Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Family IT Guy - Dell XPS 13 Edition

I'm not one of those guys that complains about being the family IT guy - I've enjoyed helping Jeannette and my folks with upgrades, replacements, troubleshooting etc (and I never forget that I'm a second-generation IT guy - Mom preceded me in the IT support biz).  With all of the unsolvable problems I run into as an IT manager, it's nice getting my hands "dirty" and actually solving a problem.  I'm usually fairly methodical, doing some research before jumping in.

That wasn't the case when Jeannette told me last week that she was getting messages on her Dell ultrabook saying that her hard drive was about to crash.  She had some things she needed to do urgently so I uncharacteristically sprang into action without thinking things through.  

1st step was actually reasonable - grab an external hard drive with some space and copy off all of her data.  I do occasionally back up her laptop but it had been awhile.  That preserved her photos, documents etc but didn't help for her installed software like MS Office and Scrivener.

That done, I rushed out to Best Buy to grab a new SSD.  Dumb.  If I'd taken five minutes to check, I'd have noted that the XPS doesn't use a full-size SSD - it has an mSATA drive that looks more like a memory stick than a hard drive.  I would have also noticed that the laptop has 10 screws requiring an odd-size screwdriver that I didn't own in order to get into the guts.

So off to Amazon (thank you, Amazon Prime!) to order an mSATA drive and a set of screwdrivers that include a Torx T5 head.  I should have used that time to take a deep breath and think this through, but instead we went to the beach where I got horribly sunburned, ate way too much Mexican food, had a fantastic time and didn't think much at all about computers.

Back home and I'm starting to flounder around again rather than thinking about this.  I've replaced OS drives on workstations and laptops before so the fact that the drive hadn't failed should have made this easy.  But my normal methods were failing me with the ultrabook.  No optical drive, no additional SATA ports, limited USB ports.  I couldn't hook up the external optical drive I have because it requires two USB ports and the only two on the Dell are on opposite sides of the box and the cables on the drive wouldn't reach them both.

Finally, step back, take a deep breath.

1) Clear off a good-sized USB stick, download Clonezilla (open source software), install it on the USB drive and make the drive bootable.

2) Hook up the big external drive I'd used to copy files to as a target for the clone

3) Boot from the USB stick and clone the soon-to-be-dead hard drive to the external drive

4) Remove the bottom cover of the laptop, replace the mSATA drive and close it up (this was actually remarkably straightforward).

5) Boot from the USB key again and clone the new hard drive

6) Boot from the new hard drive - all is well

The only issue I ran into afterwards was that Spybot was acting funky but I don't think that had anything to do with the clone process - I think it just hadn't been updated in awhile, so I blew it away, reinstalled it and it seems to be working fine now.

My lesson from all of this - Don't Rush!  Take an hour to do some research and think things through and things will go much faster overall.  Regardless, the good news is that J has her laptop back and I feel a sense of relief.

I'm also thinking that in addition to the normal backups that I do, I may start cloning the OS drive on my workstation every couple of months to make sure I can recover programs in addition to data.

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