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PC disaster, may have happy ending





Ghengis
So I just moved from Maryland to Washington (USA), and because I was worried about the movers damaging them, I shipped my two desktop PCs via UPS. Long story short, they got damaged anyway. I had insured them pretty well when I shipped them, though, so I may come out OK in the end.

There are two reasons I'm relating this here. One, the hard drives *appear* largely undamaged (one has a tiny crack in the housing around a connector, but otherwise they probably survived) but who knows what they look like inside the housing? Before I hook them up and try to read data off them, is there anything I should do to minimize my chances of losing data? Should I just assume that they're shot and replace them all (after trying to recover the data, of course)? Are they probably fine, since the heads were parked or whatever during the shipment?

Two, I expect to probably just get some money from UPS to replace them. This puts me in the fortunate position of having to buy computer stuff, which is kind of fun. First, build or buy? Normally I build my own, but if I can get one pre-constructed with decent specs in a case I like, they're only going to serve as a home media server and/or home theater box anyway. If I'm buying, what brands should I look at? Ideally they'd offer a "clean install" option (e.g. Windows CD + drivers for their hardware, no "partner offers" or trials or anything), or maybe just barebones and let me install my own OS. If I'm building, is now a good time, or should I wait? Is the Core i7 worthwhile, or is a Core 2 Quad better for media server, home theater, torrents, etc?


I know it's a lot of advice to ask for in a single post, but any responses will be appreciated.
ocalhoun
Go ahead and try the hard drives... I've heard of (older) drives being usable even when the casing is taken off, being able to read data off them while watching the disks spin. (Though, I've never heard of one lasting very long that way.) The only obvious problem is that the vacuum seal inside might be broken, but, as I said, that may not mean you can't get data off them.

The worst thing that can happen is that you won't be able to read the data, and if you don't try that will happen anyway. (Okay, I lied, the worst thing that could happen is that they burst into flame... Try it in a fire-safe place ^.^) There's not really anything you can do to prepare them, except that if you shake them a little, and they rattle, disassemble them, and try to reattach whatever is rattling around in there for the tiny chance that it will still work. If they do work, get the data off of them ASAP, because it could be that they'll only work for a short while.
If you have very important data on them, you could go the expensive route, and have a professional disassemble the drive and get the data off of the disks directly. If you plan to do this, DO NOT turn them on, which might cause scratches to the disk if things are broken inside, and don't open them, which could let dust settle on the disks.

For the new computer;
1: Don't buy a new copy of windows. Use the same registration numbers from your old PC's windows installation (often printed on a sticker if a store-bought system) to install windows. (Use a downloaded CD for it if you have to, it's legal as long as you own a license to the software, which you do, and can prove with those numbers.) I've been using the same copy of XP now since it came out, having been installed on countless computers. As long as it is installed on just one at a time, this is legal. (And the 'windows product activation' people HAVE TO let you transfer it to a new PC as long as you say it isn't installed on the old one anymore, though you'll have to do phone activation, internet activation won't work (after the 3rd time, I think).
2: Deciding to build your own or buy one: The rule of thumb is that if you want a bargain PC, you should get an off-the shelf one, it'll be cheaper. BUT, if you want a high-performance one, you should build it, and it will be cheaper (and better) that way.
Donutey
Addressing the second part of your post:

It is a good time to buy a computer whenever you need one. If you wait for the "next best thing" to come out, you'll just be waiting forever.

Unless you have something really taxing (fancy games at ultra high resolutions, rendering etc.) a Core 2 Quad along with a good discrete video card is probably your best bet. The Core i7 CPUs are not that expensive (at least the lowest speed of them) but the motherboards kill any price/performance advantage they have over Core 2 Quads, a "normal" price for a Core i7 motherboard is around US$300, the cheapest I've seen was ~$260, while a good socket 775 (core2) motherboard can be had for ~$100.

Also, if you're interested the AMD phenom II CPUs are actually a little better deal (performance wise) than the Core 2 Quads and Duals they are competing against.

Hope that helps, and good luck with your data recovery!
Ghengis
Thanks for the advice. My last AMD system was a "slot A" Atholon, so we're going back a ways. I often found that Intel ran cooler for a similar level of performance, and I always seem to have trouble with ambient temp -- not that my CPU or GPU coolers suck, just that the case gets hot enough to make things flaky even with 3-4 exhaust fans. (I have two 80-lb Labradors, so that might be part of the problem). I'll look into it, though.

And thanks also for the note about the i7 motherboards -- that's... really surprising. Maybe in another month or two I'll be able to find a "budget" option?
ForceRun
I have found for most uses, a basic Core 2 Duo system is still the way togo until the prices of Core i7 drop. There is very little real world speed differences. The mobo and ram is going to be much cheaper. And they overclock like crazy.
Ghengis
I would think a Core 2 Quad would be good return on investment for a media/torrent box. It's a whole lot less than twice as much for a similarly-clocked quad, though I guess maybe heat management or cache-per-core might be an issue? Anyway, I think if I do build my own system that's probably the route I'd take at this point.
ocalhoun
Ghengis wrote:
I would think a Core 2 Quad would be good return on investment for a media/torrent box. It's a whole lot less than twice as much for a similarly-clocked quad, though I guess maybe heat management or cache-per-core might be an issue? Anyway, I think if I do build my own system that's probably the route I'd take at this point.

For a media/torrent box?

Get the cheapest stuff available, ANY PC can download torrents, and ANY modern PC will be able to play videos and music just fine.
Ghengis
Well, while that's true, I don't think "any modern PC" can transcode 720p h264 to e.g. Flash in realtime. I'm hoping a faster PC will speed up transcode, more than anything else.
ocalhoun
Oh, you're going to be working on videos? In that case, you do need to be concerned about performance.
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