Recovering from a Disk Crash

That 3 inside the "U" is all important!
If you remember my computer troubles, you'll recall that my hard drive crashed midway down the ICW one year. Diving into Windows 10 and in reviving my laptop led me to several revelations on the current state of Windows 10 and SD cards. Since the marine environment is more challenging than staying at home (how dull...) there may be interest in my learning experience so here goes.

First off I discovered that unlike all previous versions of Windows, Win10 does not automatically create a restore point. In all previous versions of Windows, the operating system would create a restore point whenever a major update was installed. If you've ever had a computer crash or a blue screen (Windows won't come up) you always had the option of reverting to a previous time when everything worked. Well, in Win10 that option is not automatically set to "On". I found this out the hard way when I suspected my laptop problem was due to a corrupted file. I thought, OK, I'll just revert to a previous, saved restore point but I had none stored. Furthermore, Win10 also disables the F8 option of getting the Win10 repair screen to come up. All of this was in an effort by Microsoft to save a couple of seconds in boot time.

Part 2, a fast USB 3.0 reader
So what to do? Since I could not access my hard drive I made a bootable SD card in a USB reader. Naturally I had no Win10 disk (it's at home in New York!) but I did have a high speed internet connection at various marinas along the way. The steps:
1 - Even though I could not access the hard drive, I could boot from a USB drive provided the bios allowed that option. All laptops have some option to bring up the bios screen before booting to Windows. On my Lenovo I have a blue button to push, other laptops have F1 or Del to hit, the instruction is usually part of the boot screen. After bringing up the bios screen, be sure to set the option of allowing a Win10 boot from a USB drive and put that option first in the sequence of booting.
2 - Now you need both a high speed USB 3.0 card reader and a 32 GB high speed SD card. See the links for details. There are bunches and bunches of SD cards with a confusing array of labels but there is only one label that matters. Look for a "3" in a "U". That denotes a high speed write capability. I didn't know all this stuff until I bought what I thought was a high speed card advertised at "80MB/sec" only to find out that it was very slow in write speed, it was not rated with a 1 or 3 in the "U", in fact the "U" rating was not even shown on the card. If you want to know more than you ever really wanted to know, just go here.
3 - Now you need a copy of Win10. Luckily, Microsoft provides one free for the download. They will want you to input a product key, just ignore it and proceed, it will work if your computer previously had Win10 loaded. Unfortunately for me, the download requires a Win7 or higher laptop which I did not have. I did have an old XP laptop and I won't go through the hoops I needed to jump through for that download to work, many hours. I finally used Rufus, a free tool that works with XP systems.
4 - Now plug in your Win10 copy in a USB 3.0 port (blue, not black) and Win10 comes up. You can start using your laptop at this point.

WD Black, what you want
I went further and bought another hard disk, A Western Digital 500 GB 2.5 inch drive. I removed the old drive (6 screws, easy) and slipped in the new drive. and rebooted with the USB drive still inserted with my new copy of Win10. Upon booting, I chose to install Win10 on the new drive from the inserted USB drive with the copy of Win10.

All drives were set to  "Off" at first
I then removed the USB drive and rebooted the laptop. I now had a functional laptop again with Win10. My first step was to save a restore point! To do so, went to Settings (left, bottom 4 pane icon and select Settings) and enter Restore in the search pane, then choose "Create a Restore Point". Turn on protection for your hard drives and click on "Create a restore point right now..."

But that's now enough. You also have to turn on the option to allow F8 to bring up the restore screen (if you can't get into windows). Look here for details on how to do that. With the last step you can now get to the restore screen (or repair, lots of options) upon booting. You'll have to sit there and pound away at F8 constantly to find the short window when the laptop will respond to the F8 command during the bootup cycle, but it will work (you may have to reboot several times to hit that narrow window of opportunity).

Just slip the old drive into this case
Now that I had a functioning Win10 computer, I put my old drive into a USB drive caddy, I used the
ORICO USB 3.0 External Enclosure. Inserting the USB drive enclosure into the blue (USB 3.0) port I found that my old drive came alive. So the old drive wasn't dead after all. There must be some corrupt system file preventing booting, I'm still working on that. I did not need the drive for old data since all my personal files are stored in the cloud, namely Google Drive which is free for the first 15 GB. It's plenty for all files except photos which I store in the cloud service, PrimePhotos. If you belong to Amazon Prime, which I do, the photo storage space is unlimited.

All this was happening in the background while I was doing my blog. I used my iPad at first until I got my laptop running again. The blog is much easier to do on the laptop but I can use the iPad in a pinch.

Restoring the programs after a hard disk crash

Running InfraRecorder, select "to a Disc Image"
When I'm traveling on the ICW I use my iPad for about 90% of computing power on board and it has served me well. However, the remaining 10% is very important and consists of publishing the blog every night and occasional route planning. So it was very unsettling when my laptop died with a hard drive crash. That experience led to the above article on how to recover from that disaster when isolated on a boat.

I'll cover how to better prepare (than I did) for such an unsettling experience. Following the previous article, I now had my laptop up and running with the new hard drive but nothing was loaded except Windows 10. I had all my old passwords stored on my iPad so at least that was not a problem. I started loading programs:
- Email:  I just used the mail program which comes with Windows 10. It's not very pretty but it gets the job done.
- Browser: Win10 comes with window's Edge browser but I like Google Chrome, available for downloading (I used Edge for that first download)
- I signed into Google's Blogger site and I was up and running on my blog.
- Cloud Storage: I downloaded Google Drive and after syncing, I could access all my old data, nothing was lost. I also had access via my iPad without interruption during the crash.
- I downloaded the latest Norton Security program and activated it with my Norton password.
- I downloaded Quicken (no charge for the download) and activated it with my Quicken password. Now I was reconnected to all my accounts although I already had access via my iPad.
- Next was a download of InfraView, a very useful free, photo editing program for about 95% of my photo editing needs (cropping, resolution reduction for the web, etc.)

After clicking "to a Disc Image" you get to name it and where to save it
At this point, I started to run into trouble. I use Adobe CS4 for more advanced photo editing and that disk was at home in New York as were the disks forMicrosoft ExcelWord, and Publisher. On the iPad I just use the Apple corresponding products of NumbersPages and Keynote (but not a Publisher counterpart). They work well on the iPad but I needed a PC solution. I've found the Microsoft Office 2000 versions of Excel and Word have more than enough power for my uses and they're paid for, no monthly fee like the new products. My copy of Adobe CS4 also has no monthly fee, a thing to be treasured.

I never found a way around the problem of not having the installation disks while on my boat. One option is to download Apache Open Office  as suggested by Fred Brillo with the same capabilities as the Microsoft Office suite and best of all it's free. All data can be exchanged to and from the Microsoft suite, the formats are fully compatible. However, if you still want to stick with your favorite office suite as I did, then I did find a solution and it may be of interest to those cruising in remote places when you suffer from a computer meltdown. Whether it's just a disk crash or a complete loss of your laptop, you will need those installation disks for your fix. I don't know if you've noticed or not but most new laptops do not come with a CD or DVD reader anymore. Luckily, you do not need one if you plan ahead. The solution is to read all installation disks you might need while at home on your desktop computer with a CD reader attached. Use InfraRecorder to transfer the contents of the disk to an ISO file. The program is free and does not contain malware or ads like many similar programs. Let's be clear on one point, this is perfectly legal since the programs are protected with product keys which you have to know to activate the programs. You're just making a more convenient format for installation on your laptop. If you don't know the program keys anymore (lost, forgot, etc.) then they can be recovered from a computer with the programs already installed, like your desktop at home. The best program to use is Belarc Advisor. It prints out a complete listing of product codes of everything stored on your computer and more. It is free and safe, no malware or viruses. Needless to say, store the output in a safe place. I put my copy in the cloud on my Google Drive where I can always access it.

To install a program, right click on the ISO file and select "Open with" and "Windows Explorer"
I then opened InfraRecorder and inserted the first installation disk, in my case I started with Microsoft Word. For each disk it will ask you to name it and where you want to store the resulting ISO file (that's the file type, e.g., xxxxx.iso). So I transferred Word, Excel, Publisher and Adobe CS4 as ISO files to my Google Drive which I can access anytime I have an internet connection. I can also just store the ISO files on a USB thumb drive if desired or on my iPad for easy access.

After right clicking on "Windows Explorer" you're presented with the disc contents. Click on an EXE file, either SETUP.EXE or INSTALL.EXE
Now comes the best part. Windows 10 can read an ISO file just as if a CD drive was reading the disk. The path to do this depends on whether or not you have another program as the default program to open ISO files. You won't see the option to Mount the ISO disk if you have another program as the default choice in Win10. To get around this, just right click on the ISO file you want to install and hover with the pointer over "Open with" and you will see a selection labeled "Windows Explorer". Left click on that option when the mouse pointer is over that option. Then double-click on either Setup.exe or Install.exe, the choice differs between install programs. You can now proceed to do an install.

So the next time (hopefully never) I have a crash or lose my laptop, I can reload my Microsoft and Adobe programs from the ISO files stored in the cloud on my Google Drive just using Windows 10 as described above and I have a fully restored laptop!