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Windows 7 Nightmare

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Hi all,

I recently switched my Dell Studio laptop on to find that all documents were missing from the machine. The computer appears to be blank, as if it were new.

I googled the issue and it suggested that I try a system restore, which I did. This did not work. Now all I can restore to is yesterday (20.8.14)?

Old programs seem to still be installed (Blender, AVG etc...) but none of my files or folders exist. I can still access "My Documents" ect, but they are empty and contain no files or folders that I have created.

The laptop has always run with an watermark in the corner of the screen saying "This copy of windows is not genuine" - It is genuine, but I've never gotten round to registering it, the previous owner still has the number required for this.

Any ideas on what this might be. My first assumption is some kind of virus - but I'm not too tech savvy with this sort of thing?

Thanks.

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That sounds like it's booting into a whole new user (thereby those folders being empty, they're brand new!). Did you try checking that? Also may want to look where Windows stores those files (yes, this is ugly), this would help confirm that your files are indeed still there.

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Why dont you just boot with an ubuntu USB and see if the files are there or not?

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I've had this happen multiple times, and for me, every time it was a corrupt user profile.  You can google it, but the fix was something like creating a new user, then copying over everything from the old profile to the new profile, and then just use the new profile.  

 

I've had to do it at least three times for my wife.  The symptom was always the same: She would log in and everything on the desktop was missing, along with everything in the My Documents folder.

Edited by Glass_Knife

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Firstly, thanks for all the advice - it's much appreciated.

Dragonsoulj - your suggestion worked. All of my original files are present in the Users folder that you described.

Could a virus cause the corruption or is it just a systemic glitch?

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It is just a glitch.  An IT friend of mine who oversees hundreds of accounts has to fix this every week for someone.

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This usually happens to me if I login too soon after the computer boots up. For some reason it won't log me in to my actual account and switches me to some kind of dummy account until I logout and then back in.

Details of what happens to me here: http://www.sysprobs.com/fix-temporary-profile-windows-7 Edited by Nypyren

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An alternative to backing up files is to create a directory/secondary drive that you actually use for storing files instead of user profile folders.

 

As for why this happens, it sometimes has to do with registry errors. Not just a Windows 7 thing. It happens in XP.

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If you can, try to start backing up your files.

 

Warning: Backing up your files doesn't give you any more peace of mind. Infact, it makes you more paranoid, but it's probably a good idea anyway.

 

If its important stuff, make sure your backup drive is a mirrored RAID System with at least 2 Disks (NAS, A Dual-drive USB Disk, or a server you know has mirrored drives), or backup your backup regularly.

 

This now comes from someone which lost valuable data multiple times because of faulty disks or because upgrading CPU and GPU was seemingly not done properly. Disks do not fail too often. But more often than not, you tend to overlook the signs of an imminent disk failure (growing SMART errors, Files getting corrupted) and wait too long before it blows up.

Maybe this has made me paranoid.... still, RAID 1 sounds like a good idea to me almost everywhere smile.png

 

Oh, and having a separate Data partition on a separate disk is a good idea anyway as dragonsoulj writes... did that because I wanted to use an SSD as System Disk, turns out it had a much more important upside than just preventing your SSD from going bad too fast when my SSD finally got "bad"... it did not really blow up, but it got filled to the point where windows could not start anymore. Had to yank in a new drive just to reinstall windows. Thanks to the separate data disk, all my data was still there, I just had to reinstall all my programs. I could then go on and wipe the filled SSD for later re-use.

 

 

Apart from my many Hardware related troubles (that I most of the times was to blame for), I never had any problems with Windows 7, so I really cannot help on that topic. Win7 has been stable for me for 4 years, so I am not looking forward to the day when I will finally have to make the switch to a newer Windows version (hopefully not Windows 8 anymore by then)

Edited by Gian-Reto

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If you can, try to start backing up your files.
 
Warning: Backing up your files doesn't give you any more peace of mind. Infact, it makes you more paranoid, but it's probably a good idea anyway.

 
If its important stuff, make sure your backup drive is a mirrored RAID System with at least 2 Disks (NAS, A Dual-drive USB Disk, or a server you know has mirrored drives), or backup your backup regularly.


Cloud backup FTW. No, it's not a replacement for local backups, but it's a damn good failsafe.

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If you can, try to start backing up your files.

 

Warning: Backing up your files doesn't give you any more peace of mind. Infact, it makes you more paranoid, but it's probably a good idea anyway.

 

If its important stuff, make sure your backup drive is a mirrored RAID System with at least 2 Disks (NAS, A Dual-drive USB Disk, or a server you know has mirrored drives), or backup your backup regularly.

 

This now comes from someone which lost valuable data multiple times because of faulty disks or because upgrading CPU and GPU was seemingly not done properly. Disks do not fail too often. But more often than not, you tend to overlook the signs of an imminent disk failure (growing SMART errors, Files getting corrupted) and wait too long before it blows up.

Maybe this has made me paranoid.... still, RAID 1 sounds like a good idea to me almost everywhere smile.png

 

Oh, and having a separate Data partition on a separate disk is a good idea anyway as dragonsoulj writes... did that because I wanted to use an SSD as System Disk, turns out it had a much more important upside than just preventing your SSD from going bad too fast when my SSD finally got "bad"... it did not really blow up, but it got filled to the point where windows could not start anymore. Had to yank in a new drive just to reinstall windows. Thanks to the separate data disk, all my data was still there, I just had to reinstall all my programs. I could then go on and wipe the filled SSD for later re-use.

 

 

Apart from my many Hardware related troubles (that I most of the times was to blame for), I never had any problems with Windows 7, so I really cannot help on that topic. Win7 has been stable for me for 4 years, so I am not looking forward to the day when I will finally have to make the switch to a newer Windows version (hopefully not Windows 8 anymore by then)

 

It's important to make note that RAID is more for fault tolerance than backup. You can still get that virus which encrypts all your important files. RAID doesn't help you there. You can also have a physical catastrophe, where your geographic location suffers a flood, fire, or theft. RAID won't help there either. The best way to back up files is to copy them to a removable hard drive and then move those files offsite (like from your office to your home, or some trusted secure location). If you're worried about data theft, encrypt your backups (and don't lose the encryption key! Windows encryption uses the SID, which gets cycled on a new install.. which means total data loss!). It's also a good practice to back up to more than one drive. If your backup drive goes bad, you still have recovery capabilities. 

In terms of backup frequency, you really just have to ask the following question: How much work can I afford to redo in the event of catastrophic failure? Some people can go back a week, some a day, some an hour, some 5 minutes. In my case, I vary between 4 hours to a day between backups. Also, you don't want to just overwrite your previous backup. You want to make a sequential backup, so if you need to make a recovery, you have the option to go back to any point in time. I go with 5 full backups with a 1 day interval, 4 full weekly backups, 6 full backups on a monthly interval, and 1 full yearly backup. Each backup is on a cycle where the oldest one gets replaced or archived. Why do this? Suppose you have some sort of malicious agent which slowly adds corruption into your data. You don't discover it for a month. If you only cycled between 2 daily backups, you also backed up the corruption and lost an unknown amount of data and can't trust the integrity of your existing data. It's not as bad as complete data loss, but it's still pretty bad.

 

Lastly, it's also a very good practice to go through a restore process in order to verify the integrity of your backups and backup process. Especially in enterprise cases where the backup process is complicated/esoteric. There are some nightmare stories about a flawed backup process which only got discovered when data loss occurred and needed to be recovered, only to find that the tapes for the last three years were blank.

Coincidentally, I actually had a hard drive failure last week and had to completely replace it. Fortunately, I had very recent back ups, so the only time I lost was the time it took to purchase a replacement and re-install all of my software tools. Zero data loss! Oh yeah!!!! :D

In my opinion, the #1 responsibility of a sys admin is to keep good backups. If they don't know their backup process, know where the backups are, and know that they're good, it's a dereliction of duty and should result in immediate corrective action, up to immediate termination of employment. Everything else is secondary. If you do it yourself, make sure it gets done. Your progress is only as good as your last backup.

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I use the Crashplan backup app. It backs up to a server living in my house with 6 TB of RAID 5, and also to the Crashplan cloud service. So I have both on and offsite to go back to when there's a problem.

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It's important to make note that RAID is more for fault tolerance than backup. You can still get that virus which encrypts all your important files. RAID doesn't help you there. You can also have a physical catastrophe, where your geographic location suffers a flood, fire, or theft. RAID won't help there either. The best way to back up files is to copy them to a removable hard drive and then move those files offsite (like from your office to your home, or some trusted secure location). If you're worried about data theft, encrypt your backups (and don't lose the encryption key! Windows encryption uses the SID, which gets cycled on a new install.. which means total data loss!). It's also a good practice to back up to more than one drive. If your backup drive goes bad, you still have recovery capabilities. 

[snip]

Coincidentally, I actually had a hard drive failure last week and had to completely replace it. Fortunately, I had very recent back ups, so the only time I lost was the time it took to purchase a replacement and re-install all of my software tools. Zero data loss! Oh yeah!!!! biggrin.png

 

 

true that. I am not advocating for RAID INSTEAD of Backups... I am advocating to never run a single disk alone, IF you can afford it. Your Backup drive WILL fail at some point too, so having a second disk in mirror mode there will make sure the backups are not all gone by then.

Sure, most of the times a lost backup is not a problem as long as your main disk does not crash at the same time (which is unlikely, but stranger things have happened), but if you are also using your backups for versioning, you now lost your version history.

 

Against the cryptolocker boogeys all you can do is keep your backups offline. I laugh at the idea of apples time machine, which is always connected. Another brilliant idea by apple for consumers and badly informed professionals that give them a false feeling of security IMO.

 

 

With a RAID 1 you didn't had to bring out your backup just to restore a lost drive... of course you pay for a small luxury that you will use very seldom with double the price of the disk ;)

Edited by Gian-Reto

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I've had this happen multiple times, and for me, every time it was a corrupt user profile.  You can google it, but the fix was something like creating a new user, then copying over everything from the old profile to the new profile, and then just use the new profile.

 

Thanks for all of your advice, I feel much more confident now that I know it is a recognised glitch. Now all I need to do is fix it, since I imagine you folks are comprised of programmers etc... I should warn you that I'm not too au-fait on this type of thing. My query is more accurately worded as:

How me make computer good?

The suggestion that Glass Knife made seems to be pretty good, is anyone able to provide a link to a guide for that process? I'd gladly google it myself, but I'm a little wary of finding a guide for the wrong process and potentially worsening things?

 

Cheers for all your help so far - second to none!

 

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