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My Sony Vaio VGN-SZ430N Hard Drive Crashed and How I Fixed It

Posted in Computers by Joe Colburn on the March 1st, 2008

I use my laptop a lot. I work all day and then I go home and work (and play) some more on my laptop. Sometimes, I go to sleep and my laptop is still running processes (I like to play with theoretical statistics and number crunching). I bought this Sony Vaio last April when my seven year old Dell’s drive finally bit the dust for good and I decided it was time to get a new laptop – one that wasn’t slower than my Windows Mobile cell phone. After seven great years with my Dell, I wouldn’t have guessed that the drive on my new Sony would tank the way it did, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it happening at a critical time like the second day of Affiliate Summit West, but it did.

(note: you can click any image for a large version)
Laptop Hard Drive Crash

While it would be easier (and cheaper) to just call Sony and have them come out and replace the drive, I opted to do it myself for a few reasons. Mostly, I need to retain the original drive because it contains sensitive client (and personal data), and for those who don’t know, you can usually get a lot of data off an old drive even after it’s been formatted. I didn’t want to take the chance the the drive wouldn’t be disposed of properly. I also think it’s much more fun and provides an excuse to write this post if I do it myself. Besides, someone whose warranty has expired may eventually find and make use of this article.

Before there’s a problem
It seems that the first step in recovering from a hard drive error on my laptop is to kick myself in the butt for not running routine backups. DVDs can be had for about 25 cents each these days, so there is absolutely no reason to not be running backups. I NOW have my laptop set up to run backups once a week to DVD, and if you have a vista laptop, take a look at Sony’s tutorial on how to backup and restore your important files in Windows Vista (it’s a link on that page). I didn’t think I’d need to worry about that yet with a newish laptop and most of my critical files are on my work computer or online, but you really don’t know how much you have to lose until you start to lose it. You should also create (or purchase) your recovery DVDs before you have drive problems. If you wait, you may be without a working laptop for days while you wait for the mail man to bring your disks. Additionally, I think you can still (at the time of this writing) order the recovery disks for Windows XP if you have Vista, just in case you decide you want to downgrade.

Your warranty and my disclaimer
The disclaimer part is simple… If you follow any instructions here, you release me from any claims of liability. It’s your computer and I hope you don’t break anything. With that said, here’s what Sony thinks about you opening up your computer to replace the hard drive yourself:

Hard drive upgrades in the notebook computer are not supported.

* Some notebook computers have instructions for warranty replacement of the hard drive by an end user.
* Although third-party upgrades may be available for some models, they are not supported.
* If the hard drive needs service, repair should be done by an authorized Sony® service center.
* External hard drives may be attached if the appropriate connections are available.

In short, playing doctor with hardware can be fun, but if you can get Sony to replace it for you for free, by all means, do it. If not, keep reading.

The elusive system recovery disks
If you already have recovery disks, skip this section. If you don’t, grab a crossword, TV show, work, or something to read while each DVD burns, two blank DVDs, and make sure you have a spare hour or so for just this process.

After not finding recovery disks, an obvious option on in the computer’s program menus, or any helpful information on Sony’s support pages about how to create recovery disks (did I not search hard enough?), I called support. The first representative told me that there was not a way do create a recovery disk from my existing installation. She then forwarded my call to the parts department so that I could order recovery DVDs. Delivery of the recovery DVDs would take three to five business days, and would cost me $28, I was told. I have no intention of paying for software that I feel should come in the box with the computer and I voiced this concern. The Sony guy explained that they don’t include recovery disks because they’re already on the hard drive. Coming full circle, I had him transfer me back to support so someone could explain how I could burn them. The second support tech put me on hold for a couple minutes and then emailed me the support article and walked me through the following steps, even offering to stay on the phone with me the whole time it was going to take to burn the DVDs. As I imagined someone like me waiting on hold forever for support, I declined so he could help other customers. Here’s the magic recovery disk creation process:

1. Make sure that your laptop is connected to an external power source so the process does not get interrupted.
2. Close all programs.
3. Disconnect any network connections
4. Disconnect any external peripherals (like an external mouse)

5. You can get to the recovery area in one of two ways:
- Search for “vaio recovery center” (this did not work for me) OR
- Hold down the Windows key and hit F1 and then click “Backup and Recovery”

6. Click “Launch Vaio Recovery Center” (at the very bottom)
7. Click “Create Recovery Disks”
8. Click the START button

When prompted, you’ll need to throw in a blank DVD. After it finishes the first DVD, you need to throw in the second blank DVD to make the second recovery disk.

It’s not all that painful once you know how to find the tools to do it.

Replace the bad drive with the new one
Before you start pulling apart your machine, make sure you have both Phillips head and slotted head screwdrivers handy. I also like to keep a blank sheet of paper on a flat surface and a pen handy so I can put screws on it and write where they came from. OK.. lets get started.

1. Unplug the external power supply and remove the battery.

2. Remove 4 screws from the bottom of the laptop.

3. Flip it over and look at the top of the keyboard. To release the keyboard, you’ll need to push in two small tabs. One is just above the F1 and F2 keys, and the other is just above the Insert/Pause key. I gently pressed the tip of the slotted screwdriver into each tab one at a time, while lifting the keyboard with my other hand.

4. Now flip the keyboard toward you, but be careful of that green cable.

5. Remove the three additional chassis screws now visible (circled in the picture below).

6. Flip the keyboard back over and let it rest there.

7. Gently slide the palm rest chassis toward you, but be careful of the hidden white cable.

8. Go ahead and flip it over. THERE’S the hard drive! We’re getting close.

9. Now remove the three hard drive mounting screws shown below. If you have four, you’re lucky. Sony stiffed me a screw.

10. Now you can unplug the SATA cable from the drive. Be very careful to not rip that cable. Mine is taped to the drive, and you may have to give it a little tug. Just be patient and careful with it. AFTER I got mine unplugged, I realized that they taped it on the bottom of the drive, too. You may not even be able to remove the tape until the drive is already out, so have fun with that.

11. Now remove the old drive from it’s cage by removing all four edge screws (they’re hiding under small strips of black tape) and replace it with the new hard drive, replacing the screws, as well.

12. Now you just need to put it all back together by reversing all the directions above and replace the battery and external power connection.

NOTE: We all make mistakes, and I’m not immune. When I got into the BIOS (see below), it wouldn’t find my drive. I pulled it all back apart and realized that I had accidentally disconnected this little guy. Watch out for that.

Format and Install
With every screw back in place, it’s time to set up the drive and bust out your recovery disks. For starters, turn on the power and hit the F2 key while booting to enter the BIOS to make sure the drive is recognized. Put in the first recovery disk and then turn the computer off and then back on again. On the screen that pops up, select “Vaio Recovery Center”.

On the next screen, select “Skip” and click the “Next” button. You will be given an option to install all the extras Sony wants to install. Although I’ll end up removing many of them, I installed all of them for the few I will use. Make your own choice here and then proceed with the installation.

After a disk swap, lots of waiting, a bunch of steps and a few reboots, Windows Vista’s installation and configuration will begin and a short time later, you’re back in business.

Windows Vista

Am I all done?
Nope. Remember what I said about backups when we started? Well, you have a clean install and a good drive. Now’s the time to set up your routine backups before you start loading your drive up with critical data. While you’re at it, set up that firewall and anti-virus software.

About the author

Joe Colburn Joe Colburn is a software engineer specializing in PHP and a technology enthusiast. Always eager to dive into new and exciting things, Joe writes about anything technology related news and products that he thinks you will also be excited about. Find Joe Colburn on Google+ or by any of the links below.

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