In Which My XP Profile Corrupts And Gives Me A Heart Attack

A couple weeks ago, I had a little adventure with my computer which left me more than a little shaken and made me change my whole backup game-plan. Up until that point, I’d handled my backups by using the 500gig external drive I had on hand to back up things I deemed “important” and store things I didn’t need on my computer but didn’t want to get rid of. I also used the Mozy 2gig backup service for a set of important folders and e-mailed files to myself from time to time.

And then came the morning that I tried to login to my computer and found out that my Windows XP user profile was corrupted. I was worried, but I have another admin account I use on the computer for writing (fewer distractions set up there). So I logged in there…and it showed my “Ruth” account’s My Documents as being a big fat empty folder that I couldn’t access.

I went off to work in a panic, but I figured you can’t really call out that your computer is sick. However, my boss thought that stressed me wasn’t such a great idea and she suggested I was stressed enough to justify taking a half-sick day to go home and see what I could do.

While the fixes I came across online weren’t helpful (they all seemed to think that just because I could login to an uncorrupted admin profile, I’d be able to access the corrupted user profile’s files), I figured out that what I needed to do was use my other admin account to take control of the files. In XP you can do this in safe mode by right-clicking on the directory (in this case, my whole Ruth user profile in “Documents and Settings”), selecting properties, and taking ownership, recursed down into all files and subfolders.

Once I’d done that, I was able to copy it all to my external hard drive. But there was still the problem of fixing the computer. Of course, I could just create a new user profile. But I wanted to fix the problem instead. So I asked around and settled on Spinrite 6.0 as the most likely option.

I was nervous running it, but it ended up working much faster than I expected and cleared the problem right up. For some reason, Ruth isn’t showing up right now under “My Documents and Settings,” which I should look into, but it’s entirely usable. Once I got it back, I had to reclaim ownership of all my files.

I ended up covering my bases by buying a full Mozy subscription to keep the whole thing backed up all the time. I could run my MyBook as a constant backup (and may) but it would still be in the same physical location. I realized that while manual backups have got a lot of my data covered if this happens again and it couldn’t be recovered from the computer.

My initial experience wasn’t a great one, it was backing up much too slowly, but then I realized that the software I had on my computer was out-of-date. Since upgrading, everything’s been going as it ought.

However you choose to backup, make sure you do it. I had things like copies of sites I’ve since sold, pics with my mom, precious stuff that I might be able to find elsewhere or might lose forever…and the thought I might lose it forever made me feel very sick.

Another option people suggested for getting the data off was taking out the HD, putting it into an external HD USB case & hooking it up to OSX, which is apparently good at reading NTFS. And instead of running a program to repair it, I could’ve made a new user profile and cut/pasted most of the old user data over to it (excepting a couple files which the official Windows instructions said would have the corrupted data).

Do you backup? What’s your game plan if your computer just up and dies on you?


  1. eemusings says:

    Yep, I’ve had my PC die on my wayyyy too many times!

    I just recently bought an external hard drive and am using that. Before, I just had a USB stick (I don’t have tons and tons of stuff to back up.) I usually leave it unplugged and unpowered except for when I’m actively transferring files – you reckon that’s the way to go?

    So glad you found a fix!

  2. Nancy says:

    When you were tweeting about backing up your stuff, it coincided with a friend who had accidentally deleted a program (that she had backed up). The two things combined to give me an idea of what I could actually do with a Dropbox/Mozy free account, which I’d never been able to sort out before. So yay for that.

    Also, something you might want to consider having around is a Ubuntu Live CD. You can boot and run Ubuntu from it to access hard drive things. In fact, the other week, I used it to get my mother’s laptop working. It wouldn’t go back to the original factory settings or install Windows 7 (there was probably some malware thing or other) or anything, but it worked perfectly in Ubuntu. Ubuntu helped me not let the problem beat me!

  3. Spring says:

    My game plan is to die with it. What, it’s not a good plan?

  4. Ruth says:

    @eemusings I’d probably leave it be between backups/retrievals. Less chance of a virus, etc. That’s what I’ve done with mine.

    @Nancy Ubuntu Live CD was actually on my list but didn’t make it as far because my primary goal was repair.

    @Spring there were about 20 min where I wondered if life were worth living without my computer. Then I calmed down & decided to go for it.

  5. Terry says:

    I don’t back up because most of what I create goes online (my blog, Flickr, etc). I’m sure I’ve lost tons of stuff because of this (actually I know I have), but I figure the best stuff is kinda preserved.

    And I know this makes me a bad geek. :(

  6. Yaro says:

    So you could use for your backups, it’s nice because it backs up whatever you have on it to their website and any computers you have it setup on. Usually when a profile gets corrupt it may just be because of a bad sector on the hard drive. I would have just ran a chkdsk and then a defrag and see if that helps. Usually the files are not lost just the profile is dinked and after rescuing the files you can just create a new one.

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