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January 2014The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Replacing a Computer

Once you have been using a computer for a while you will find that you have a number of applications installed on that computer that you use regularly and others that you seldom use. You will also find that the amount of data that you have grows steadily. As the amount of data that you have grows you will be less and less inclined to want to upgrade the computer or even to reinstall the operating system to clean up the system.

Eventually your computer will start to noticeably slow down. There are programs that can help you to clean up left over files and help to speed your system back up but none of these are perfect and eventually you will reach the point where the computer becomes almost unusable just because of all of what you have done with it since you got it.

At some point you are going to have to make the decision to upgrade to a new computer. You may even have the decision made for you by having one or more of the components in the computer fail. I actually had this happen to me just before Christmas. I had been using the same computer for about four or five years and it was getting slower and slower to boot up to the point where I could start using it. I am not sure exactly what caused the computer to fail but it reached the point where it just refused to recognise that there was an operating system installed. In fact most times when I tried to boot the computer after it first failed it refused to recognise that there were any hard drives attached at all. My best guess is that the computer had two failures at the same time with both an intermittent hardware failure refusing to see that the SATA bus existed that the hard drives were attached to and also a corruption of the operating system stopping the computer from being able to boot even when it could see the hard drives. It might have been possible to run a repair of the operating system if that had been the only problem but the repair wasn't going to run when it couldn't see the drives and it seemed that whenever I put the disk in to try to run the repair the hardware refused to see the hard drives.

Another reason for deciding to upgrade to a new computer is when the operating system your current computer is running gets to the end of its life. Installing a new operating system is best done as a clean install rather than trying to upgrade from an older version - that way the new operating system doesn't inherit any of the problems ythat you had slowing down the old system. If you are going to dhave a new operating system installed then that's also a good time to upgrade to a new computer as you can buy the new computer with the new operating system already installed saving you the trouble of having to install it yourself. My old computer was still running Windows XP which Microsoft will no longer support in a couple more months time so I was getting close to the point of deciding to get a new computer anyway before the failures made the decision for me.

So you have a new computer probably running a new operating system. It might have some of your applications already installed but it almost certainly doesn't have all of them. It definitely doesn't have any of your data.

At this point there are a number of alternatives. The last time I replaced my computer the old one still worked so I was able to run both of them side by side connected to the same network. Over a period of several months I gradually installed all of the software I wanted onto the new computer and copied all my data across from one to the other. As I got each application working on the new computer the way it had worked on the old one I started running that application on the new computer whenever I needed it instead of on the old one. Once I finally had everything working on the new computer the way I wanted I didn't need to turn the old one on any more. Being able to run both computers in parallel meant that I could be certain that I didn't lose access to anything that I needed. If you can get the replacement computer before the old one fails then this is the simplest way of ensuring that replacing the computer doesn't interrupt the way you use your computer as you can still use the old one for anything that you don't yet have the new one set up to handle.

There's no way to avoid having your computer use interrupted if your old computer fails before you get a new one set up to do everything that you want it to do. There are some ways to minimize the interruption though. The first thing to do is to make a list of all those applications that you absolutely must have in order to be able to do the things that you usually use your computer for. That is your list of the applications that you need to install first onto the new computer if they are not already there. The other thing that you need to tackle early is getting all of your data onto the new computer.

If the hard drive in the old computer hasn't failed even though the computer has then the simplest way to get your data onto the new computer is to plug the old drive into the new computer as an extra hard drive. You can then copy the data across from where ever it is on that drive to the location where the new computer expects to find it. I keep a separate data partition on my computer and try to keep as much of the data there rather than where ever the computer would normally put it and so I just needed to rearrange the drive letters so that the data partition had the same drive letter as it had before and apply the same changes to the applications to get them to look for their data there as I had done on the old computer.

If the old hard drive has failed as well then recovering your data means getting out your latest backup and restoring that onto the new computer. This means that the backup/recovery software you used to make the backup is a priority to be installed on the new computer (it should be anyway as you'll need to be able to backup all the new data you save there). Exactly how you get all of your data to where you want it will then depend on the backup sofware you use. Hopefully you have a recent enough backup to not lose too much of your data.

In my case I have the main folders on the data partition being automatically backed up to a network storage whenever the files are changed (with the latest three versions of each file being kept) and the most critical folders are also synchronised to cloud storage so that I have an off site copy. I didn't need to use either of these to restore my data though because although the operating system on the old drive was corrupted the actual data partition was accessible once I had plugged the drive into the new computer.

As I was able to quickly recover all my data and was able to reinstall all of the most important programs within a couple of days the interruption caused by the failure of my old computer was kept to a minimum. Of course that didn't mean that everything ran smoothly. I still have a couple of hardware compatibility issues to sort out and there have been a few software issues where it took a while to figure out solutions but I had the new computer able to run the applications that I use about 90% of the time installed and operational in the first couple of days and are gradually reinstalling others as I actually need them. By not just going ahead and trying to reinstall all of the software I had on the old computer onto the new one I can omit those that I don't actually need any more and hopefully avoid slowing down the new computer too much too quickly.

The other thing that I did do in getting the new computer (other than getting a new operating system with it) was to make sure that the actual specifications for the computer were going to be sufficient to last me for quite a few years so as to hopefully be able to put off for as long as possible the need to replace this new computer.

On Site

Not as many new pages this month as I'd hoped. My computer crashed about a month ago and with the combination of issues I decided to replace it - hence the above article. The system crashed again a couple of days ago. I have been gradually reinstalling software and until I get everything the way I want the computer is not quite as stable as it would be normally. After about four hours of running backups and seeing if I could fix the operating system to boot again, I gave up and reinstalled the operating system and then spent the rest of the weekend reinstalling software all over again At least a couple of the things I couldn't get working right the first time are working properly this time. I will probably manage a few articles from these experiences.

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