What happens when a hard drive crashes

When Manoj Yadav took his dead PC to a repair shop, he was told that the drive had crashed. He asked me what physically happens to a drive to crash it.

Hard drives, unlike the SSDs slowly replacing them, are mechanical machines with moving parts. Each drive has one or more spinning platters, extremely tiny magnetic read/write heads, two motors, and a fair amount of circuitry. When working properly, one motor spins the platters at a very fast speed—usually 5400rpm or 7200rpm. The other motor moves the read/write head in and out with microscopic precision. The head doesn’t come into physical contact with the platter, but it floats on a cushion of air that may be as little as five nanometers. That’s less than 0.0000002 inch.

It’s a wonder they work at all.

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Prepare to take your laptop to another country

Yoni Shanni wants to take a US-purchased laptop to Israel, and asked me for advice.

Traveling internationally with a laptop is a lot easier than it was when I first wrote about it in 2000—at least when it comes to hardware compatibilities. Back then, I had to make my dial-up modem work with the German telephone system. Today, ethernet and Wi-Fi are pretty much everywhere.

In today’s more paranoid world, your biggest challenges will likely involve protecting files and crossing international borders.

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Recover a stolen laptop, or prepare for the day your laptop is stolen

Sylvia Chepkurui asked, “Can I recover my stolen laptop using the serial number?”

Probably not, but having the serial number gives you at least some chance of recovery. Without it, even if the police find your laptop in a stash of stolen property, you would have no way of proving it’s yours.

And no, booting the computer, entering your password, and showing your files won’t work—unless it’s recovered in the first few hours after the theft. Stolen computers’ hard drives are almost always wiped clean of any record of the lawful owner.

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Get Office, Dropbox, and your photos to work together on your iPad

Terry Asp works in Microsoft Word on his iPad. But he can’t insert a photo from his Dropbox account into Word. In fact, he can’t insert one from his OneDrive account, either.

If you’re using the current versions of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint on your iPad (but not, unfortunately, OneNote), you can easily open a file that’s residing on your PC—assuming it’s stored in your PC’s Dropbox or OneDrive folder. Once you’ve set it up, your online storage service of choice is just one of the locations in your app’s File screen.

But if you want to insert a picture into your document, spreadsheet, or slideshow, those locations aren’t part of the equation. There’s no way to get to your cloud-based photos.

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Free OCR: Turn a picture of text into real text without spending a dime

Bhargav Sai asked for a way to pull text out of a GIF image and make it editable.

Optical character recognition (OCR) software has been around for a long time. But for the most part, it's still cumbersome and expensive. If you only occasionally need to turn an image of text into the real thing, there's no point in buying it. So here are two simple OCR solutions that won't make you go through a complex installation or pull out your credit card.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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Restore a Windows 8 or Windows 7 image backup to an unbootable PC

Sam McCurry wisely created an image backup of his internal drive. Now he wants to know how that backup can help him should Windows fail to boot.

An image backup copies the complete contents of your drive, including the partition table and the boot sector, to a single file—usually stored on an external drive. Other forms of backup are fine for protecting documents and photos, but only an image backup can restore your personal Windows environment.

I’ll tell you to create an image backup, and how to restore it to an unbootable drive, in both Windows 7 and 8.

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How to protect your wireless router from malware

O D worries that other people, including criminals, can see his IP address. “What can happen if they come into my router?”

As I pointed out last year, your router’s IP address is anything but a secret. Every website you visit gets a look at that number. And from that IP address, they can discover your ISP and your general location (your neighborhood, but not your address).

But can they infect your router with malware? It’s not likely, but the danger is significant enough to take precautions.

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