and told me that he needed, but did not have, some sort of 'blow-drying' tool to get inside my computer - Otherwise I'll literally have to smash the screen to get to the hard drive - and that he couldn't help me as far as replacing the hard drive was concerned.

*MSCS doesn't have a Web site; its Yelp page boasted two five-star reviews on 14 October but this is no longer true as of this writing.

I also did mac repair new orleans and apple repair new orleans Google searches while at the library. The first page of hits for both searches sported a link to a page for a Fixit Tech Suite business in Metairie. The Fixit guys aver, We are CHEAPER and FASTER than ANY other repair company in Louisiana guaranteed. Moreover, I happened to have on hand a "never expires" $20 Fixit coupon that I had clipped from a ClipperMagazine mailing once upon a time.

I was less than thrilled about going out to Metairie to get my computer fixed - "Oh no, another series of $20-25 cab rides"** - but I decided to take a chance on Fixit, and I'm glad I did. Thursday morning (17 October) I dropped off my computer at Fixit. Saturday afternoon a Fixit technician called me with a diagnosis: It does look like the hard drive is dead; I gave him the go-ahead to replace the drive. Monday morning (21 October) my computer was ready, with a shiny new 1TB hard disk drive running OS 10.6.8. After factoring in the aforementioned $20 coupon, my final repair cost was $133.10.

**As it happens, Fixit Tech Suite is easily accessible via mass transit. Take the RTA 27 Louisiana bus to the Cemeteries stop and then connect to the Jefferson Transit E-1 Veterans bus, whose route has a stop almost right in front of Fixit's front door. Total price for a one-way trip: $2.75 - less than what a cab fare will start at ($3.50).

Other repair possibilities

Two other businesses cropped up on both of the first pages of my mac|apple repair new orleans searches.
(1) Apple Repair New Orleans has a dodgy online reputation; further raising red flags, it's not in the phone book and is appointment only.
(2) Shear Systems, which is also in Metairie, is the only independent business in the New Orleans area authorized by Apple to perform warranty repairs or to obtain genuine Apple parts; I figured that these guys would be expensive if they're an Apple proxy.

I have heretofore had Mac repair work done at The Computer Shoppe in Metairie (how is it that so many of these places are in Metairie and not New Orleans?), which went out of business in 2011 and whose extant Web site recommends that would-be customers go to Hughes MacWorks, which is based in Covington. I have no doubt that Dave and Scot Hughes do a good job but again I expected their on-site support to not come cheaply.

Lastly, C4 Tech & Design, conveniently located on Oak Street, has very good online reviews - check it out if you're determined to stay in the Big Easy.

Then and now

This isn't the first time I've had a hard drive die on me. As noted in the Computer #2 section of Blog Entry #126, the hard drive of my previous computer, a G3 iMac, gave up the ghost in late 2001; that repair set me back $295.41 - hard drive capacity cost a lot more ten years ago. The G3 iMac drive did not die immediately: it took the better part of a week for the drive to cough and sputter to a complete halt, which crucially gave me the needed time to copy the contents of its disk. In contrast, there was nothing gradual about the death of the Intel iMac drive, as detailed earlier.

Fixit handed my dead Intel iMac drive back to me: We couldn't access it. I went back to MSCS with the drive; B.J. ran a quick test on it and pronounced it beyond his reach. Both Fixit and B.J. told me that
(a) there are recovery services out there that can extract the data on the dead drive's disk but
(b) I should be prepared to pay big bucks (up to $2000) for those services.

About 90% of my blog work had been backed up at the time of the crash - I am lucky in this respect, things definitely could have been worse - and most of the work I did lose can be regenerated upon putting in the necessary effort, but (in the absence of data recovery) some of my files on the disk are gone for good. So let me wrap up this post with a bit of tongue-lashing. If it's been a while since you've backed up your data - if you're not in the habit of backing up your work weekly or at least monthly - get your act together and deal with it now.

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