Ups and downs on the dead disk highway

Okay, I’m going to expose my ignorance of current generation PC hardware by confessing that I thought that a single cable was enough to hook up my new SATA drive to my motherboard. Oh no. Not nearly enough.

Not only does it need a separate power cable, which wasn’t supplied with my motherboard, but the Windows XP installation doesn’t recognize SATA drives out of the box. You have to supply the drivers manually at the start of the install on a floppy disk mounted as drive A:. No, you can’t just stick them on a CD. How quaint.

As my PC doesn’t have a floppy disk drive any more, and we don’t seem to have a spare one lying around the house, the alternative to going out and buying a new one (do computer shops even sell floppy disk drives any more?) is to create a new Windows XP install CD, and slipstream the drivers onto it. Fortunately, there is a useful program called XPCreate which simplifies the process of creating slipstreamed disks.

Nevertheless, this means that my PC is going to be out of commission for most of the week. If I order a SATA power adapter this evening, it’ll get dispatched tomorrow, the postman will try and deliver it on Thursday, fail because there’s no-one at home, and I’ll be able to pick it up from the Post Office depot on Friday morning.


On the brighter side, I had been worrying about using up another authorization token for iTunes. Music you buy from the iTunes music library is authorized to play on up to 5 machines. You can manually de-authorize a computer, for example if you want to sell it, or move all your stuff to a different machine, but this is no use if your PC up and dies on you before you can do that. However, I just found out that once you have used up your 5 authorizations, iTunes will give you a button to instantly deauthorize all machines that were registered to play your music.

I haven’t bought all that much music from the iTunes Music Library, partly because of the 5 machine restriction. (And partly because is much cheaper.) But knowing that there’s a big shiny “reset” button at the end of the road is a big a relief. You can only use it once a year, but fortunately my disks don’t tend to crash that often.

8 Replies to “Ups and downs on the dead disk highway”

  1. Yeah, the missing SATA support and the need for the drivers on a ?!@#$ floppy caught me off guard as well a while back. Very annoying. It’s the major reason I’ve gone back to using ATA drives, even if the motherboard supports SATA, when putting together a computer for friends and family… too much of a support hassle.

  2. Agreed. Why on earth did Microsoft not add in support when they released SP2? They changed everything else in the OS, and about 30% of the drives on the market seem to be SATA these days. Very, very annoying…

  3. I had been thinking about getting another HDD to add storage, but also to back up stuff (photos, etc).

    I do back up to DVD, but not often enough….

    On an aside, can you load the drivers from a USB pen-drive? If you can boot from a USB drive, then you must be able to access a pen-drive?

  4. Well, you scared me enough – new HDD on the way, will fit this weekend….

    Now, how do I explain to my parents that as they run a PC that is about 100 years old, and all the photos they have of their only grandson and grandaughter are on there, they need to get into some sort of backup routine?

  5. I tried the USB key drive thing, but it didn’t work. My motherboard will mount is as the first available drive from C: on, but it won’t stick it on A: or B:. The new floppy drive only cost a tenner, so getting it wasn’t too much of a hardship. Spending the money was probably wirth it to skip the hassle of creating a slipstreamed CD.

    As for parents and photos, there’s a simple solution: Flickr. Buy them a Pro account ($25 or so for a year), and they can upload all of their photos to remote storage.

    I’d been sitting around with a basic/free Flickr account for some time, but it was only last week that Alan pointed out that with a Pro account you can store use the it as a complete photo backup service. It’ll store your pictures at their original resolution, plus you get all of the regular Flickr goodness, such as resizing, galleries (photosets), and web sharing.

    I know that my parents are getting a Flickr account heading their way very soon…

  6. Good idea – only limited by the fact that they have a 5 megapixel camera and a 56k dial-up line. In other words, hours to upload!

  7. Well, my backup strategy was for the longest time to have 2 harddisks in my computer and perform regular backups from one to the other. I’m pretty happy with Allway Sync to take that chore off of my hands (URL below). Plus, occasionally I backup very important stuff (photo’s mostly) to cd-rom.

    I pretty much outgrew my 2x80GB solution though, so I just ordered a external USB2 harddisk (from Western Digital, URL below). It comes with software that, once set up, will do backups at the push of a button on the external drive itself (Maxtor also has drives that come with the same software/button solution).

    If it works well, I guess I’ll be setting up something like that for other people as well.

    Of course, it’s not as safe as off-site archival, but hey, when I go on a holiday I can at least easily unplug the drive and store it at someone else’s place.

  8. I’ve actually got one of the Maxtor external drives, but I don’t have it configured for automatic backups. Primarily because the backup software that comes with it (Dantz Retrospect 6 Express) is too damn hard to understand. Subvolumes? Duplicate Volumes? I just want it to copy files from a few directories!

    I’ve heard good things about Backup4All (, and I might give it a try.

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