Preparing For the Worst – An Operating System Crash

An operating system crash on your computer can be devastating and it has happened to many of us already. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you are one of the fortunate few. In either case, it is much better to be prepared in advance in order to avoid the “worst case scenario” that normally follows the crash. Reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system is a long process. Even if you manage to get through the process effectively, most of us cannot make up the loss of productive time we use while getting a computer system in running condition again.

There are some very easy things you can do right now to prepare for such an emergency that will help to minimize the time required to restore your operating system and your vital data.

Almost all new computers are packaged with a couple CDs. Typically, there should be a System Restore disk, the operating system disk (the same as was originally installed on the computer), and a driver disk that includes various necessary files that will allow your computer to recognize critical pieces of internal hardware that the operating system may not have automatically listed. There may be more CDs, such as additional applications for CD/DVD writers or DVD players. It is critical to keep all of these in a safe, secure place. Along with these disks, keep a record of everything including login information, account numbers, and software key codes. An easy option is to list all of these items and place them on a CD but even if they are simply written down on a piece of paper, include them with the collection of disks. Be sure to also include any CDs of purchased applications such as office suites, graphic apps, etc.

Know where your files are. Back them up to a secure media as often as you have enough new data that you cannot afford to lose. The most secure media is CD or DVD, because even backup hard drives can crash. It is best to have more than one backup for critical data. An external hard drive is fairly easy to use as most of them come prepackaged with backup software. Many people are unaware that most of their files end up being stored in the default location of “My Documents”. This directory (or “folder”) is contained in your individual user profile which is inside the operating system. If the operating system is destroyed, so are all of these files. If you prefer to keep your files here, add them to your backups!

The eventual repair or reinstallation of your operating system and data may end up being very simple or it may be terribly complex. Keep in mind that restoring your operating system does not automatically include your various applications. These will need to be reinstalled from the CDs you kept in the collection we mentioned before. If you are fairly computer savvy in this area, you may be able to restore the system yourself. If you’re like most regular computer users, you may have to call a professional computer repair service.

It is a good idea to develop some sort of backup plan. It depends completely on how much work you do on various files. If you can get away with only backing up once per week or once per month, that is fine. If you know where your files are and how often you update them, you can make a qualified decision on when they need to be backed up. I recommend that you arrange your own data directory structure outside of the operating system and preferable on a different hard drive altogether, creating one primary directory, with sub-directories for the different types of files you work with. Many people set up sub-directories by project type such as “financial”, “school”, etc. Create these however they most suit your needs and then make sure you set add them to your backup list.

As is true with many other things, there can actually be some positive side effects that come as a result of having something negative happen. When it comes to computers, re-installing your operating system will generally deliver a much cleaner and faster system as a result. It’s a bit like moving into a new house and leaving all of the unusable junk behind. There are many pieces of data and application files that are never used that build up over time on a computer. Performance can actually be noticeably enhanced when the operating system and hard drive no longer have to search or process through all of the unnecessary files that disappeared with the new installation.