The catastrophic failure of my download machine

It is indeed a dark and tragic day. The Dell Inspiron that I bought back at the beginning of 2010, that has served as my faithful download machine ever since, went to sleep for the last time. I have no idea what went wrong only that the machine was fine the night before, doing it’s duty in serving up the 60+TB worth of music and media that it stores, only to try and turn it on and find that all the lights had gone out.

It wasn’t that the drives had failed or that it wouldn’t boot correctly, it was quite literally pushing the power button did nothing. There was no power to the keyboard or mouse and no signs of life when I tried a different power cord. Normally with a Dell, you get that small rush of power to let you know the machine is alive when you plug it back in. I got no such sign.

After checking out all the internal parts, spinning the fans, checking the connectors and following all the cords, it was deemed no good and the machine would have to be replaced. It seemed all the drives were fine, both inside and out, but the physical machine was a goner. This is where my meager planning ahead and dumb luck come into play.

First order of business was to press another computer into service. Now, for the average person this would mean ordering a new machine from a system vendor like Dell or similar (or buying all the parts and building one), ordering some recovery drives to copy all the usable data off the internal drives, waiting a few days and then going through the process of putting it all together.

Well, I am not average, at least not when it comes to computer parts. From my previous close calls and brushes with disaster I have planned ahead when it comes to drives, cables and software. And by an odd coincidence, for this disaster, I had a spare computer to press into service.

The Shuttle I wrote about the other day wasn’t actually the first one I bought, it was actually the second. I bought the first one in the same Woot sale with the exact same intent of putting together a media and casual gaming box. It is an I5 with 8GB of ram and only 1TB of hard drive space, but the same chassis and a pretty neat little machine. I was actually slow in putting the system together and right as I got it ready to go, the other Shuttle came up on Woot, which was bigger and only slightly more expensive. I decided to buy the slightly bigger model all the while keeping the first one to use when another project came to mind. I figured I could put it in a bedroom, take it to work, set one machine for gaming, one for movies, etc.

So when today’s problem hit, I walked across the room, grabbed the Shuttle, set it up and started copying. Since it has 2 drive bays, copying the data and root drives was easy. Those went to the spare 5TB drives I have as backup. Once that was done, which took a hot minute, I put in a spare 3TB data drive and copied all the files off the external drive. With that done, I reconnected all the storage USBs and everything is back up and running. I even installed the same GTX 750 Ti which I again bought on sale after the first one worked so well.

I don’t have the same software running yet, but since it was mainly for storage, the software installation footprint is pretty light – mainly VLC, archive tools, Firefox, plugins and few other odds and ends. In fact, in a little over 24 hours it’s about 90% done and completely usable.

The moral of the story – it pays to have backups, not just software backups of data, but physical hardware too. Since the drive fiasco, I’ve been in the habit of buying things in pairs. I’ve bought USB hubs in sets, drives in pairs when they go on sale, extra keyboards and mice, drive and power cables, and without thinking too much about it, that extended to having a spare computer standing by. I’m actually amused by my inadvertant forethought.

Now of course, as soon as Woot has another sale on those Shuttle boxes, I will need to grab one. I have to admit, they are damn cool machines for their size and while they might not have quite the gaming prowess as the bigger towers I have, it’s no slought of a machine and has certainly gotten me out of this jam. It will now take on the permanent role of download and media storage machine. All the external drives are hooked up and recognized. I’m even able to watch a movie on it while I play Shroud of the Avatar on a different computer.

Lesson learned. Think ahead and don’t look at a spare part as wasted money, it’s insurance and will save money and huge amounts of time and stress when things go wrong.

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