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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

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Archive for March 10th, 2010

[My laptop disappeared for 48 hours in a burglary, but was returned by the superstars of the NZ crime unit].

However, all was not completely rosy- on switching on, it would load the BIOS screen (with the blue Dell logo) then switch to a white/grey screen with the following text:

Dell Inc.

The computer system #XXXXXXX-XXXX is protected by a password authentication system. You cannot access the data on this computer without the correct password.

Please type in the system or administrator password and press enter.

This looked pretty damning, I presumed the primary drive had been low-level formatted, or something similarly destructive. A cursory web search brought up a few forum posts on this issue, seemingly all from people who had ‘bought second-hand laptops’.

I purchased a cheap USB caddy from local shop, Computer Orbit, put the laptop hard-disk in it and tried to access it from a couple of other computers- with no success; it just seemed to appear as a corrupted or blank drive.

I phoned Dell technical support (an overseas call-centre). The first-line support couldn’t get a handle on the problem (“…so this is Windows log-on prompt, yes?”), but to his credit, quickly knew to pass the call upwards. The second-line support guy was very helpful and, after a few questions to validate my identity, eventually offered the two passwords I needed (one initial system password and one primary HDD password).

To my surprise (and joy!) the system now boots straight into Windows, as before, with all user accounts and data still intact. I still have no idea what happened to the laptop while it was away- perhaps a battery was removed? Certainly the system clock had reset.

Call time: circa half-an-hour. Out-of-warranty support call cost £30 (though a year’s support was offered for £109). End result: priceless!

One strange positive to emerge from this escapade is that when I took my laptop apart I discovered it had an empty bay for a second hard-drive, which could be a very easy way for me to grab some more storage space on my overloaded system!

My laptop is highly-specified, with a beautiful sharp screen, and I use it as my primary work machine. Anyone who has been around me when I’ve travelled with it will know how much I worry and take precautions for protecting it.

Recently, my ‘unthinkable’ happened – the laptop was stolen.

I’d taken it over to New Zealand for a ‘working holiday’. My Dad lives there now, so I have the luxury of being able to take, say, a month’s break over there. We’d left for a long weekend of camping (or ‘tramping’ as it’s known by Kiwis) along the Abel Tasman coastal route. We returned to our pick-up point a little weary, covered in insect bites, but very content. We were told that the house had been broken into. My heart crashed- my brain raced to remember what was on the laptop that I might have lost.

I keep a backup of my code and graphic work at home in the UK, so I knew that was recoverable, though I had a biting feeling that I’d not set up a backup routine for my emails (which I use intensively for reference) or program setup files. I also suspected I’d lost quite a bit of personal stuff, though I couldn’t quite remember what.

We made lists of what had disappeared and bought a cheap-ish home computer for our general use (in total, four laptops had gone).

The Wellington and surrounds crime investigation units were brilliant. Over the next couple of days they’d searched a couple of properties and made some seizures, some of which was definitely our gear. This was released to us about a week later.

A lot of stuff is still missing, but – astonishingly – my laptop (and that of my step-mother) were recovered. Hers was still in full working order. Mine would only boot into a Dell password-protected screen, so I suspected they’d attempted to wipe it. [See: The Dell 'White Screen of Death'].

An experience like this pulls reality into focus- was I prepared for losing my computer? The answer was ‘no’.

See: On losing a laptop – Lessons.