Tales of a Geek Squad Recovery

Geek Squad data recovery

There are so many lessons to take away from my recent experience in netbook hardware failure, it’s hard to know where to begin. A resounding vote for cloud computing and distributed risk? How about, beware of irony and over-praising your gadgets? Or simply when it rains (first the washing machine breaks down, then the car…), it pours. No, here’s the moral of the story I like: when your computer dies on a weekend, it’s good to know the Geek Squad is around for data recovery.

My beloved Asus Eee 1000HA has served me well for eleven months, but last Friday everything changed when a system config error popped up my screen. I couldn’t even boot in safe mode, and every attempt to break away from the error screen resulted in a cycle that landed me right back where I started. Miraculously I had the Windows XP recovery CD and an external CD/DVD drive on hand, but even after I figured out how to re-order the boot sequence, it became clear to me I would lose all of my data if I ran the recovery disk. A call to Asus tech support also confirmed that an F9 reset would wipe my files, and that I would need to get a full back-up before attempting the process. (Tech support would not provide any advice on how I might accomplish such a back-up with no working operating system.)

At this point you may be wondering whether I have ever considered backing up my data on a regular basis to avoid this type of disaster. I have backed up in the past to one of our Western Digital external hard drives, but even with the help of the Clickfree back-up solution I picked up in January at CES (it runs a differential back-up every time you plug it in), I’ve never managed to get into a regular routine. Before last week, it had been several months since I’d run a back-up, and I was panicked at the thought of losing the many files existing solely on my Eee PC.

I had two options once I discovered I’d have to extract the data from my netbook. I could either play amateur IT specialist, trying to boot up the computer with an alternate OS loaded on to a disk, or I could call in the professionals. Given the hours of frustration inherent in the first option, I decided on the second. Most computer places are closed on the weekends, but Best Buy is not. Gene from the Geek Squad quickly determined that he could recover my files booting up from a home-grown OS. (Yes, the Geek Squad has its own OS.) He promised he’d have everything done by Tuesday, but after listening to me whine a bit, he also said he’d call if they finished the $99 process earlier. Roughly five hours later, my data was ready.

The sad part of this story is that a system recovery on my netbook only lasted a day before the machine when kaput again. But my Eee PC is still under warranty, which means it will either get repaired (unlikely) or replaced. For my two weeks without the Eee, I’ve managed to secure a temporary laptop (thanks, Gretchen!), and I have access to all of my files. Once I’m back up and running on my own computer, I have a firm resolution to get serious about data back-ups. But if I should happen to falter in that resolution, it’s good to know the Geek Squad is right around the corner, and available to me every day of the week.

P.S. If being unwilling to continue endlessly attempting to recover data on my own makes me a failed geek, so be it. I’m a very practical person.

22 thoughts on “Tales of a Geek Squad Recovery”

  1. I tried to pressure Mari into a geekier, cheaper, and possibly more efficient solution, but I respect her desire to quickly and painlessly recover her data. Stay tuned for an upcoming post I’ll write on some disaster recovery tools to have on hand for scenarios such as these.

  2. I wonder if it would be beneficial at this point to load up a live cd of Ubuntu so you can see how you may have been able to access your drive with another operating system and copy over the necessary files to an external drive. I’m not IT professional but that has saved me a few times.

  3. I have been working in tech support for over 7 years and it’s disappointing to see that people don’t want or unwilling to try things themselves. Simple Google searches would have provided easy/painless steps to getting the files off. Some have already been mentioned above. (Looking forward to your post Dave so I won’t mention anything else) Geek Squad or really any computer repair center isn’t cheap and we have all heard about the horror stories coming from there. For a NetBook with a $300 price tag and you spend $65 (guess) for tech support. That doesn’t seem practical.

    If you must spend the money you should learn how to fix the problem. This probably won’t be the last corrupted hard drive you have. When I work on repairing someone’s computer I always offer up the solution for them. If they are willing to listen or take notes, I am willing to explain it.

    I can’t complain too much because as long as there are computers I will have more work than I can handle, all thanks to people that don’t want to learn.

  4. That’s about all I had Jeremy. Also wanted to mention Boot & Nuke and maybe Heidi Eraser. Not specifically disaster recovery tools, but good to have around for cleanup. Mari actually has the one thing I would have struggled with… an external optical drive. (Though I would have probably tried going bootable USB stick with Ubuntu.)

  5. This is why a WHS is such a great investment. Not only is it a very capable media hub but it will also backup multiple machines wirelessly on a schedule.

  6. Jeremy, I’m sure you’re lovely. And I hope you thank God, Allah, or the Giant Spaghetti Monster every day that it seems as though you were born with the gift of understanding computers. I can cook, I can write, and I can whip out quite the impressive powerpoint presentation. But I cannot, I’m afraid, comprehend what happens inside a computer. Therefore, if something goes wrong, I must seek the help of others, including smug IT support folk like yourself. Perhaps I could spend 10 hours trying in vain to learn how to fix the thing myself. Or, I could take $50 of my hard earned money to pay you to do it and spend that 10 hours doing something else. Perhaps something that comes naturally to me yet boggles your mind.

    Your comment, “I can’t complain too much because as long as there are computers I will have more work than I can handle,” is the one you should stick with. Celebrate the fact that we all have different strengths – it’s what keeps you employed.

  7. not_khop, My comment was geared towards this sites primary reader of gadget lovers and geeks . I have read most of Mari’s posts and know that her skill level is above a basic computer user. She knew enough that recovery would erase files (most don’t), she knew enough to go into safe mode (again most don’t). She also had Dave giving her suggestions. I don’t think everyone can recover files off of a computer that won’t boot but I don’t think it was past her skill level. And that doesn’t make me smug for thinking that.

  8. I’m with Jermey. But for 99.00 it was probably worth the cost in this case. Why risk an rookie error on critical data.

  9. Like many of us, Mari juggles multiple jobs and a family. After X amount of time, she made a command decision to pull the plug. I can relate, it’s what I did on the Mac side of the house a few months back. (Although, the Genius Bar was “free.” Sort of. After the Apple tax had long since been applied.)

    However, for me, the key takeaways are hardware will fail so follow thru with a backup strategy and the oft maligned Best Buy got it done. For a price.

  10. While I acknowledge setting myself up for that trouncing, the reality is I wasn’t willing to risk a rookie mistake, and the $99 I spent was well worth the time I saved. Since the hardware completely died about 24 hours later, there’s a decent chance I might not have been able to recover the data before losing all access.

    Jeremy- Believe it or not, I would love to have the time to learn more… about a lot of things. But I find I have to prioritize.

    Dave- Yes, the key takeaway here is having an effective back-up strategy. One that I will actually stick to. :)

  11. I’ll put in another vote for WHS. The transparent, automatic, whole house (four computers) differential backup makes it worthwhile even without the other benefits.

  12. The key as Brent says is making the process automatic.

    Acronis True Image non stop backup is what I am using right now to backup my laptop. Keeps everything backup with me having to do a thing.

    WHS I used for a long time but I was having problems with corrupted files. For some reason WHS didn’t like my mix of firewire/usb/ide/esata drives; I now use Windows 2008 server to store all my media files. I use two servers each with a copy of all the files.

    Mozy I use for those files I cannot afford to lose, if the house burns down I can always get a copy from these guys.

  13. Richard:
    SpinRite is bad mojo if the Hard Drive were to be dying.

    What BestBuy store did you get this done at?

  14. While the inner geek in me cringes at the thought of spending $99 to do simple data recovery, I can understand Mari’s decision here. Whether you boot off a CD/USB Drive, or you yank the hard drive and put it in an external enclosure (this is usually my preference), it’s not a particularly dangerous procedure. Still, when your data is at risk I can understand not dinking around and trying to do it yourself. There’s always the chance of screwing up and accidentally reformatting the drive (still technically recoverable from, but much more difficult), or taking too long and letting the hard drive completely die.

    Though, personally, I wouldn’t trust Geek Squad employees with things like this. I know too many people that have gotten burned by the Geek Squad to ever throw business their way. Though, those cases were a while ago, and maybe they’ve improved since then.

    By the way, I doubt the Geek Squad guys really have their own OS. I bet they either use a linux/bsd live CD like SystemRescueCD, or something like BartPE and UBCD4Win (basically a Windows boot CD).

  15. Well that was a fun two days.

    On Sat I decided that the best way to undo some changes I had made to my laptop was to restore from a Acronis backup.

    Restore seems to go OK, but the system wouldn’t boot. On further examination not all of the files had been restored.

    After much messing around the I discover the backup disk (USB external drive) was going bad.

    I ended up re-installing Windows 7 and getting most of files from Acronis; but not all of them.

    Thank god for Mozy.

    Moral of the story, have more than one type of backup.

  16. Ubuntu booted from a USB drive with a second “CLEAN” USB recovery drive.

    It really is not inflight missile repair.

    Ubuntu download page will even tell you how to install it to the USB Drive

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