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My Sony U750P is a brick right now. Yesterday I was doing some partition merging with Partition Magic and it choked in the middle.  I have used Partition Magic for years and never had a problem but my number finally came up.  The process aborted with […]

My Sony U750P is a brick right now. Yesterday I was doing some partition merging with Partition Magic and it choked in the middle.  I have used Partition Magic for years and never had a problem but my number finally came up.  The process aborted with a file attribute error leaving the C drive inaccessible, which on regular computers is not that big a problem to fix but on UPCs and some Tablet PCs the problem takes on greater complexity.  The Sony U, like many UPCs and Tablet PCs ships without either a floppy drive or an optical drive.  This means that when your system won’t boot from the hard drive you have no options for booting the device to make a recovery attempt.  I have an optical drive on the way so I should be in a position to recover or rebuild my Sony soon.

I made a backup of all my documents and important files immediately before attempting the partitioning so I will be able to recover the data once I can boot the Sony.  I am pretty sure a simple CHKDSK will fix the problem Partition Magic has caused in which case I won’t need the backup but it’s there if I do.  I did not image the whole hard drive on the Sony prior to messing with the partitions for two reasons.  One, I didn’t have an optical drive which makes it difficult, and two, in the event of a catastrophe a disk image wouldn’t allow me to restore the data onto another computer.  I backed up all the important folders and files onto an external hard drive, an iPod to be exact, so I was able to restore everything onto another computer so I could continue my work.  This backup process got me to thinking about common pitfalls in such a strategy so I thought I’d share it with you.  I use Karen’s Replicator for manual backups like this for a couple of reasons- it’s free and lightning fast and it copies the files straight across as files and not some compressed special backup format.  This makes it easier to bring to other systems from the external drive but more importantly lets me index the files with desktop search programs.  This way if I choose to do so these backed up files will appear in search results for a specific file.

Most programs put all user created data in a folder under the My Documents tree so backing this stuff up is very simple.  But there are certain programs that by default put data in other locations and it is crucial to remember to back these folders up too.  I’ll discuss programs I use that put data in odd places so if you use any of these programs you’ll be aware that a normal backup may not capture your important data.

Outlook- everyone who uses Outlook is probably aware that the files it creates are put in special places.  I say places because I have seen Outlook put the PST, OST and other files it creates in two different places.  It is very important to back these files up so you can recover your PIM data and emails if you need to.  The two different folder trees I have seen Outlook use are:

C:Documents and SettingsYourUserNameLocal SettingsApplication DataMicrosoftOutlook

C:Documents and SettingsYourUserNameApplication DataMicrosoftOutlook

These directory trees are both set as hidden by default and you must set the properties to allow you to see them before working directly with them.  A better solution for backing up and restoring of Outlook data is to use a utility that is designed specifically for that task.  I use OutBack Plus and swear by its ability to back up the entire Outlook/ Internet Explorer/ Firefox environment and easily restore it onto another computer.  Once you restore with OutBack Plus your entire web and Outlook environment is exactly like it was when the backup was made, even on a brand new computer.

Onfolio- I use Onfolio all day long and my data and RSS feeds are important to backup.  The data "collections" are stored under the My Documents tree by default so as long as you haven’t changed that you will be OK by simply backing up the My Documents tree.  The RSS feeds are another matter, and unfortunately Onfolio chooses to store them in another hidden folder by default.  If you don’t back up the correct folder specifically you lose all your feeds and history information, which for me numbers in the hundreds.  Be sure and back up your feed information in the following default folder (after making it visible in the properties):

C:Documents and SettingsYourUserNameApplication DataOnfolio

Special programs- I use both QuickBooks and TimeTTracker to handle my accounting needs and both of these programs store the data in special locations so if you have programs like these make sure you back up this critical data.  Both programs also allow you to back the data up from within the program and I recommend you do that too.  This gives you redundancy for critical stuff you can’t live without.

While this list is by no means comprehensive the purpose of this article is to demonstrate not only how important making backups can be, especially when doing potentially dangerous maintenance on your computer, but also to point out that you must be aware of all the different locations programs store critical data so they can be included in the backup procedure.

  1. jk,

    We added a section on this last week to augment your article:
    http://www.greyhat.com/sonyu/
    Search: Ghost Backups on the Sony U

    The method we provided can save you from this situation by booting to the D: drive.

    Try it out. It’s saved our data in the past.

    Great article!

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  2. Sounds like a big ouch! Glad you had a strategy to come back from this however and thanks for sharing the headache. It never, never hurts to repeat these leassons.

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  3. PA, I actually did look at your new ghosting stuff but they require a CD drive at some point which I don’t have. I will definitely look at your method when I get the Sony up and running.

    Warner, thanks! A lot of users don’t think how dead they will be if they don’t have a boot drive on their system so hopefully this will make everyone think twice.

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  4. I still use DRIVE IMAGE almost exclusively. Both for file by file archive/restore and or complete OS restore. Then I place the entire image file on a separate partition and also burn a copy on rom (just in case), THEN, I muck around with merging partitions etc. I don’t use a sony UPC, but isnt there a way to boot off a USB flpy/Rom via bios config? ie. designate boot priority at the bios level? If not, you could (should) always create an emergency partition with a good boot manager so that you can boot into it in case Partition Magic hickups during the merge.

    >>I am pretty sure a simple CHKDSK will fix the problem >>Partition Magic has caused

    I know a lot of ppl usually skip the bad sector test before conducting major operations which could account for the this error. Also, using a small portable system such as yours, would not surprise me if the HDD took one too many hits during spin up/down?

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  5. To tell you the truth it was unfathomable to me that PM did not do a CHKDSK prior to major operations like this. Very bad form on their part IMHO.

    As for the Sony, there are a limited number of USB floppy drives that will boot a Sony U, I have tried one that was reported to work OK and it didn’t show up in the BIOS so of course wouldn’t boot it. A Sony optical drive is definitely the way to go here.

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  6. I back up my U and my 741 with Ghost … that way I can get back everything. I had to do it on my U once and I was glad I didn’t have to go through a full reinstall.

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  7. >>PM did not do a CHKDSK prior to major operations like >>this

    By default this option is usually ON but many ppl (myself included) uncheck this option and skip it
    cause its molASSES slow!

    Wouldn’t it be great to boot off a USB key???

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  8. USB boot would be awesome on the U, but USB Microdrives have not been successful as boot devices on the U yet:
    http://greyhat.com/sonyu
    Search: NETAC ODH

    I’ve bought so much Sony gear over the years and lucky to have kept included Firewire CD and USB floppy drives. Sony really charges a premium for the accessories.

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