Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Brabec. All rights reserved.
How to Prepare for and Recover
from a Computer Crash
well you prepare for a crash will determine how stressful and costly the experience will be.
by Barbara Brabec
IF YOUíVE NEVER HAD a total computer system crash, count yourself lucky, because
all the gurus say it's not "IF" your computer is going to crash, but "WHEN."
Having had three crashes myself over the years, I can confirm that statement.
How well you prepare for this inevitability will determine how stressful
and costly the crash experience will be.
When my computerís operating system was fried one year (curiously during the
night of Friday the 13th), I braced myself for the stress that was to follow. My
computer was only about three years old and was probably killed accidentally
during one of Microsoft's automatic downloads in the middle of the night. The
reason given on the "black screen of death" I got the next morning was that
perhaps I had temporarily lost my cable Internet connection or the power had
failed momentarily during installation of an update or during the reboot. (For
that reason, I have now instructed Microsoft to download updates to my computer
in the middle of the night, but give me the option of installing them when I
Not wanting to put any money into a three-year old computer I'd bought
refurbished to begin with, I trekked over to Tiger Direct the following Monday
to see what my options were. I was VERY happy to learn that I wasnít going to be
stuck with Vistaís operating system, and that I could buy a Hewlett-Packard
computer with a free ďdowngradeĒ to Windows XP Pro; further that Microsoft would
continue to supply critical updates for years to come. (In fact, I was told they
are still issuing critical updates for Win 3.1.)
Coming back from a computer crash is going to be stressful, no matter how you
carve it. But if you have prepared for a crash by taking steps to insure that
you have everything you need to get back up and running as quickly as possible,
your stress will be manageable. Then, your primary concern will be the time it's
going to take you to shop for a new computer (if necessary) or reformat the
drive and begin all over again to reinstall the software programs you normally
use, plus all the time it will take to download the latest updates to the
operating system, browsers, software, etc. If you use Outlook as your email
server, you will need a current .PST backup file containing all your email
messages and contacts (see below).
Backing up and Restoring Files
Getting all your documents and files back on the computer again can be easy or
difficult, depending on what backup system you use and whether you back up files
regularly. The thing that gave me the most comfort when my computer crashed was
knowing that all my documents, website files, pictures, music, and programs I had
downloaded from the Web but did not have CD-ROMs for were waiting for me on a
remote site. For just $59/year, I have total peace of mind that, the minute I
complete a new file, or update an old one, it is backed up offsite. If I
accidentally delete a file, I can quickly access my account and restore that
file to its original location. And if the computer crashes, or blows away in a
tornado or burns up in a fire, everything thatís important to me on my computer
is protected and can easily be downloaded to another computer with a few key
clicks. (For more information on the backup program I use,
read my report on Carbonite.)
Outlook is the only fly in the ointment (see below). Knowing how to back up Outlook and actually doing it on a regular
basis are two different things. It's easy to "forget" to back up Outlook, even
when you've got the automatic backup program in place. I get busy and think I'll
do it tomorrow, and before I know it, it has been a week or more
since my last backup. I was lucky the last time my computer crashed in that I
lost only four days' email
messages and whatever changes I had made to my CONTACTS folder in that period.
Iím now being very good at backing up Outlook every other day at least, and
especially when Iíve got unanswered email messages in the Inbox at the
close of day.
Tips for Getting Everything Back Up Again
Before your computer crashes, do these things:
1. MAKE A LIST of all the software programs you have on your computer, which
ones you have CDs for, and which ones will have to be downloaded again. And
keep all your computer program disks together in a safe place, such as a
fireproof file drawer in your office, or in your safe deposit box. (I've been
amazed to learn how few computer users actually do this.) If you buy a program that you download and then install from your computer,
make SURE you put that .exe file either in a folder that is backed up to a
remote location, or on a CD disk to be stored with your other program disks.
Free programs such as Adobe Reader, File Zilla, etc. can always be downloaded from the
Web, but you may need a reminder list to remember all that you want to restore.
For example, the last time my computer crashed, I had forgotten that I had to
download Microsoftís "backup tool" in order to get the backup option on the FILE
button so I could make regular backups of the .PST file. Now that file is in my
downloads folder, which is always backed up by Carbonite. (Go to Microsoft.com
and search for the Outlook backup tool, along with
instructions on how to do regular backups.)
2. EVEN IF YOU HAVE a current .PST (personal folders file) for your Outlook
email and contacts list, you will have to manually set up all your
email addresses again. This will be easy to do if you go into the settings for
each email address you have now, and then copy that information into a document
you can print and save. (Be sure to protect your email passwords; you donít want
them in a document on your computer.) If you regularly archive sent messages,
youíll need to figure out how to save this file and restore it too, as it's not
included in the .PST file.
3. ALWAYS HAVE A PRINT COPY of all your passwords and contact information for
everything related to those passwords. If you keep this information only on the
computer and you lose access to your hard drive, youíll really be up the creek
without a paddle.
4. IF THERE ARE SOME DOCUMENT FILES you absolutely must have to keep your
business going in the event of a major computer crash, put those files on a CD
that can be used on another computer. For example, I'm an Amazon Marketplace
seller, and I normally include customized cover letters with
outgoing orders. When my computer crashed, I could temporarily access my Amazon
orders from a computer at the library, but I couldn't include my usual package
inserts because I didn't have a CD backup of those important file folders I
could use on my laptop.
Know Who to Call When You Need Help
My latest computer crash (lockup, actually) occurred near the end of May 2011
when My CA Internet Security Suite virus/firewall/malware protection was allowed
to expire without my knowledge. Although I had authorized that it always be
renewed automatically and had a current credit card in place, sometime after the
software license had expired I got a pop-up message telling me I had to renew. I
had no idea how long I'd been without a firewall or virus protection, so I was
naturally upset by this. I immediately tried to renew, authorized the credit
card charge ($70), got the download link . . . and then nothing. "Sorry, that
link isn't working; try again."
That was late on a Friday and I just shut off the computer for the weekend,
figuring I'd try to get technical help from a live person on Monday morning. It
not only took forever to boot up my computer that morning, but the bottom button
bar and some of the icons on the desktop didn't load. But the reminder box to
renew the virus software was in the middle of my Desktop, and I couldn't close
it, reboot, or open any of my programs. After manually shutting off and turning
on the computer two more times and having the same problem after an incredibly
slow boot-up each time, I threw up my hands, shut down, and began to worry about
what to do next.
The thought of having to haul the computer to a shop, wait for maybe days to
get it back, and then pay big bucks for the repair had me thinking I should just
buy a new computer and be done with it, even though my HP Compaq is only three
years old. Thankfully, the friend I called for help had recently met a computer
guru in my area, and when I called him, he said not to worry; whatever the
problem was, he could fix it, and I certainly wouldn't need to buy a new computer.
It took three hours for him to find all the bad stuff (much of which he said
was just "Microsoft crap") on my computer. Using several free and very powerful
shareware programs, he cleaned my Registry several times as he removed this or
that file, ultimately finding 956 Registry errors. After uninstalling my CA Internet
Security program and all the files it had left in the Registry (they did reverse
my credit card charge without question), he installed a
powerful free anti-virus program he said he had used for years with no problems.
After doing virus and malware scans and a defrag, my computer was "blazing hot"
and my Internet speed had doubled. My printer was also printing pages so fast
and with such power that they were almost flying off the rack.
Finally, my new computer friend, Al Karman, installed his powerful computer
tools on my computer so now I can easily and very quickly use them to do weekly
virus and malware scans of my hard drive and keep the Registry clean. He also
installed a defrag program (better than Windows') that runs in the background
all the time. He turned on my Windows' firewall program, but agreed that I
should download Zone Alarm's more powerful (and free) firewall program for
I urge you to look in your own community for the kind of help Al is now
giving me and have him "on call" so you'll know
where to get fast help when you need it. If you happen to live in the Naperville, Illinois
visit Al's website.
For me, finding him was like getting manna from heaven. I highly recommend his
If youíve never had a computer crash before, donít assume that it
canít happen to you. If my
experience is any indication, a computer crash is going to come when you least
expect it, and preparing yourself for that inevitability will make all the difference in
how stressful and costly the experience will be.
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