Windows? More Like a Brick Wall

No reader questions today. I've got a story of my own to tell. One sure to quake your bones, disrupt your sleep, and make you wonder why you ever bought a PC.

My Lenovo laptop started acting odd recently. Never mind the sordid details. Let me put a positive spin on it and say that some programs actually worked, and a few tasks didn't crash the PC. What was the cause? If it was malware, no scanner could detect it. The Registry? Three different Registry repair programs found and repaired all sorts of inconsistencies without positive effect. Would System Restore help? I ran it so many times Vista deleted all the restore points--presumably just to make me stop.

(If you're a Mac of Linux user, now would be a good time to go to the bottom of this article and add a smug, self-satisified "Windoze" comment.)

After a week or so of strife, I knew I had only one option left: reformat the hard drive and restore Vista. Luckily, I had written an article on that very subject only a few weeks ago. With my knowledge and my notes, what could be the problem?

With my experience, I should have known better.

Like most modern PCs, mine came with a hidden recovery partition. After all the proper backups, it should be easy to use that partition to restore everything on the hard drive to its factory state. Except I no longer had that partition. I deleted it when I upgraded my hard drive last August (click here for that nightmare).

Why do I do these things? I'm a fan of Bugs Bunny, but I keep acting like Daffy Duck?

Actually, I had had a good reason to delete that partition. The laptop came with an apparently wonderful image backup program called ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery. I used TVR&R (my acronym) to back up my hard drive soon after buying the PC nearly two years ago. Why waste hard drive space on a hidden partition that restores Windows to Lenovo's preferred settings, when seven DVDs would let me restore it configured for me?

ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery

How was I to know that Rescue and Recovery doesn't actually rescue or restore anything? Or at least not in my case. Whether I loaded the program from inside Windows or with the bootable DVD, it didn't even give me an option to look for backups from the CD/DVD drive.

I tried copying the contents of those DVDs to an external hard drive. That didn't work, either.

So I called tech support.

In the course of two phone calls, three hours, and uncounted additional gray hairs, I spoke to four support techies (and I use that term lightly). They all offered the same explanation: TVR&R only works if the operating system on your PC matches the one on the backup. When I pointed out that I hadn't changed the operating system, they had no explanation, although one was sure I had changed the OS because Vista, he insisted, had not yet come out in 2007. Eventually one admitted that there was no one in the building who had ever actually seen the program.

I think I kept my vocabulary under control, but I couldn't have been very pleasant.

There's a happy ending. I eventually found another image backup, one I created last summer, and not with TVR&R. It wouldn't be as clean a version of Windows as an older image would provide, but by then, I had wasted one day of what I'd hoped would be a one-day project, and I didn't really want to waste any more.

The funny thing is that up until this happened, I really liked Lenovo. They make great laptops.

My suggestion: Don't trust the recovery tool that came with your PC. Make an image backup when Windows is healthy, make it with a third-party program (click here for some recommendations) and stash it away in a safe place.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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