My computer tried to give me a heart attack, what now?
June 14, 2021 7:07 PM   Subscribe

My computer didn't start this weekend. It's OK now, but what's is my next step.

I turned on my computer Saturday night, went to get a cookie and some water, when I came back it was frozen on the Windows logo. These things happen, I powered it down, waited a few minutes, and powered up, selected "start normally", got to the Windows logo and and it froze. OK, try again, this time select "safe start." No good. This triggers the "Oh my god, I haven't backed in a long time" fear. It didn't help that we recently remodeled, which means off the computer stuff (like restoration disks and the back up hard drive) are in a box... somewhere.

I was lucky, tried rebooting a few more times... and it's working now. Yea!

But now the question. This is about a ten year old Win7 machine. So maybe get a new machine? Obviously, the new machine will be Win 10. I guess I could just take the old HD out and install it as a second HD on the new, but will the programs I run now still run on the new? Off the old HD? Move them to the new and hope they'll run? Is there some sort of utility that moves what's needed? I know I don't have most of the install disks I originally had.
posted by Marky to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
It sounds like you are talking about a desktop machine, not a laptop.

90% of the time, it's the power supply. Get a new one. That will buy you some time.
posted by intermod at 7:13 PM on June 14

I've got a 10 year old Windows 7 machine that has been limping along like this for about three years now. I got a new computer pretty shortly after it scared me the first time because I gratefully was able to afford it, moved my life onto the new computer, and use that new computer for everything important. It was easy to transition everything because I didn't wait until the old one got to a crisis point--I could gradually get things set up as I wanted them. I demoted the old machine to purely media viewing and read only.

Every time I have to shut this creaky old box off, or the power goes out, etc, it's an exciting game of will it wake up again or is it finally over. And so far it has always, eventually, come back. But I don't have to care if it doesn't, is the thing.

So if you can get a new computer, get one now and just remove this as a source of stress in your life. And if you can't get one today, start an aggressive savings plan so you can buy one soon. It's just not worth the headache to play Russian roulette with your primary computer.
posted by phunniemee at 7:16 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Back up everything NOW. Your computer may not start up tomorrow, or ever again. You've been granted a reprieve. Sure, everything may be okay tomorrow. Start copying anyway.
posted by Rash at 8:02 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]

Nth backing up your files right now. If the files are mainly just Microsoft Word and Excel files, I would probably just save them to a USB stick(s). If you have the funds, I’d 2nd getting a new computer ASAP.

Windows 7 stopped receiving security updates and bug fixes in January 2020. The longer you use Windows 7, the more vulnerable you are to malware. All the appearances of ransomware in the news should help spur you to deal with this ASAP if you have the resources to buy a new machine.
posted by mundo at 8:14 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

I use used computers. Recently, I learned the trick of storing everything on an SD card. Then it won't matter if the computer dies. I can just shove my SD card into a new used computer and move on with my life.
posted by aniola at 8:37 PM on June 14

If you take your current hard drive out and put it in a new computer, very few programs will run. They have to be installed onto the new computer/new Windows operating system.

If you encrypted your files on the old hard drive, you won't be able to even see them from the new computer.

Nth-ing you should back up, either something online like Dropbox or OneDrive, or a spare USB stick or SD card, everything that you can't recreate easily right now.
posted by meowzilla at 9:01 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Windows will still let you upgrade Win7 to Win10 for free [theverge: last updated 2020.01.14]

If you have an extra HD/ external HD, full back up now with Windows backup, and give the upgrade to Win10 a try. All compatible programs will still be considered "Installed" and should work fine. If you use default folders to store stuff and your other HD is big enough, do a simple files and folder copy so you can root around. Windows backups (images) aren't browseable via explorer.

IME, when Windows hangs on the startup, it's an update gone wrong. Sometimes this damages the install, other times it can recover.

It's been forever since Win7, but if you right click My Computer, it should spit out some information about the hardware that you're running, if you've lost track of what's inside your desktop.

Sharing those stats can help others determine whether you might be able to keep chugging on or whether the ROI on getting a new system is worth it.

If you get a new machine, you'll have to install your programs. The tricky bit is determining which folders your data is kept on your Win7 machine, to copy those over, unless you make your own folders and eschew the "default" ones. If using default save-to folders, you might have to figure out where the new default folders on the Win10 machine resides.
posted by porpoise at 10:44 PM on June 14

Also, if you can update to Win10 (for free)...

Normally, you can't move an (Microsoft) OS hard drive to a new machine - it will recognize the new motherboard and think you're doing something shady.

iirc, you can contact Microsoft, tell them you had to replace a faulty motherboard, and they'll give you a code to make your OS hard drive accept the new motherboard and carry on.

After you enter the code, it can take a very long time (and possibly multiple restarts) before it settles on a stable install as the OS tries to grapple with new hardware/ devices/ etc.
posted by porpoise at 10:49 PM on June 14

I use used computers. Recently, I learned the trick of storing everything on an SD card. Then it won't matter if the computer dies. I can just shove my SD card into a new used computer and move on with my life.

I use nothing but used computers. A long, long time ago, I learned that digital information doesn't really exist until I can put my hands on at least two copies.

Storing everything on "an" SD card will certainly protect it against computer failure to some extent, but SD cards are not super reliable. If I were running a strategy of storing everything I cared about on an SD card I would certainly be taking every opportunity to make frequent backup copies of its entire contents onto other media.

Directly to the question: most common cause of failures in ten year old computers, in my experience, is capacitor plague, either inside the power supplies on on the motherboard. Repairing this often costs more than buying a replacement five year old computer from the tip shop and ignoring it risks data corruption on every hard disk write.

If I had a ten year old computer with any visibly bulging or discoloured capacitors and/or a history of unreliable startup, I'd be whipping out the hard drive, connecting it to some more reliable computer via a suitable USB adaptor, and backing up everything on it before doing anything else.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Nthing that priority 1 is to back up anything that you wouldn't want to lose. If you don't have at least 2 copies with each copy on a different device, then that is data you will lose eventually.

Nthing that programs generally won't run if you move the hard drive from the computer they were installed on. Some may, most won't. Make sure you have product keys, licenses and installers backed up for the programs that need them.

If your computer is failing to start like this, that is a stronger indicator of a hardware problem than a software problem, and I'd expect that upgrading the machine to Windows 10 in place will either not improve the situation or make things worse. The suggestion to try a replacement power supply is a decent one if you need to keep this limping along; it may or may not be that, but it's a good place to start for weirdness like this. In your shoes, however, I would look hard at getting a new(er) machine, especially when we're talking about 10 year old hardware.
posted by Aleyn at 2:31 PM on June 15

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