Q. A few days back, my very expensive laptop stopped workinga few loud, angry clicks, then poof! It's just out of warranty, so I'm worried it'd be cheaper to replace than fix. Is there anything I can do, or should I resign myself to spending another two grand?
A. The telltale word in your plea is "clicks." To Mr. Roboto's earser, audio processorsthat sounds like a hard-drive failure. And though such a cataclysm certainly ain't fun, it's a good deal more welcome than, say, a fried motherboard. Salvation, dear child, may be close at hand, provided you're not too squeamish about doing some light repairs.
In Mr. Roboto's eons of experience, the hard drive is the first thing to go on a laptop. Depending on how hard you push your machine, a factory-installed drive will last you from three to six yearsslightly less if you're the sort who metes out rough treatment. It doesn't take too hard of a knock for the drive's actuator arm to get thrown askew, and moving parts grow brittle over time. That clicking was likely the drive's head desperately trying to connect with one of the platters.
The best way to decide whether, indeed, this is the case is to fake a system recovery. Considering that your laptop sounds like it's a relatively recent model, it probably came with some recovery disks. Put disk numero uno in the CD drive and see if it boots to a screen that asks whether you want to continue with a full recovery. If that's the case, press "C" for cancel, and be happy that all's right save the internal drive.
Next, check your manual for where, exactly, the hard-drive bay is located. On most newer models, it's secured within a side slot, held shut by a screw or two. Use a screwdriver to gently open the cover; once you've accomplished that, the rectangular drive should slide out with relative ease. Check the specs listed on it, note the model number, and keep that data handy for future reference; it may be necessary if you want to call up your machine's manufacturer and inquire about replacement options.
Now it's time to shop for a new drive. Mr. Roboto strongly recommends Hitachi's Travelstar line, especially the speedy 7K60. You can check the drive's compatibility with your machine under the Products tab at hitachigst.com; it should work with the bulk of late-model laptops. As of this writing, zipzoomfly.com is offering the 7K60 for $214, including free two-day shipping. A better deal probably can't be had, especially considering that the 7K60's on back order in many other places.
Once your new drive arrives, simply click it into place, screw on the top, and proceed with a system recovery. If it works, well, then Mr. Roboto just saved you, like, $1,800. Meanwhile, if you've got some must-have information on your old drive, you can take it to a data recovery pro; it might cost you a pretty penny, but maybe it's worth it to recover your take on the Great American Novel.
Of course, if you've been paying attention to Mr. Roboto at all, you've got everything backed up already on an external hard drive or a CD-R, right? Right?
Several Mr. Roboto readers have recently been fooled by a pop-up that looks like a Microsoft security alert, but is really a come-on for a $40 spyware killer called SpyBlocs. Alas, as is often the case with products advertised in such an underhanded manner, SpyBlocs delivers far less than it promises; one user even reported that it hijacked his home page after performing its cleaning. Avoid, and opt instead for Mr. Roboto fave SpyBot Search & Destroy (safer-networking.org).
Your Geek Quotient
Given that you've read this far, you've probably got a little geek in you. Yes, youdon't pretend your high school football career excludes you from such categorization. Find out just how much you deserve some schoolyard bullying at innergeek.us/geek.html. The long check-the-boxes test gauges your familiarity with everything from Weezer to Renaissance fairs. Mr. Roboto, for one, was equal parts delighted and mortified to discover that he could name over 10 Smurfs.
Input questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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