back to article How to recover your 'unrecoverable' laptop

Q: When does a backup not fulfil its function? A: When you cannot actually recover from it. Is this a rare problem? No, not if you are talking laptops on the move - and if you are mobile worker that probably means you. It is also a major headache for IT departments who have a responsibility for their employees' laptops (as well …


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  1. Edwin

    The problem with this... that the most common scenario that I run across isn't covered.

    One company I have worked for uses an application that not only does differential backups (at block level for huge files) over remote connections, but also mirrors network stores (if you want) for offline use.

    The advantage of this system over the portable disk is that by far the most common need for backup restore (in my experience) is the lost/stolen laptop bag.

    For the road warrior salesman who is in the office once a month, the external disk solution may work best. For the rest - an online backup is more reliable, cheaper and - most importantly - can't be pinched.

    For the record - the solution being punted here (and what Reg Tariff level are these guys anyway?) is hardly unique to this supplier - I've seen similar solutions before, though possibly not combining both the hardware and the software in one package.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hardly unique?

    "the solution being punted here... is hardly unique to this supplier"

    Hardly unique, period. Incremental backup has been around for at least 30 years...

  3. Jeff

    ... and also...

    ... that this article was almost unreadable due to how it was structured.

  4. Will

    Bootable backup drives already well established in the Mac world

    I recently wrote an article about using bootable backup drives and online backup system A combination of thetwo seem to be an indeal solution.

    For more details see this article:


  5. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    And you can do it FREE on a mac with the built in software !

    sudo rsync -avHxE --delete / /Volumes/<backup disk>/

    is enough to do this (in a terminal window of course). It does have some faults, like Apple's method of implementing the -E option stinks so it always copies files with a resource fork !

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The main issues

    Backing up on the move is a pain no matter who you are or where you are, there will always be issues no matter what the soloution, all I want is a bootable restore ie norton ghost , this software can see an external usb drive or a network share, create full and diff backups. Once I have replaced the HDD all I have to do is boot the system from CD and restore GREAT, but of cause this only works if the laptop bag and contents isnt lost/stolen

  7. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    Hardly unique?

    "Hardly unique, period. Incremental backup has been around for at least 30 years..."

    ...and the rest - ICL's George III was doing automatically scheduled incremental backups in 1969.

    rsync has been a standard UNIX/Linux utility for a long time and is my current backup method.

    "One touch" USB external drives are not new either. By "one touch" I mean the magic "back up NOW" button some drives have that trigger the driver and a utility program to do the same job for Windows as rsync does for Linux and UNIX.

    However, supplying a bootable restore CD with the external disk is something I haven't heard of before. Sounds like a worth-while addition to me.

  8. GettinSadda

    I just don't see the point!

    "Consider the following scenario: You have a carefully prepared PowerPoint presentation plus a spreadsheet of key ROI numbers to impress a prospective customer on your laptop and, as a security, you have backed up these key files (say on a memory stick). Then, just as you arrive, you accidentally bump into some furniture and knock the laptop. Guess what? You find you can't boot it up let alone access the hard disk (Laptops are susceptible to getting knocked a lot, and the disk drive is often affected). Then you are stymied because your backed-up files cannot be restored, let alone run."

    But the "solution" being advertised here doesn't help with this situation!

    Having the files backed up on an external USB hard drive is no more useful that having them backed up on an external USB flash drive.

    If a machine is available at the customer's site that has the appropriate applications installed (in this example MS Office, so that's about 99.9% of all business PCs) then either backup device just needs to be plugged in to that PC to be up and running.

    If the customer does not have a copy of the application available (non-standard application?) then sure you can get your screwdriver out and start fiddling with rebuilding your laptop in front of this prospective client - but I don't think that would impress greatly. There must be a better solution than this!

    Maybe companies that do demonstrations or presentations at client sites that require applications that will not be available at those sites, can't run from a flash drive or standard USB hard drive, can't run from a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM or be installed quickly to a borrowed PC, and where the presentation is going to be given by a single person or a team that all share one laptop and that computer is delicate enough that the hard drive has a high probability of failing, yet the screen, keyboard, battery PSU etc. can be 100% relied upon, and the customer is not understanding enough to reschedule if there is a problem (but can sit thumb-twiddling for 20 minutes while an un-trained salesperson performs a hard-drive transplant)... then it may be worth it.

  9. Nate Atkinson

    My laptop HDD failed before a presentation once

    My laptop hard drive failed once right before a presentation. Luckily, I had backed up my presentation to a USB drive, and I happened to have a Xubuntu live CD with me at the time. The Live CD went in, laptop booted, I waited a few minutes as OO-Presentation started up and opened the file, and I was good to go.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to recover your 'unrecoverable' laptop

    You can't. So you buy a new one, and install the data from your backup.

  11. John W. Naylor, Jr., P.E.

    File by File ?

    And if this laptop HD is partitioned ? ... don't think it's gonna restore all the partitions ?

  12. Morely Dotes

    Downrate this article

    Hardware/software review from someone who appears to understand neither hardware nor software.

    This ends up looking like a sales pitch. As a review, it is unacceptable. As a sales pitch, it fails to convince me; the package is not compelling.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windows Re-install not a side benefit

    Assuming one is using the product as intended, using the restore software won't substitute for a Windows re-installation; the backup software will have backed up all the bloat that made Windows slow in the first place.

    There is a potential for utility that the article didn't address, though. Does the external drive support booting over USB? That would eliminate the need for the salesman-hard-drive-transplant-meeting-entertainment, and would appear far more professional. Of course that's assuming the laptop in question wasn't locked down to disallow booting over USB...

  14. Infernoz Bronze badge

    Too slow for a presentation.

    The best solutions for this situation would be:

    1. A fast (e.g. Corsair) 2GB, FAT32, bootable, linux USB stick, with OpenOffice and your presentation on it, with a bootable Linux CD as a backup.

    2. If you can borrow a Windows XP machine, a large USB drive with a virtual windows user environment (like or a portable application suite like PortableApps, and of course your presentation.

    3. A "Corsair Flash Voyager 16GB USB Pen Drive" (<£100), with a bootable, lean Windows OS (no swap file), essential applications and your presentation, as very tough backup boot disk.

    4. If you are rich, get a 2.5" Flash hard disk for you laptop, then a head crash is no longer an issue, provided the other components still work, after a bump or fall.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How I did this...

    In my previous job I did Intel hardware standards and backup, we had about five hundred full time on the road laptop users, including about fifty who did sales presentations. Here is what we did:

    When the users logged on to the VPN, all files were automatically replicated. They had to do this pretty regularly, if only to get email, so we didn't have problems with files not being available to be backed up. The servers were backed up with good ol' NetBackup, there was therefore only one standard backup product across the enterprise.

    If a laptop broke, crashed or generally died, the user called the IT helpdesk and we arranged for them to pick up a spare laptop from the nearest company office, which would be synced and waiting for them when they arrived. If they couldn't get to an office, we would have it couriered to them.

    Easy. The key is to use tough laptops. Thinkpads in this case.

  16. !!11oneeleven

    bad scenario

    I don't get it, has the presumed laptop in this story no copy/paste function? Or is that irrelevant to the plot?

    Why would I want to use a "Backup-Solution" to backup a few slides and some spreadsheets when the copy/paste function works actually very well with USB-Sticks?

  17. Richard Neill

    Other boot methods

    1)Boot directly off USB key (very easy to do with knoppix/ubuntu)

    2)Boot off CDROM (eg Knoppix)

    3)Boot off network - eg etherboot.

  18. Skullz1987

    How... But... WTF...

    I find this article a little hard to take in! As an IT Technician I have to deal with this on a daily basis. The one thing I don't really understand is 'How does this work'? When you install windows on a machine you can't just take the HDD out and put it into another PC. The reason for this is (Assuming that the OS is XP) if any major hardware changes that take place has the potential to make the system BSOD and therefore not work.

    If i have mistaken what the article was talking about then the only other way of backing up the data so someone could access it would be on a keystick like they had previously done!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The simple way to provide backups is...

    to install the standard software environment on the system and make an image of it and burn it to bootable dvd's that could restore the base system and the standard software environment. All business data should go onto external backup media, that is system independent. A good example is an usb flash drive. Mixing business data with software results in need to fish out of this data in case the new hardware needs an os reinstall.

    For protection against lost hardware, it's better to encrypt the whole disk. This way the disk partitions can be imaged and written to recovery dvds but without exposing any data. Also business data should go to protected usb drives or other portable media.

    To have a completly failsafe backup method, there should be an identical backup computer ready for use in case the first one fails. If this is too expensive, the previously mentioned virtual machine based solution could work. (running a company standard virtual windows setup on a machine with preinstalled windows bought in the nearest computer shop can save the day, because it has an almost zero setup and configuration time)

  20. Scott Mckenzie

    I can see it now...

    ..your average salesperson would keep the backup drive in the same bag/car as the laptop so when it gets nicked your backup is lost aswell...

    The article clearly underestimates the stupidity of end users!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What is this garbage? This is nothing but an unpaid advertisement dressed up as a bogus press release by a so-called "research" organisation that simply takes money from vendors to puff their products. Why the hell are you letting these assholes have completely free pages to print their PR material verbatim and pretending it's an El Reg story?

    Oh, plus it reads like a really dull schoolboy essay. Vague wording, unclear concepts - what does the author think he's talking about in the first couple of paragraphs, where he seems to claim that a backup is no good if the machine it was taken from gets broken? You shove the pen drive in any old machine and restore your backed up files. He's stretching a point way beyond any kind of sense and making bogus comparisons. His backup isn't any more use on a computer with a dead drive than any other kind of backup, and the fact that you can plug his backup into a *new* machine and recover it there is exactly the same on his supposed counter-example of a pen drive. WTF? This is just nonsense, lies and misrepresentation. As other commenters have said, there is nothing the least bit new or unique in any of this, but because the author has been paid to reach a predestined conclusion, he has to twist and misrepresent the facts to support his so-called argument.

    Did nobody read over this article before publishing it? This isn't the first time you've been caught out by your syndication. Please tell us you won't print any more of this crap from or Bloor research except in the form of paid advertising.

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