Plan B tested the hard way!

Well, the disaster happened! My main desktop computer failed spectacularly last week. It was working normally, just playing music, and as I was walking past it, suddenly there was a very loud


sound, accompanied by a smell of ozone and burning insulation, and it was utterly dead. I knew I was in deep trouble when I pushed the power button, and a fat angry spark jumped behind the button.

Now, I do a lot of business online, so not having a computer is out of the question. I immediately deployed my laptop as a stand-in while I started to diagnose the desktop. Of course, just having a spare computer isn’t much help if you can’t access your files, or bookmarks, or print, or find your passwords… So, here’s where I find out if my Plan B is adequate. Several things I had in place allowed me to keep working during the repairs on the desktop:

Network drive backup: I have a free program called Syncback that backs up my downloads, documents, etc. every few hours to my network drive. Many routers (not usually the ones the ISP provides) have a USB port for an external drive that can be used for backup over the network, where it can be accessed by any other device on the same network. There are also network-ready hard drives. The files I needed were right there, in the same folder structure.

I also have online backup, but local backup is almost always faster and less hassle, so I recommend both. The online backup is a last-chance thing in case your house burns down or someone steals all your equipment.

Network printer: Same deal here. A printer on the network can be accessed by any device on the same network, making it easy to transition without having to hook up additional cables. All the major printer manufacturers now make network-capable printers for home and Small Business users.

Dropbox: I can’t recommend Dropbox enough. It’s useful for a whole range of conveniences. Dropbox’s main function, in case you’re not familiar with it, is to synchronize files across several computers. If you have the app installed, anything you put in your Dropbox folder will automagically appear – and update – in the Dropbox folder of your other computers. When I needed to update a document while the desktop was down, I pulled it from my backup and put it in the Dropbox folder so I would have the latest version when my desktop was again operational.

Firefox sync and others: All the major browsers have some sort of sync function. I use Firefox almost exclusively, but Chrome and even Internet Explorer and Edge also have means of synchronizing bookmarks across devices. Obviously, you must be signed on in the respective browsers before this will work. Firefox has it’s own sign-in, Chrome uses your Google credentials, IE and Edge use Microsoft credentials.

Password Safe: Sitting inconspicuously in my Documents folder is my Password Safe, renamed with a boring name for additional security. I don’t really trust those online password managers; they do add a lot of convenience, but I’m leery of letting an online service manage something that important. Since I had a backup of the database, accessing my passwords from my laptop was easy, too. By the way, Password Safe works on all versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux, plus Android and IOS.

Backup computer: I already had a laptop on hand that I immediately put into service. If you can’t go more than a day without a computer, I highly recommend you have such a backup, configured with your network printer and your most-used programs. While I did have to install a couple of programs in my laptop, for the most part it was ready to step into the gap. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one; it just has to be capable of doing the vital chores.

With the use of this setup, I was able to keep going and get all the important stuff done despite the catastrophe!

So, what happened to the desktop?

Apparently, the power supply failed gloriously, and took the motherboard and processor with it. The first thing I did while waiting for parts was pull the hard drives out and test them; there are plenty of adapters that will turn an internal hard drive into a USB drive, for diagnostic or other purposes. I find mine useful for recovering data from my customer’s failed machines. The hard drives (all three of them) were undamaged, saving me a great deal of grief. If they had failed, my backup is adequate for such things, but restoring all that data is a hassle.

Since I had no way to test the RAM and processor without a good motherboard, it wasn’t until I installed the new power supply and motherboard that I determined that the RAM was OK, but the CPU had bought the farm. Once those three parts were replaced, the machine came to life again.

I wasn’t quite out of the woods yet, though.

All recent versions of Windows will revert to an un-activated state after major hardware changes, particularly the motherboard. The newest versions of Windows 10 go farther; they will revert even if the replacement is identical to the original. Last year’s update (Version 1607) had a convenient feature that allowed easy re-activation if the user had signed in with a Microsoft account. I had never done that on this machine, since I resist such heavy-handedness. I prefer all my credentials to be local, thanks. Fortunately, an online chat session with a Microsoft rep, and having my original product key I’d upgraded from, got that sorted out as well. So now I’m completely back, and hoping I don’t have any more disasters like that for a while!