Recover.IT – Asus Taichi 21 Notebook

I haven’t been writing much lately so it is time to get a few out of the way.  Some weeks ago, I was asked about an Asus Taichi 21 Notebook that had suddenly stopped working.  The notebook is one that has a dual screen, open up normally as a notebook, close the lid and the back screen comes up as a tablet.  Neither screen was operating and it had been sent to Asus to look at.  I suggested that I should be able to get his data off the notebook as Asus would not provide this service.  Eventually a quotation was received which was quite high – you could buy a second hand Asus Taichi 21 on eBay for much less than the quote, so eventually it came to me to look at and get some very important files from it.

On inspection, the notebook as an internal SSD which at first glance looks like a normal mSata or M.2 SSD however on closer inspection – it is quite different.  Further research indicated that there were adapters available that would convert this SSD to standard Sata – and I was fortunate enough to find a local Sydney supplier that had one of these in stock for $20 or so.  I ordered one, and when it was ready – went for a  short drive to pick it up.  Now the adapter looked like it wasn’t the right one, but they assured me that it would work.  The socket is much larger and is not quite the same as the socket on the motherboard, so after some further research, I decided that it should work.  Of course, this can be a risk that could destroy much wanted data – but there were no indications on the internet that these adapters posed a problem.

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This shows the adapter with the SSD installed.  Note the size of the socket.  This adapter is used for the Asus Taichi and UX21/31 notebooks.  See below, for a photo of the motherboard with its socket.

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You can clearly see the difference as the motherboard socket has 6 and 12 pins, but the adapter socket has many more pins.  Anyway, I connected the adapter to my recovery machine, and it was recognized by the Bios and by my Ubuntu operating system.  I went to mount the disk, but it complained that the partition had not been cleanly dismounted.

No real problem, the way to get around this is to mount it as read-only which will ignore the dirty bits as I only want to copy data from it.  After doing an “fdisk -l”  to list the partitions, I eventually used the “mount -t ntfs -o ro” command to mount the partition and then was able to copy the required data to any external usb disk.  The D: drive folders and contents which is what I copied – as this was what was required.

After that, I reassembled the notebook and that was that, or was it?  A quick search of the internet showed that the motherboard “60-NTFMB1102-D07” was available for a few hundred dollars which would likely fix the notebook, but that is another story.

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Repair.IT – Acer Aspire S3-951 laptop disk errors

This slimline Acer Aspire S3-951 laptop came in the other day. It was having problems booting in Windows 7. Windows would want to launch Startup Repair, but this would fail, and then it would reboot and the same process happens again and again. It appears that the internal disk storage has problems. Judging from the thin laptop I asked whether it had a SSD, a Solid State Drive – the answer was don’t know, ok. The only way to find out is to open it up.

Sure enough, after opening up, I see the sata disk is a SSD – but because I can only see the bottom of the SSD, I don’t know what brand and model it is. Eventually I managed to remove it after undoing a few screws, and moving wireless cables about and find that it is a Micron RealSSD C400 256GB. Usually the SSD’s that are commonly available are 120GB, 240GB and 250GB. The 256GB SSD’s are a fair bit more expensive, over $200 in most cases, whereas a 120GB can be had for about $80. Compare this with a slimline sata hard disk with 500GB capacity that can be bought for $65.

The SSD was put onto my test computer which runs Ubuntu Linux and allows me to make a raw disk image of the data – the first step that I usually do, is to make an image so that if it does fail sometime in the future, at least I have a copy of what was readable. Sure enough, during the copy there were numerous errors – each being a bad sector / memory location. 5,824 bad sectors actually – which is quite a lot.

The next thing to do is to find out whether or not the disk image is usable – so it was copied to a larger hard disk. Now this disk is thicker, i.e. 10mm whereas the SSD was 7mm – so it doesn’t fit into the laptop properly, so I had to run it without putting all the covers back on. I managed to get Windows to boot normally, which came up to a login screen. I didn’t have the password, nor did I have the power adapter so this would have to wait until both are available.

Last night, the laptop’s owner came by with the power adapter and the password. I was able to log in, and of course charge the battery. The owner did not have recovery disks, so I connected a USB DVD-Writer, and ran the Acer eRecovery Manager to make the recovery disks, 4 DVD’s actually. Once that was done, I made a Windows Repair Disk (a CD) just in case I had later problems.

Now, if I wanted to move this to a smaller SSD, there are two ways. The first way is to shrink the system partition to make it smaller, and then move the hibernation partition, so that everything fits at the beginning of the disk, such that it could be copied to a smaller disk. I checked in Disk Management, that the system partition could only be shrunk by about 80GB, not enough to fit everything onto a 120GB SSD, however I could put it onto a 240GB SSD. Anyway, it was past midnight, so I had to leave it.

This morning, I considered the options. The second way is to get a smaller SSD, then use the Recovery disks and install a new Windows on the smaller SSD, then backup the old Windows partition and restore it onto the new SSD. It sounds good in theory but not in real life, with many people having problems with doing this. If it was Windows NT – it would have been simple, but this is Windows 7. While checking prices of 256GB SSD’s – all of them being $212 or higher, at least those that were in stock at my usual suppliers, I then thought to check Umart – they had a Transcend 256GB SSD for a special internet price of $135 and it showed as in stock. Fantastic, I quickly placed an order for it – and when I got an email that it was ready – drove down to West Ryde and picked it up.

Back to my test computer, the new SSD was connected and I set it up to copy the disk image back to this SSD – which is the same size as the original SSD – no need to make any changes at all. Some hours later (it takes time to copy 256GB of data), it had completed, so I quickly installed the new SSD back into the laptop. Powered it up and told Windows to start normally and I could log in. I enabled the disk check on startup, then rebooted and let Windows do the chkdsk, which found a few problems which it corrected then automatically restarted. Now that is all for this “Repair.IT” – oh, not yet, a quick photo.

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Here is the old Micron SSD sitting on top of the laptop. I notice that the firmware on the SSD is 0009 – which is quite old. There were a number of firmware updates to address various issues – maybe this might have contributed to the early failure of the SSD. Better check my other computers to make sure that the firmware is up to date – I only have one SSD, but my sons both have SSD’s in their computers. Firmware updates can address wear issues, encryption problems and basically anything, so it is best to keep the firmware updated if possible. However, the vendor generally suggests making a backup before doing the firmware upgrade. When is the last time you made a backup of your computer?