Computerstuff: Hannibal Sinking

Ultra Mid-Tower CaseBack in early March, I bought an Ultra Wizard Mid-Tower case from Fry’s, not because I needed a new case, but because the case was $2.50 after a $40 mail-in rebate.This assumes the rebate actually arrives in the mail, which it has yet to do. The case sat in the box until late last weekend when I decided it was time to rip out Hannibal’s ((Smith, not Lecter. My PCs are named after George Peppard characters. It’s a good thing I don’t have more than two, because after “Banacek” I’m pretty much out of names.)) guts and transfer them to the new case.

It was only after I had installed the motherboard and all five drives in the new case that I realized my existing 92mm case fan wouldn’t fit. The Wizard has space for two fans: one 120mm fan in the back of the case and an 80mm fan in the front. Not wanting to risk overheating any of the components, I put the project aside until last night when—two new fans in hand—I dove back into Hannibal’s innards.

It wasn’t pretty. After I connected all of the cables and fired up the machine I found that Windows XP wasn’t seeing my main applications drive. Plenty of cable reseating and system rebooting later I determined that the problem was most likely a bad IDE cable. After replacing the cable, the drive was once again where it should be, but Norton Internet Security 2007 was reporting an error that—according to Symantec’s support page—required reinstallation of the product. Hoorah.

Once I had the Norton reinstall straightened out, I decided to run some of the diagnostic tools on the Ultimate Boot CD to make sure everything was working properly. Everything checked out fine until I ran PowerMax, Maxtor’s hard drive diagnostic utility on my data drive; the tool immediately indicated that the drive was failing and suggested I visit Maxtor’s website to determine the nature of the failure based on a hex code generated by PowerMax. Oh, goody.In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming. A few weeks ago, I noticed that iTunes had misplaced a number of MP3s from my library; this was probably an early warning sign that something was amiss with the drive.

Unfortunately, Maxtor has been acquired by Seagate, and for reasons I cannot begin to fathom the the page detailing the PowerMax diagnostic codes is inaccessible. The drive is failing but Seagate doesn’t seem to want to tell me what’s wrong with it.

I had already planned to steal Eeyore’s external backup drive, ((Laura’s desktop is named after a mopey donkey; her laptop is named after Emily Dickinson. I offer no commentary on this, merely simple fact.)) but Hannibal’s failing hard drive made it an imperative, so I scavenged the USB 2.0 card from Eeyore and stole the 17″ LCD monitor while I was at it. Score!

Now that I’ve back up the roughly 60 GB of data from the failing drive to the Maxtor OneTouch external drive and moved the bulk of my documents onto my 80 GB applications drive, I’m faced with the fact that I’ve got a 160 GB hard drive that could turn into a brick at any time; clearly, it will need to be replaced.

The problem with replacing the hard drive the investment starts moving into the territory of real money. The case and two fans set me back less than thirty bucks (again, assuming the rebate arrives), which is fine, but the idea of spending a hundred dollars or more on a computer that is in the neighborhood of seven years old doesn’t sit well with me. A hundred bucks represents a fifth of the cost of a new, low-end desktop system and today’s low-end systems make Hannibal look like Matlock.