From the Kenosha News on 12-23-07

You can troubleshoot the cause of a catastrophic failure

      The contents of this article are coming from direct, recent, personal experience.  In the last few months, both my work Macintosh iBook laptop and our home Windows desktop have died.  In the case of the Mac, it came up with a disk-and-question-mark symbol on boot-up and would not go any further.  In the case of the Windows desktop, it would begin to load Windows and then flash a quick "blue screen of death" and then restart.  In both cases, the computer was no longer under warranty or service contract, and it's a matter of pride and budget to fix it myself instead of taking it somewhere.  In both cases, we're still on the road to recovery.  If such a significant failure happens to you, here are some tips to determine if you can rescue the hardware or your data.

      With the Mac, the symbol shown on startup is a clear sign that the computer either can't see its hard drive or there's no valid operating system on the hard drive to boot from.  The first test was to boot from an OSX CD and see if the hard drive was visible or repairable.  If the computer can boot from the CD and stay running, then you know for sure that the logic board (mother board) and RAM are functioning properly.  This is important since the motherboard is a repair whose cost would likely exceed the value of the computer itself; you probably never want to replace a motherboard on a computer that is more than 3 year old and/or out of warranty.  In our case, the CD booted and ran fine (good,) but the "rescue utility" on the CD would not see or repair the hard drive (bad.) 

      About this time, a colleague of mine at Carthage (Matt) loaned me his "universal USB adapter" – a gizmo that allows you to connect a hard drive from a desktop or laptop to another computer using a USB port.  (This indispensible device costs about $30 on-line at and could easily save your life if you have a hard drive problem.)   After removing at least 52 screws from the iBook, I was able to extract the hard drive.  (I'm not even hoping to put it back together, but if I had a newer MacBook, it would be quite doable.)  I connected the hard drive to Matt's adapter and into the USB port of a running Macintosh computer.  This time, the rescue utility saw the drive and was able to repair its problems in about 90 minutes.  I could then see the data and drag the files I needed to another computer.  That resolved my iBook problem for now.

      My home computer isn't so straightforward.   I'll continue its saga in next week's column, when hopefully it will be resolved completely.  In its case, one issue appears to be the CMOS battery (a quarter-sized watch-type battery you can buy at Batteries Plus for about $3.79.)  The second issue is Windows itself, which has a tendency to crash and burn, especially after a rash of spyware, as well as the type of hard drive it uses.  To be continued…

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 12-23-07