A little background for foundation before I start: For roughly 14 years now, I have migrated from fiddling with computers to repairing them professionally. Along the way, I have made some blunders… some BAD blunders. From not wearing an anti-static band to plugging a PCI riser card into a powered-up, running server (POP goes the riser card – D. Muntz, if you are reading this, you should remember that night.). I say that to make this point, not only to to IT Professionals, but everyone who performs repair, installation, construction and maintenance on other people’s property. Mistakes make us better at our job.
That said, I wanted to share a story from this week that could have turned out to be quite disastrous. I received a PC, from a well respected friend who trusts me to handle their PC issues. It seems it was suffering from the infamous BSoD (Blue Screen of Death). These can be from a number of things, but the ones that stick out are corrupted drivers, bad memory and failing hard drives.
Since the PC would not boot and went straight to the BSoD, I decided to try the easiest thing first. I loaded my trusty Memtest Live CD and booted to it. Almost instantly after the memory test began, I saw errors in multiple memory addresses, confirming that the memory was indeed bad.
I replaced the module with a test module that I have lying around, just for these instances. The PC successfully booted, and into the Windows environment I went. As of now, the issue had been discovered and resolved, however I began to notice things… bad things, in the form of pop-ups. “Virus this, PC Cleaner that, Backup your PC, You need to purchase ….” Clearly, the machine suffered from a malware infection. Also, I noticed that it had no network connectivity. Upon further research, none of the network interfaces were loading. Checking the system services revealed even more issues. There were of a number of system services that were stopped and could not be restarted.
I could not, in good faith, return the machine back to the owner like this. Instead of fighting hours of a losing battle, I decided it was time to wipe this puppy clean and start over. Before doing so, I grabbed my trusty external hard drive and began backing up vital directories and files. While doing this, I noticed that the PC had Microsoft Office installed and activated. Over the years, I have found that the majority of people DO NOT retain the product keys or packaging that this software comes in, so I decided to use a tool that scans the PC and reports back with a list of the product keys of registered software. This was copied on to a flash drive for future reference.
Now, with the user’s files backed up and the product keys safe in hand, I initiated the full system restore. After about 20 minutes, I was faced with a “factory setting”, working PC. The retention of the Office product key proved to be a life-saver, as the software needed to be activated once again (big problem dodged there). I then copied over all of the files and the PC was just about back like it should have been, working network services and all. All that was left was about 140 updates from Microsoft.
At this point, I generally format my external drives so that when I need them again, they are not full of old files from a previous repair. However, for some reason, I decided to keep them until the PC was delivered. I started the above mentioned updates and left for the evening.
When I returned the next day, the replacement memory that was ordered arrived and it was time to change out the test module for the new one. The PC was already off, so I made the swap and powered the machine on. What happened next was any technician’s nightmare. “Please insert bootable media and try again”… WTF?!
Several reboots later, a Clonezilla attempt, another recovery attempt and I was left with a deceased hard drive. It must have died sometime during the night amongst the plethora of Microsoft updates. That’s okay, I will just copy the partition with the system recovery to another drive… NOPE, dead too.
DAMNIT! What now? Since this was a Samsung PC, the Operating system product key is made specifically for special OEM media from Samsung. I looked on the back on the PC and found another disturbing sign. It was a “Display Model” sticker from Best Buy, which means that the owner most likely did not receive any type of recovery media, manual or box for that matter.
At this point, all is lost. I decided to place one of my refurbished hard drives in the machine and made what I thought would be a futile attempt at contacting Samsung support and requesting recovery media. To my surprise, they were very accommodating and processed a new set of recovery media to be mailed straight to me. After that, I walked back into the workshop and I saw it… glowing like it had an aura. It was the external drive that I decided not to erase! The customer’s info would alive! The PC may be late, getting back to the customer, however it will be fixed, it will be right and if you are wondering… no, the customer will NOT be charged for the replacement drive or any additional labor.
So, in closing, I wrote the long-winded story above, to make a point. I have been faced with this before and did not have the wherewithal to create a backup. It was only after making a huge mistake, that I remembered what needed to be done and it paid off. Cherish your mistakes and your blunders, as they are what make you better at what you do and make you …. “Seasoned”