SpinRite Saves the Day (and my Hard Drive)
I hoped it was just a bad April Fools joke, but it wasn't. While down in Portland, Oregon yesterday for a meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest, my laptop flaked out. It didn't die completely, but the hard drive turned out to have a bad block, and that block turned out to be used by the System Registry. On the scale of important parts on a Windows system, this is right up near the top. I was pretty well out of commission. But rather than being forced to reinstall everything, the problem was fixed in just over an hour, thanks to a remarkable program known as SpinRite.
Written by Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corporation, SpinRite is a utility program that is capable of low-level access to your computer's hard drive. By doing so, it is able to diagnose the formatting on the drive and correct most errors that it finds. If the error resulted from a misalignment of the drive's read/write head, SpinRite can adjust the drive timing to read slightly before or after where the data should be to let it get at data that would ordinarily be unreadable. It can then rewrite it correctly. As I said, a remarkable program.
The program is small and efficient but can still take considerable time to scan and repair an entire drive. It boots from an old-fashioned floppy disk (or a bootable compact disc if you prefer) so that it can work independently of whatever ails your hard drive. Since it reads the drive directly, it does not matter if it is formatted as FAT32, NTFS, Macintosh, or some Linux variant. SpinRite can read them all. It won't actually run on a Mac, but if you move the drive to a PC, SpinRite will happily scan and repair it. The program runs in one of two modes, either for data recovery or for maintenance. Given my circumstances, I chose the former, but the maintenance mode is worth running periodically to prevent problems even if you aren't aware of anything wrong yet.
SpinRite version 6 sells for $89 for new users (less for owners of previous versions). If you travel with a laptop and are worried about it possibly crashing some day, SpinRite can be one of the best investments you make in protecting it. I've used SpinRite to fix drive problems at home before, but this was the first time I needed it while on the road. Needless to say, it saved the day for me.