So Close

By Lance Ulanoff  |  Posted 2004-06-23 Print this article Print

So Close

I inserted the bootable CD into the drive and proceeded to hard-boot my system. My VAIO booted from the CD and launched the Maxtor utility. It automatically recognized the system drives, so I selected the primary slave drive, the E:, and then ran a zero-fill format. This process took a few hours. When I returned to the PC, the utility was showing a dialog that proclaimed success. I exited the utility, ejected the CD, and rebooted.

Windows launched normally, and in My Computer I saw all my drives, including the damaged E: drive. I clicked on it. Windows reported it as an unformatted drive. Frustrated, but not beaten, I ran the Windows-based Maxtor utility and did an NTFS format. Now this Maxtor utility reported success. I returned to My Computer, clicked on the E: drive, and faced another unhappy report: Windows said the drive was still in a raw, unformatted state. It asked if I wanted it to format the drive. I clicked "yes" and let the Windows disk-format routine begin. After an hour or so, a disk-format failure message appeared.

I was facing the prospect of removing the drive and destroying it (more to relieve my frustration than to protect my privacy). But before taking that drastic and final step, I checked in with the experts at PC Labs. First, technical director Rich Fisco laughed at me because I was too cheap just to go out and buy a new 100GB hard drive for probably less than $60 (after rebates). Still, when he stopped chuckling, he asked if I had used Maxtors utilities. I explained all I had done. He suggested I do a "low-level format" from within the Maxtor ISO utility. I had thought the zero-fill accomplished the same thing. No, he said. Only the low-level format can redo all the tables and potentially make the disk usable again. Of course, Fisco added, if anything happens during what promised to be an hours-long process, the drive is "toast." The other, even less comforting news he delivered is that when a hard drive begins failing, even reformatting it (at any level) can not truly save it. Yes, it should work and even be able to save data, but errors are likely to return as the drive continues its inexorable and probably rapid slide into the abyss.

So, now my quest seemed more quixotic than ever, yet I figured I had nothing to lose. The disk was already as good as dead to me. I could only improve the situation, even if just for a little while….

Its now about three weeks later.

I tried low-level formatting the drive through the Maxtor utility, but it didnt offer that as a separate option. I tried to do the same in the Windows Command interface, but all I got was a message that this disk was missing the necessary BIOS information.

Its official: My hard drive is dead.

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More Lance Ulanoff:

Lance Ulanoff is Editor in Chief and VP of Content for PC Magazine Network, and brings with him over 20 years journalism experience, the last 16 of which he has spent in the computer technology publishing industry.

He began his career as a weekly newspaper reporter before joining a national trade publication, traveling the country covering product distribution and data processing issues. In 1991 he joined PC Magazine where he spent five years writing and managing feature stories and reviews, covering a wide range of topics, including books and diverse technologies such as graphics hardware and software, office applications, operating systems and, tech news. He left as a senior associate editor in 1996 to enter the online arena as online editor at HomePC magazine, a popular consumer computing publication. While there, Ulanoff launched, and and wrote about Web sites and Web-site building.

In 1998 he joined Windows Magazine as the senior editor for online, spearheading the popular magazine's Web site, which drew some 6 million page views per month. He also wrote numerous product reviews and features covering all aspects of the computing world. During his tenure, won the Computer Press Association's prestigious runner-up prize for Best Overall Website.

In August 1999, Ulanoff briefly left publishing to join as producer for the Computing and Consumer Electronics channels and then was promoted to the site's senior director for content. He returned to PC Magazine in November 2000 and relaunched in July 2001. The new was named runner-up for Best Web Sites at the American Business Media's Annual Neal Awards in March 2002 and won a Best Web Site Award from the ASBPE in 2004. Under his direction, regularly generated more than 25 million page views a month and reached nearly 5 million monthly unique visitors in 2005.

For the last year and a half, Ulanoff has served as Editor, Reviews, PC Magazine. In that role he has overseen all product and review coverage for PC Magazine and, as well as managed PC Labs. He also writes a popular weekly technology column for and his column also appears in PC Magazine.

Recognized as an expert in the technology arena, Lance makes frequent appearances on local, national and international news programs including New YorkÔÇÖs Eyewitness News, NewsChannel 4, CNN, CNN HN, CNBC, MSNBC, Good Morning America Weekend Edition, and BBC, as well as being a regular guest on FoxNewsÔÇÖ Studio B with Shepard Smith. He has also offered commentary on National Public Radio and been interviewed by radio stations around the country. Lance has been an invited guest speaker at numerous technology conferences including Digital Life, RoboBusiness, RoboNexus, Business Foresight and Digital Media WireÔÇÖs Games and Mobile Forum.

Lance also serves as co-host of PC MagazineÔÇÖs weekly podcast, PCMag Radio.


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