Last week, my wife's Dell laptop hard drive crashed, with a thud. There was no bringing it back from the edge: all the recovery tools I had at my disposal couldn't get the drive to mount, and a scan with a low-level tool from the drive OEM showed multiple bad sectors.
OK, first good news... the laptop is covered by an extended warranty. Normally, I don't believe in such things, but this one was too good to pass up: Dell said that they would cover anything that happened to the computer, even if our kids caused a hardware crash that resulted in a cracked LCD. Dell's online and email customer service made it easy to get a replacement drive: after a simple email exchange, in two days I had a new drive courtesy of DHL. (Note: this is my home machine that I purchased, not in association with my employer, so it's a real consumer experience.) I popped it in and reinstalled the OS and apps that came with the CDs when I first purchased the PC.
A note to OEMs: you know what OS I purchased for my PC under warranty, so why not ship a fully configured HDD with all the drivers and software I had when I purchased it originally, along with the latest drivers and OS updates? Instead, I spent the better part of two hours hunting down the drivers and updates on Dell.com (note that Dell does make it easy with the ability to search for teh latest files for your model - but you still have to read through and identify the various drivers specific to your configuration), then burning a CD to install the basic drivers. Then, I reinstalled Microsoft Office and updated the OS and Office on http://www.microsoft.com. In the end, I had her PC up and running in a few hours, minus her files and email.
That last part was easiest part of restoring my wife's laptop: I took the OneCare back up CD we'd made when we last went yellow and inserted it into the CD drive, and it promptly took me through the file recovery wizard. A few minutes later, all the files up to the restore point were on the PC. OneCare made for a painless recovery. Thank you Ryan, Girish, Brian and team!
My project later tonight? Get the home server back on-line and set up hew Dell to back up over the network regularly. Better? Give me a file share in the cloud where I can regularly back up critical files (photos, email and contacts) off-site... and make the files (or at least the recoverable image) accessible over the Internet as well should the whole PC disappear.