Thursday night as I was headed off to bed, I noticed that my MacBook was making some strange sounds. It was as though its fans were running full blast, even though it was supposed to be asleep, so I opened it up to take a look and found that the screen had frozen. I tried to restart, but after multiple attempts, it just wouldn’t boot up. Something was very, very wrong with it.
To give a bit of background, I’ve had this MacBook for almost four years now. I got the cheapest model — the plain white plastic one — back when I was attending my college classes at UIC, and even though it’s not made of metal or anything, I’ve found it to be a very rugged little machine. You might even say it’s spent the past four years patiently enduring the worst abuse any laptop should ever have to suffer.
See, I had this tendency to never turn it off. I would just close the lid and shove it in my bag, and it would sleep in there until it was time to whip it back out again — then, I’d just open the lid and it’d be back up in three seconds. I loved that I could do that. Over the past four years, I don’t think it’s ever been powered off for more than a few minutes at a time. Not to mention that I’ve dragged it across the country, taken it on camping trips, left it to sit in the car in summer heat and winter cold… All things considered, it’s held up pretty well.
Until Thursday night, when it gave up the ghost without warning after a quiet evening in our living room.
Joe and I made some attempts to figure out the problem ourselves, but when nothing seemed to be working, I made a “Genius Bar” appointment at the nearest Apple Store for first thing Friday morning. It was actually at their new Lincoln Park location that just opened last year:
Long story short, one of the friendly Apple employees was able to determine that the hard drive was shot. The laptop would boot up fine from an external disk, and from there the hard drive was visible, just refusing to mount. I actually saw this as pretty good news — the machine would be completely fine with a new hard drive, and the cost of a hard drive is relatively small compared to the cost of a whole laptop.
They could sell me a new one, the same size as the 250 GB one I had, for $171.00 including installation. Or, I could buy a 3rd party hard drive from somewhere else and probably save some money, but I’d have to install it myself — they wouldn’t be allowed to assist with it. They could still re-install the operating system free of charge if I did that though.
So I ended up walking down the street to the Best Buy and buying a new 500 GB hard drive for $119.00. Then I walked back to the Apple store, sat down at the Genius Bar, sweetly asked to borrow some tools, and installed the new hard drive myself. It was nice to be surrounded by Apple employees who could (theoretically) come to the rescue in the unlikely event that I set something on fire, but of course that didn’t turn out to be necessary — installing a hard drive in a MacBook is very straightforward.
After that, they installed Mac OS X on the new blank hard drive. (They actually installed Snow Leopard, probably by accident, instead of regular Leopard that I’d had on there before. So I essentially got a $30.00 operating system upgrade for free.) And all this got done quickly enough that I was still able to go into work at the usual time that day.
Interesting side note: this seems to be a pretty bad time to need a new hard drive. There’s been some flooding in Thailand, where a lot of hard drives are made, and it’s apparently created a shortage that’s affecting hard drive prices worldwide. Check out these signs that were posted all over the place in our local Micro Center store:
Anyway, the new hard drive was indeed all that was needed to get my MacBook running good as new, although an OS reinstall makes it kind of a blank slate, like getting a new computer right out of the box. And the big downside to the old hard drive being dead was that I’d lose some baby photos and such — all of the most recent files I had sitting on the desktop were never backed up or uploaded anywhere, unfortunately.
I was a little sad about that, so I started looking into an inexpensive piece of software called VirtualLab Data Recovery. It offers a free trial version that lets you see which files (if any) might be recoverable from your busted hard drive, and you can decide whether it’s worth $40 for the full version to actually recover them. So I had my old hard drive plugged into the laptop, and I left it there to run the free scan all night.
When I came back in the morning, I was surprised to see that the old hard drive had actually mounted itself at some point during the night, so I could copy everything over myself — no data lost, and no software purchase necessary. Cue the happy dances!
So in the end, this turned out to be more of an unscheduled laptop upgrade than anything: bigger hard drive, newer OS, and I even got to keep all my files. I still need to get everything configured and organized, but overall it seems like a pretty happy ending to a story about a crashed computer.
How about you guys — what’s the worst computer catastrophe you’ve ever had? And for other Mac users out there, have you had any interesting experiences (good or bad) with the “Genius Bar” folks at the Apple store?