Cloning a recalcitrant hard disk
October 4, 2005 10:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I best clone a hard disk with bad sectors, when the PC spontaneously reboots upon hitting said bad sectors?

I've had a few bad sectors on my hard disk on my PC at work for the last year or so. Oddly, the machine reboots whenever it tries to read one of them. Fortunately they were not in any vital files -- mainly I just had to turn off the nightly virus scan and remember not to try to optimize the disk or do a scandisk. Fortunately NTFS is pretty robust as file systems go! Our last IT guy didn't seem to think it was worth replacing the disk over. Now that he's left, our IT guy at headquarters (on the east coast) sent me a new hard disk (yay!) but that pesky rebooting thing is getting in the way of properly cloning it, and since he's on the east coast and I'm not, he can provide only limited hands-on support. I downloaded the 15-day trial of Acronis True Image (it's nice that it's not crippled), but even it suffers from the reboot and can't get through the clone. I haven't tried any other programs -- maybe one of those would work better? Or am I in for a big re-install of everything, which is what my IT guy recommends? My documents are all backed up safely, but it's probably going to take me a full day for a re-install of XP and all my apps, and I'd rather avoid that pain if I can.
posted by kindall to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Sounds like it might be a BIOS setting that reboots on error. Try turning off anything that thinks it's S.M.A.R.T. in your BIOS.

Does True Image allow you to create a boot floppy for imaging? Have you tried that? It might only be Windows that insists on rebooting when hitting a bad sector.

I know that Symantec Ghost has a setting to "ignore" bad sectors.
posted by krisjohn at 10:26 PM on October 4, 2005

Oddly enough, one detail I neglected to mention is that I have more than one bad sector and not all of them cause the reboot. At first I thought it did, and have long been in the mindset of "bad sector = reboot," but when I was trying the True Image, I found that True Image asks me the first time it hits a bad sector what it should do, and I tell it Ignore All. But then it hits another one and reboots. Apparently some bad sectors are badder than others. Or perhaps this drive is just irreparably fuxx0red.

I'll look for a boot floppy option... maybe Ghost has a trial, I'll check that out too, and the BIOS. Always good to have more things to try.
posted by kindall at 11:17 PM on October 4, 2005

Presumably this is an ATA disk, in which case try forcing it to run in PIO mode; it can be a lot more stable in the face of marginal hardware and buggy firmware.

FreeBSD/Linux or similar might have more luck cloning the drive; try booting FreeSBIE or an Ubuntu LiveCD or similar, and see how far you get. At the most basic, dd will copy blocks off your old drive and onto your new one in much the same way any other imaging program will, and will skip problematic blocks if asked to do so, e.g (careful with your device names):

dd if=/dev/ad0 of=/dev/ad2 bs=16k conv=noerror

With a little luck instead of falling over horribly when the drive gets upset they'll reset the bus and keep going.
posted by Freaky at 2:43 AM on October 5, 2005

Warning: Unless you know your way around Linux, any linux-based solutions will be a huge time sink with little if any light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by krisjohn at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2005

Given what you have said, and assuming you haven't yet found a solution, the first thing I would do personally is run SpinRite on it. If it doesn't outright fix your drive, it should give you very good information about what is or is not wrong with it. It may be overkill for your situation; it's not cheap, and there is no trial, but they do offer one of those no-questions-asked money-back guarantees. I'll leave the decision up to you.

Another idea is to try cloning the drive in a different machine.
posted by trevyn at 11:03 AM on October 5, 2005

I couldn't make heads nor tails of Ghost (there was no button that said "clone this drive"), I don't have easy access to another machine (all the ones here are in use), and I didn't want to screw with Linux. So it's going to be a complete rebuild on the new drive.

Ah well, after two and a half years, it's probably a good thing to do anyway. I'm currently copying all my important documents to my laptop in preparation.
posted by kindall at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2005

By the way, I later figured out I had turned on "reboot on crash" in Windows somewhere, which is why it was rebooting. Otherwise it would have been blue-screening.
posted by kindall at 11:24 PM on October 22, 2005

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