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New Work Computer

February 23rd, 2013 1 comment
This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Macintosh

Several years ago I wrote about making a transition to the Mac world with a 13″ MacBook. That was my main computer for several years. Back in 2009 when I first got it I wrote about a whole host of things I hated about the Mac. Like the fact that there was no decent enterprise e-mail client. That the ‘DEL’ key on a Mac is really a ‘BACKSPACE’ key. That the ‘COMMAND’ key is ridiculous. Most of what I wrote is still true. Outlook 2010 for Mac is terrible, so e-mail is still painful on a Mac. It is a pale comparison to its Windows sibling. Visio is still better than OmniGraffle. The only thing that improved is that Office for Mac got VBA functionality so people can write their own functions.

So earlier this year I finally had the chance to replace my work laptop. I opted for a Windows Ultrabook – a Toshiba Portégé Z935 to be precise. And this thing so unbelievably rocks it isn’t even funny. I had the option to get a MacBook Air, but I am totally glad that I didn’t. Being back in the Windows world in my corporate life is so much easier. And I’ve been able to configure this machine to do some really cool stuff.

Like the way I am running an Ubuntu 12.04 virtual machine on an external Western Digital USB hard drive. That’s right – a complete Linux install that runs perfectly on an external (hardware encrypted) hard drive. Running in VMWare Fusion as a guest OS on my Windows 7 machine, this thing kicks butt. I use it primarily as a Python and web development environment, but having the ability to whip up a quick web server doesn’t hurt. I also love writing documents using Restructuredtext as well. It supports multiple monitors and I haven’t had a single hiccup with it’s install on an external drive.

I’ll probably write more about this configuration soon, but for now – it’s awesome.

Resurrecting My Data

April 26th, 2011 14 comments

Recovering Data From a Dead Maxtor Central Axis Server

I am a victim of inflated expectations and underwhelming execution. By Maxtor.

About two years ago I bought a Maxtor Central Axis storage server. It was kind of an impulse buy since Staples had them for a good price. As soon as I got home I noticed that many of the online reviews said that this wasn’t a reliable device. But I don’t always pay attention to online reviews. I should have. Note that the Central Axis is no longer made. After Seagate bought Maxtor they mercifully took this disaster of a product off the market.

For a while the Central Axis chugged along in my basement and worked well. I regularly backed up my system to it and even used it to store pictures so they were accessible to more than one computer in the house. But I was always taking a chance because the Central Axis isn’t really a true NAS (network attached storage) server. It’s just an external hard drive with an Ethernet port. Where many NAS servers have redundant drives in a RAID configuration, the Central Axis doesn’t. It’s just a drive. So if it dies, you lose your data.

You probably see where this is going.

A couple of months ago I decided to upgrade my Windows Vista laptop to Windows 7.

I reformatted the drive in my laptop.

Don’t worry I thought … all my important pictures are backed up. I can get them back. Then, the night of the upgrade I went into the basement and noticed a red light blinking on the Central Axis. I rebooted it. Still a red light. Oh crap. I just lost everything. Seven years of pictures and videos. Gone. More than a thousand dollars of digital music. Lost forever.

Except that thankfully the Central Axis is really a bad server with a hard drive attached rather than a bad hard drive with a server attached. So from what I’ve read most failures are actually the server and the data on the drive is recoverable. Here’s how I saved my pictures (my music I got back from my iPod).

How I Did It

First, I would like to thank user “darkfiregt” on the Maxtor message boards. His/her post on disassembly of the Central Axis (or the One Touch 4, which was the European version of the Central Axis) was invaluable. And also Dedoimedo for some additional information about mounting Linux drives in Windows.

This procedure assumes that your drive failed like mine (and countless others) with a red blinking light and perhaps a clicking noise. This is a last-ditch effort because you aren’t going to put the Central Axis back together again after this.

Basic Procedure

  1. Remove drive from housing.
  2. Connect to a Windows machine.
  3. Mount the Linux partition.
  4. Export data.

Why it Works

It seems that the main failure on the Central Axis is the drive controller. Most people believe this is because of heat. Once this happens, the drive may make a clicking noise, which is normally the sign of death, but in this case is because of a faulty controller which orders the drive heads home over and over again.

Inside the Central Axis is a simple Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM SATA drive. The server runs an embedded form of Linux, so the drive is formatted with an EXT3 partition. Although Windows can’t natively mount this format, there are utilities that can.

What You Need

  1. Screwdrivers: 2 phillips, one #0 and one #2.
  2. A place to mount the SATA drive. This can be a desktop PC with an available slot on the drive controller or a SATA to USB cable on a laptop. I used an Ultra Products USB to IDE/SATA cable I bought from Tiger Direct for $24.99.
  3. Software to read the EXT3 partition. I used Explore2fs, which is free.

The Procedure

  1. Using the small phillips screwdriver, remove 4 screws on the bottom of the case. One is hidden under the “Warranty Void if Broken” sticker (just push the tip of your screwdriver into this sticker and you’ll hit the head of the screw). Another is on the right side of the label just under the “H” in the “HDD”. Two more are under the rubber “foot” at the bottom of the case. (A bonus tool is handy for this – I used my small combination pick from my Harbor Freight pick and hook set to pull up the rubber foot.) Pull off the bottom piece.

    Bottom View of Central Axis

    Location of Top 2 Screws

    Bottom Screws Exposed

  2. Slide the inner cage and drive out of the outer case. This is easier said than done. It took me at least 5 full minutes of tugging, twisting and pulling to get it free. There is a tab which can get caught in the vents at the top of the case if you’re not careful.

    Inner Assembly Removed From Case

  3. Darkfiregt listed this as the next step:

    Once this is out, you’ll have a plastic “cage” surrounding a metal “cage surrouding the harddrive.  Look at the side with the 3 small + shaped posts.  The panel that the posts are on is what we’ll remove to free the drive.  On either side of the end posts, there is a little tap.  Push in on the tap to release the snaps that hold the panel in.  Pull the panel out.  The metal “cage” should now come out.

    Honestly, I just grabbed the plastic piece by the little plusses and pulled it apart.

    Inner Metal Assembly Removed From Plastic Cage

  4. Remove the rest of the screws from the metal enclosure (4 large and 4 small) and pry it apart. The whole hard drive should come out.

    Drive Completely Removed

  5. Connect the drive to your computer with whatever cable you have.

    Central Axis Drive Connected

  6. Verify that Windows can see the partition. On Windows 7 use Disk Management (search for it under start) to verify that the drive is visible.

    Disk 1 (and the partitions without drive letters) Is the Linux Disk

  7. Then, open Explore2fs and browse the drive. Right-click on any folders or files and Export to your local machine as needed.

Using this method I was able to save 68 GB of pictures and videos that I thought were lost forever. Good luck if you’re in the same boat.