Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.
Bone of My Bones, and Flash of My Flash
Q: I have an 8 GB flash drive that was working great until just the other day. I'm running Windows XP at the office, where the problem started.
I think I disconnected it improperly by pulling it out of my computer's USB slot. I usually go through the disconnect process that's in the toolbar at the bottom of my screen desktop, but this time I didn't do that.
I've tried plugging the flash drive into other computers, but to no avail. Other flash drives all work in those computers.
When I plug the bad flash drive in, I get the usual two-tone Windows alert sound, but from that point on I get nothing. Clicking on the drive's icon in Control Panel it takes a long time until I get this error message: "U: is not accessible / The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable."
I have all my work data on this flash drive and really need it.
A: You can often get away with yanking the drive without disconnecting it — but I don't recommend that. Every once in a while you get bitten, and usually at the worst possible time. That's why it's always a good idea to disconnect first.
The culprit here is something called the "write cache." In normal speak, this means that when Windows "writes" something to a disk storage device of any kind, it may or may not physically write it. Although it truly believes the writing is done, the request to do so is only "pending" — until the device (or the operating system) is not so busy.
The upside to this strategy is an increase in overall processing speed. The downside is that if the device gets disconnected before the pending request is fulfilled, that last bit of information doesn't get physically written, and the device can become unreadable.
The same thing can happen to your system drive if your computer suddenly loses power.
What you need is a program which will recover the information from the defective drive. There are several programs that can help you with this, but you might want to check out one called BadCopy Pro. It's about $40 for the full version, but you can download and run a free version which will show you which files can be recovered.
The hobbled version won't actually recover them for you, but at least you'll know whether or not it will work before you fork over 40 scoots!
You can download a copy here. There's one button for "Buy Now" and one for "Try It Free."
After you're done, head over to the How-To Geek. The procedure there will show you how to add a shortcut to your desktop to immediately eject your thumb drive.
First It Was Home Computers, Then Home Networks, Now It's Home Servers!
Q: I am looking to purchase/create a home server. The server will be used for file sharing, music sharing, remote file access and backing up the home desktops and laptops. Which would be a better operating system for the server — Windows Home Server or Linux?
A: Whoo, boy! This one is sure to generate some feedback! I know some Linux propeller-heads, and religion and politics are relatively safe subjects with them compared to the question of which OS you ought to be using.
Here's how I see it: If cost is your prime consideration, Linux wins hands-down. It's kinda hard to compete against free.
From an ease-of-use perspective, you might think Windows Home Server (WHS), right? Especially if you aren't already familiar with Linux.
But not so fast: WHS is built on Windows Server 2003, SP2, and while it is similar to Windows XP, there are also a lot of differences. So it comes down to a question of learning Linux or learning Windows Server 2003. I give a slight edge to WHS, even though I am a huge Linux fan.
But the bottom line is functionality, and this is where I thinks WHS pulls away. Consider these features:
Home Server Console — notwithstanding what I wrote above, Microsoft puts a graphical user interface in front of the server which is user-friendly enough to let you manage your home network without being a Windows Server nerd.
Centralized Backup — handles up to 10 PCs, and throws in something called Single Instance Store technology for those cases where you have the same file existing on multiple PCs.
Shadow Copy — which allows you to recover older versions of a file stored on the server.
Health Monitoring — which tracks the status of the PCs on your network, including antivirus and firewall health.
This is in addition to file sharing, printer sharing, headless operation, remote access capability and other features, which have matching capabilities on the Linux box.
A note on remote access: You can set up Grandma as a user, give her a URL to the box, and she can immediately browse photos to her heart's content, from over-the-meadow and through-the-woods. Oh, and you can also stream media directly to an Xbox 360 (or other Windows Media Connect device).
There was a early glitch which caused the WHS box to occasionally eat files, but we're well past that now. Microsoft fixed it. Don't have to worry about it anymore. Right?
When You're Hot, You're Hot. When You're Not, You're Not
Q: I bought an eMachines desktop W3650 with Windows XP Home in July, and after 20 days I got the Blue Screen of Death message saying Windows had to shut down to prevent damage to the computer.
Now the computer won't reboot unless it's been powered off for at least half an hour. If I try to restart sooner, I get the message that the hard drive can't be found when I click on the Recovery F11 option.
I was originally able to get the computer back up again by reformatting the hard drive using the system recovery disk that came with the machine. All the personal files, etc., were lost.
EMachines' help desk told me to send the computer to Acer's repair shop in Temple, Texas — but the only thing Acer did was reload the operating system, which I'd been doing anyway. Then it crashed again after a couple of days.
Since then, I've been systematically loading only one piece of hardware at a time — printer, scanner, magic-jack phone, external hard drive, graphics card. The computer generally crashes again after one, two or three days.
For the last two weeks, I've avoided this by deleting all the temporary Internet files and cookies from Internet Explorer on a daily basis. The amount of disk space to be used is maxed out at 1024MB and cannot be increased with the Internet Explorer 7.
This obviously doesn't correct the basic problem, but at least I am able to use the computer so far without it crashing every couple of days and losing everything.
My communication with eMachines is like communicating with someone who doesn't care about or understand the problem. I am not computer-literate as you can probably tell, but I was wondering if anybody out there has had similar problems.
A: Whew! This sounds suspiciously like a thermal problem. In English, I think that your system disk is failing when it gets warm.
The clues I'm picking up on are: (1) after each occurrence the system needs to be powered off for 30 minutes or it can't see the disk at all (i.e., it's cooling off while it's powered off), and (2) you seem to be able to control it by removing temporary files on a daily basis (i.e., you're preventing the disk from filling with temporary Internet files and avoiding the section that's failing in the heat).
I had the same problem myself on a recent service call. The system ran great in the shop with the casing open and the room air-conditioning cranked up, but slower than molasses in the customer's home.
I checked the error log and noticed hard disk errors. I put in a new hard disk drive, and the system has been running great ever since.
To check this on your system, right-click on "My Computer," choose "Manage," expand "Event Viewer" and then click "System." Look for the red items and see if there are any related to your disk drive.
Anyway, I'd recommend having the disk drive replaced and rebuilding your system one last time. Call Acer and insist on a new drive. Or better yet, replace what came in the Acer with a nice Western Digital or Seagate drive. They're the ones I've had the best luck with over the years.
When you next talk to Acer, tell them their A/C is turned up too high. Got to make that carbon footprint a bit smaller!
A recent column featured a question regarding a Dell laptop and a failed Intel PRO/Wireless connection that stopped working because it couldn't load the drivers (error code 31).
I had a problem with my Dell desktop that occurred after the Vista SP1 push. The fix was to flash update the BIOS. If there's a way to pass this to the original poster, it might solve his problem.
Thanks and a hat tip to J.R. working at Edwards AFB in California.
Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.
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