Computers and Disasters

Categories:Blog Post, Computers

Computers, Disasters and our Dependency Upon Them

When I started in earnest a number of years ago to transfer and restore old media, the only thing I identified that might be a problem was having to work with and largely depend upon computers.

Now, I am not going to enter into any debate about Macs verses PCs, what operating system is better or the relative virtues of hardware or architecture. From my experience, I can clearly say that any of these will cause problems sooner or later. My simple philosophy is that as long as you do exactly what that computer and software tell you it wants you to do you are in with a chance. The rest, I won’t say is down to luck, probably more like some sort of careful and methodical management dance!

Here follows some of my experiences over approximately 15 years. Working with a number of computers and often at least 3 or 4 at any time.

  • In one short period I replaced major parts in 2 computers over 4 years old and in a third computer of similar age I had to complete a Windows Installation Repair. None of this resulted in loss of data, but these days I make doubly sure I have a complete backup of everything. My archives of media and past projects are on 2 different backup hard drives kept in 2 different places.
  • I use quite a few hard drives for projects and storage. I have had a few fail within a few years and some last for many years. I cannot vouch for solid sate drives yet, but I did have a USB key fail and take out that port on the mother board with it. I had to install an add on port.
  • My take on typical computer hardware problems is. I would break most failures down to the power supply, hard drive problems and poor connections with internal cables and edge connectors. This knowledge has saved me many times from drawn out and expensive repairs. Although a mother board may fail due to aged components after say 6 or 8 years or so, where a fault seemed like a mother board it has often come down to the above.
  • A video card obviously failed due to a nasty burn out. Another was eventually found to be causing erratic boot problems.
  • Of three same brand and similar model mother boards, one failed after about 4 or 5 years. The other 2 are still going strong. In a similar way, of 2 same model mother boards bought at the same time 1 failed about 5 or 6 years ago and the other is still going. I still have my original early Pentium computer running after nearly 20 years. It runs Windows 98.
  • On one computer a failure to boot was tracked down to a faulty keyboard. The only time I have ever had a keyboard fail. It took a while to find, because when I moved it to the repair bench and use a stock keyboard and mouse etc. everything worked. I thought it just needed a clean out until I put it back in situ and it didn’t work!
  • In the middle of summer sometimes a computer which has been at work all day may need to be powered down to change a removable hard drive. But because the temperature of the CPU chip has risen sharply in the short time a fan hasn’t been running you will not be able to start that computer for about another 15 or 20 minutes. They will simply not work at very high temperatures. Sometimes a computer will not even reliably start when very cold!

In some ways the equipment we use today is more fragile because of the technology upon which it is based. If a vinyl record was scratched the only problem would be a crack crack. Badly scratch a compact disc or DVD and it may not be playable at all. Half the problem with failed equipment these days is because of the way it is treated, with the other half probably due to poor design or quality control, and that is something that has degraded over the years.