Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hard-Drive Hell and the DiscWizards; A Six-Act Play

It should be well known to my faithful friends that I've been nursing along a sick hard-drive on my primary desktop system for some time:

XP System Rescue

Hard-Drive Status Update: Seagate SeaTools!

The hardest thing I have ever had to type

It finally locked up last week again and got me to punt and just go grab a new hard-drive.

This is an older system and supports only ATA drives. This is a problem as finding ATA drives is becoming a bit more challenging as SATA drives are much more common-place now.

Normally I would just order-one up from NewEgg at a sizeable discount, but due to my frustration and desire to get it swapped out over the weekend due to my harried work-schedule, I decided to pay a premium and pick up up at the local GoodPurchase big-box electronics store.

My choices were limited. I wanted (for some crazy reason) to stick with Seagate, even though that was the same brand that seemed to be failing on me after only about 3 the Western Digitals were out. I found myself facing only two choices on the shelf: a 160 GB ATA drive and a 500 GB ATA drive. That was it. Since the price difference was only about $30 different, I went with the 500 GB'er.

How do I want to do this?

I had first considered several options for the process in making my new drive become the primary.

I could attempt to just put it in "bare" and run a fresh XP setup on it, taking care of the formatting/partitioning and system load from scratch. Then copy my files over again and go from there.

I could attempt to "clone" the old drive using some imaging software, then apply the clone image to the new drive.

I could try using the Seagate "DiscWizard" utility that claimed to be able to make a clone of my drive and resize the existing partitions for me and expand them with the new drive's extra room.

From the Seagate DiscWizard product introduction:

Seagate DiscWizard makes it easy to work with your new Seagate disc drives. DiscWizard lets you quickly install your new disc drive, with wizards that guide you through the processes of creating and formatting partitions on your disc drive.

DiscWizard also lets you transfer your data to your new Seagate disc drive in minutes. The software migrates everything – your operating systems, applications, documents and personal setting – to your new disc drives just as you had them. After you migrate, you can keep using your PC just like before. You can then keep your old drive as a backup or use DiscWizard to store your image backups.

Using powerful imaging technology, DiscWizard lets you create image backups of all the data on your computer, entire discs or individual partitions. The unique technology developed by Acronis and implemented in Seagate DiscWizard allows you to create exact, sector-by-sector disc backups, including all operating systems, applications and configuration files, software updates, personal settings and all of your data. If failures occur that block access to information or affect system operation, or if you accidentally delete necessary files, you'll be able to use the image backup to easily restore the system and lost data.

You can store backups on almost any PC storage device: local hard drives, network drives or a variety of IDE, SCSI, FireWire (IEEE-1394), USB (1.0, 1.1 and 2.0) and PC Card (formerly called PCMCIA) removable media drives, as well as CD-R/RW, DVD-RW, DVD+R/RW, magneto-optical, Iomega Zip and Jaz drives.

Wizards and a user-friendly, Windows XP-styled interface will make your work more
convenient. Just answer a few simple questions and let Seagate DiscWizard take care of everything else! When a system problem occurs, the software will get you up and running in short order.

This seemed the easiest solution for my pressed I went that direction.

Let the Swap Begin

Since I had already made a pretty comprehensive backup of the system and had those files safely tucked away on our laptop, I wasn't too worried about data loss during the process.

The Shuttle small form factor (SFF) system I have doesn't have much space inside at all. All three available bays are accounted for by a CD burner, the floppy drive, and the single hard-drive.

When doing a system data exchange between drives I prefer to have both drives in at the same time, so I removed the floppy drive, moved my original drive up to the first bay and added the new drive in the 2nd bay slot..adjusting the jumpers as needed.

I rebooted and broke into my BIOS settings to verify it saw both drives (it did) and to disable it from seeking a now non-existent floppy drive.

The Drama Begins: Act I

I had done a lot of pre-reading on the Seagate DiscWizard utility and thought I had a really good understanding of what I was getting into.

To save time of downloading and creating a new boot disk from scratch, I used the bootable CD version that was included with my new Seagate drive. I booted from the CD and began following the prompts.

Now in hindsight, I should have been alerted to the fact that this didn't "quite" look anything like the guide I had downloaded from Seagate...but I had already committed and thusly plunged bravely onward.

I selected the first option "Run DiscWizard Starter Edition drive installation software".

It loaded a 16-bit GUI interface and offered to help me set up the drive for my system. How nice.

I picked the Windows XP interface and ticked the box for "SP1 or greater".

I then had to choose the "Easy" or "Advanced" installation method. From my reading, the "easy would auto-partition the drive to match my current drive's layout and they dynamically expand the extra space across those four partitions I had; creating clones of each one. If I selected the "advanced" I would have to start from "scratch" to pick my partition numbers, sizes and types.

One final confirmation and it went to work.

Many minutes later it was done with "success" reported.

I shut down the system, unplugged, changed my jumpers and set the new drive to be the primary drive. I plugged everything back up and rebooted with anticipation!

What?!!! I found I had a single 137 GB partition with just my old C: drive cloned over.

Hmmm. Not at all what I was expecting and what the Disc Wizard documentation led me to believe.

What now? Manually resize the C: partition down to around 120ish GB then create the other three partitions and copy the data over? Maybe...but being a tech-head and wanting to understand all the options (and why this software wasn't matching what I had read online) I was still game to experiment some more.

The Drama Builds: Act II

I rearranged the drives and jumpers back to before and booted from my original system primary drive again with the new one riding as a secondary slave-drive.

This time I installed the DiscWizard software from within Windows itself and got a Windows GUI based installation tool. Again it didn't quite look like what I had read in the on-line instructions from DiscWizard but it was closer.

I stepped through the steps again, trying to follow the stages, again picking my new target drive to clone to. This time it picked up on the fact that my current XP system needed to be toggled to 48 bit LBA addressing via a registry setting change from its current 32 bit LBA handling. (More Windows Large Hard Drive Support information here and here and here.)

I allowed it and it rebooted and the application then picked up from where I left off. I made my final selections and it went to work again; formatting the new drive again and then doing a clone of my old drive. When completed I was prompted to swap them out, which I did, fixing the jumpers yet again.

This time when I booted off the new drive it came up perfectly and a quick look at "My Computer" showed me (shock) I had single 500 GB partition with my old C: drive cloned perfectly on it.


Making progress here...but.

Now I had some serious thinking to do.

My new drive was up and working fine and my data was (almost) safe.

Did I really need to have four different partition on a single drive? Why did I want to set it up that way? Was there any real benefit besides that's just what I was used to?

Honestly, they are just functioning as "super-folders" to me (C: = System / D: = Pictures / E: = Music / F: = Storage). The best reason I have is that if I use a drive image to clone the primary partition...I could place the image onto another partition on the same drive (Storage) instead of doing a network copy or burning it to CD/DVD media.

I decided that I did want to keep that configuration. So what now?

Intermission: Act III


I don't have a copy of Partition Magic and didn't want to wait until I got to work to borrow one from a co-worker. That left me with with looking at using a Knoppix LiveCD and QTParted.

techtips: Disk Partitioning with Knoppix

Help2Go - How to Repartition Hard Drive without Reformatting

However, despite all my attempts, I was unsuccessful at getting QTParted to "activate" on the 500 GB drive. It worked fine at reading and offering to work with the secondary 120 GB older drive, but it wouldn't have anything to do with the new one. It was mounted and visible, but would QTParted just wouldn't touch it for partition adjustments.

Due to my lack of advanced Linux experience...I'm sure there is something obvious I was failing to know or do...but I was getting frustrated so I just moved on.

I have since found two other Linux LiveCD's specially tailored for partition and cloning activity.

Parted Magic - Linux LiveCD

Parted Magic is a Linux LiveCD/USB/PXE with its elemental purpose being to partition hard drives.

Optimized at approximately 30MB, the Parted Magic OS employs core programs of GParted and Parted to handle partitioning tasks with ease, while featuring other useful programs (e.g. Partition Image, TestDisk, fdisk, sfdisk, dd, ddrescue, etc.) and an excellent set of documentation to benefit the user. An extensive collection of fileystem tools are also included, as Parted Magic supports the following: aufs, ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, ocfs2, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, and zfs.

The latest version is updated with: Linux-2.6.22, parted-1.8.7, ntfsprogs-200702071432 (with Windows Vista support), ntfs-3g-1.710, and GParted-0.3.4.

GParted - Linux LiveCD

GParted is the Gnome Partition Editor application. Before attempting to use it, here is some basic background information.

A hard disk is usually subdivided into one or more partitions. These partitions are normally not re-sizable (making one larger and the adjacent one smaller) The purpose of GParted is to allow the individual to take a hard disk and change the partition organization therein, while preserving the partition contents.

GParted is an industrial-strength package for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them. This is useful for creating space for new operating systems, reorganizing disk usage, copying data residing on hard disks and mirroring one partition with another (disk imaging).

GParted uses GNU libparted to detect and manipulate devices and partitiontables.

I haven't had a chance to play with these, but will take them around the block with some virtual hard drives as well to become more familiar with them in the future.

Ghosts Arise: Act IV

Back to the drawing board.

Next I turned to a copy of Symantec Ghost I have on a BartPE boot disk.

I fired up BartPE and then used Ghost 10 (DOS) to do a disk to disk image clone between the drives. I set it to stretch the extra free space on the new drive equally between the four partitions.

About an hour later it had completed.

I re-swapped the drives (my speed at this task was approaching NASCAR pit-crew level competence) and rebooted with the newly cloned new drive as the primary.


I got the Windows XP boot screen fine, then the blue-background for Windows XP, but the system would halt there and not continue loading to the point of selecting our user profiles. A Safe-Mode boot resulted in the same thing.

More reading: Radified Guide to Norton Ghost (Symantec) - A Tutorial on How to Create, Save & Restore Hard Drive Back-up Ghost Images

At this point I was getting tired and cranky and wondering just how much longer I could keep working off my original drive that could fail once-and-for-all on me at any moment. No doubt these multiple attempts at drive cloning were quite risky.

I was letting it sit and cool down between attempts (going back to reading the final Harry Potter book to the girls) but the drama was now reaching a climax.

Re-swapped the drives again.

The End: Act V

Now I was quite confused. Seagate's DiscWizard sounded like it was going to the be perfect and simple solution and all my experiences up to this point had left me burned.

So I went back to the Seagate site and downloaded the version directly from there.

I installed it on my old Windows XP system/drive and launched it.

What was this? Remarkable!

This downloaded version of DiscWizard didn't look anything like the ones I had been using and did indeed match the DiscWizard documentation (PDF link) I had been reading. Could it be this simple?

The spiffy main program window loaded.

I selected the "Clone Disc" mode.

I selected the "Automatic" mode to copy all of the partitions off my old disk to the new one, make the new one bootable, and automatically resize my new partitions to fit the new, larger, disk.

I selected my source disk (the old one).

I selected my destination disk (the new one).

I confirmed that I wanted to "delete partitions on the destination hard disc" which would wipe out my last attempted "ghosting" image partitions.

DiscWizard gave me a nice graphical layout view of my source and destination partition layouts as set.

I then told it I wanted to do a "proportional" data move which would scale the old partitions to space available on the new drive.

One more summary was provided describing the activity that was to be undertaken.

I clicked "Proceed".

It tossed up a very scary-sounding alert about "locking my system partition" then did a reboot.

When it rebooted, it booted into what I can best describe as a semi-XP pre-boot environment.

It formatted the new drive and partitions and then proceeded to copy data to each one.

The process took about an hour or so.

When done it notified me I could shut down and swap the drives.

I did and rebooted.

XP loaded right out of the gates and just like normal. In no-time-flat I had logged into my profile and was sitting on my desktop, just like nothing had changed.

Only when I checked "My Computer" instead of my four original 30 GB partitions, I now saw an amazing sight; my four partitions were now about 120 GB each!


The deed was done. The disk was working perfectly! The clone was alive.

In Closing: Act VI

If I had more time and I might have gone ahead and tried using Runtime Software's DriveImage XMLUtility (freeware). I have already mentioned this software before and knew about it, but didn't consider it as an option until after I finally got my drive cloned and up and running.

I have also since been playing more with the Seagate DiscWizard "Starter Edition" disk (boot disk) that led me astray at the onset as shipped with the drive. I've been trying to understand it better by tossing it at some virtual drives in Microsoft Virtual PC. The Advanced method I chose not to use in Act I was very easy to follow and quite effective. Not a bad method for a bare-drive installation configuration...but definitely not something I would recommend using if you are wanting to "clone" your existing drive.

It also contains some files about Seagate jumper and drive information, utilities to copy a partition, set hard drive size, zero-fill a drive in two methods, and some maintenance tools.

Having spent some time with it now, I see I could have done an "advanced" setup to manually configure each of my partitions then go back and manually clone each of my old partitions to the new drive one by one. That might have worked. Or maybe not.

Despite the fumbling of my attempts with the "other" versions of Seagate DiscWizard (Starter Edition) having figured out that these are not the same as the latest downloadable version from Seagate DiscWizard I am highly pleased with that latest version.

It was very easy to follow, was quick, gives a ton of additional tools and utilities, and performed exactly as described.

Seagate DiscWizard - Highly Recommended (assuming you use the right version).

And the Old Drive's Fate?

For now I have the old drive packed up and up in my "tech-closet". I'm going to hang onto it for a while as I'm still not sure what I want to do with it. I'm leaning to putting it into an external drive enclosure and reformatting it and using it for non-critical data storage. I'm still not 100% sure why it seemed to be locking up. SMART tests still came back fine and new scans for bad-sectors didn't find anything amiss. I have a hard time tossing hardware.

If I do go this way and it fails again I think I will try to secure wipe it using Disk Drive Secure Erase which can (as I understand it) do a Enhanced Secure Erase in seconds on my drive by changing the in-drive encryption key. Then I will just open it up and use it as a fancy paper-weight with the internals exposed.

Topical Reading - via ARSTechnica

Hope this helps someone.



Christian said...

I have a Seagate drive that occasionally locks up, though it hasn't done that in a little while and I think I've found the cause. Strange as it is, it seems it doesn't like being queried for temperature information. It supports it, but if I turn off monitoring on that drive, it behaves.
Do you have any SMART/Temperature monitoring software that might be causing it bizarre grief?

Claus V said...

That's a good question, Christian.

I do run Motherboard Monitor but only have it set to read from my motherboard and case temps. Not my hard drive.

I'm going to put it into a external drive enclosure that should be running cooler. That will be a good test as my temp monitoring software shouldn't worry about it at that point.

Good suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I would have suggested Bootit NG for your partitioning issues had I read this earlier. Maybe give it an audition for your toolkit?


Claus said...

Thanks Steve,

Actually I had researched that option as well ( BootIt™ Next Generation ) but was a bit unclear where the "free" functionality ended and the $ part picked up. As such I decided not to bite on it for a solution.

I do want to play with it as well to get a better understanding of its functionality.

A different Linux based solution that was brought to my attention by one of my co-workers was Clonezilla, the opensource clone system so I will also be experimenting with this as well.

Do you have any familiarity with it and could you give me any of your first-hand feedback on Bootit NG?

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

I'm probably in the same stage you are with Clonezilla-heard/read good things, grabbed a copy, now waiting for free time (or perhaps micro-crisis) at work to use it.

As far as BootIt NG, the "Installation and Getting Started Guide" is a pdf within in the download that includes the licensing information in the back of it. It's a 30 day try-it-then-buy-it shareware kind of agreement.

I've almost always used it from a bootable disk rather than installed on the local drive so I'm not very familiar with the boot manager functionality, but the partition management and imaging capabilities fit my needs well. My previous imaging product could only create partitions, not resize them, so the workaround involved imaging the original partition to a second physical drive with the desired partition size, then imaging that back onto the original physical drive. VERY time-consuming if your drive contains more data than free space.

I found the GUI quite easy to use, but I can imagine someone who hasn't used any partition management software before needing the manual for assistance.

It seems as fast as any other partition managers I've previously used, so there's nothing to complain about from the performance aspect. All together I see it as a solid product at a fair price.

I'm considering it as part of a custom Ultimate Boot CDor BOINCpe, and Clonezilla as part of a MySLAX solution, but I may get in over my head!

Anyway, I hope this helps, and thanks for creating such an interesting destination here!


Claus said...

That's really great information, Steve!

RE BootIt NG: I also did some digging and found these links as well. Pretty good stuff for the uninitiated with that product:

BootIt Next Generation Tutorials and Videos

Getting Started Guide

And the BootIt™ Next Generation - Help and Support page also had some additional off-site guides and tutorials by fans as well.

That's a pretty good product when enthusiasts create guides and the company links to them.

I gave a brief read over the PDF and it seems that it can be used either "installed" on the hard-drive, or via a bootable disk...which seems to be what you noted.

So you just use your boot-media to bring an OS up then run the application from the media to manage the partitions and imaging needs? If so, that sounds pretty handy. I've been watching a few of the videos and it does look like a very easy-to-use product.

I wonder how it would work on a BartPE disk enviroment.

I'm going to have to try to slap it and DriveImage XMLUtility onto a BartPE disk and give 'em a shot.

Like you, I also like having several different tools and utility configurations at hand so I can approach a problem from different angles...depending on what I run into.

Thank you again for the feedback. I'm sure there will be more posts growing out of this discussion!

I'm glad you are finding useful information here!