Q: I have a Dell Dimension 8400 running Vista. The computer has two hard drives, operating as a RAID volume in parallel. Yesterday I started to...

Share story

Q: I have a Dell Dimension 8400 running Vista. The computer has two hard drives, operating as a RAID volume in parallel. Yesterday I started to hear a clicking noise, presumably from one of the hard drives, and the computer momentarily froze. This repeated itself at intervals three or four times and finally the program Intel Matrix Storage Console program popped up and stated that one drive had failed and was no longer available.

I rebooted the computer and went into the Boot Menu and tested the hard drives. Both hard drives passed the test and when I rebooted, the menu showed that the RAID volume needed to be rebuilt. Back in Vista, the Intel program showed that the rebuild was in progress and it finally completed successfully. So, I was back in business. However, this morning I heard the clicking sound again shortly, and I am afraid that the drive will fail again. Can you determine what is going on? If I want to replace the hard disk, is there a way to determine which one has been acting up?

Claus Fjord Christensen, Bainbridge Island

A: I definitely would look into replacing that drive as soon as possible. When a drive goes bad it can be all at once … or it can be gradual and intermittent. Either way, your data is at risk.

I’d be surprised if the Intel Matrix Storage Console program isn’t identifying the failing drive. If not, you’ll have to use trial and error. Disconnect the drive that isn’t your boot drive first, then reboot. Hopefully, your problem won’t recur and you’ll know that the second drive needs replacing.

Q: I am new to wireless technology. A public Wi-Fi signal in my neighborhood shows up on my computer as a “very weak signal.” Will a router make it better? Do I need more than a router?

J. Scott

A: A standard router won’t help with weak signals. What you need is a signal booster, also called a range expander. You can search the Internet for “public Wi-Fi signal boost” and you’ll see a number of products listed. For example, I’ve heard a lot about Cantenna (www.cantenna.com/hotzone.html), though I haven’t tried it. It retails for $39.95.

Q: I have been trying to back up my hard drive to a CD/RW (drive D:) without success. The operating system is XP Professional on a Hewlett-Packard computer in my home. I receive the message: “The backup file name could not be used D:\irving.bkf. Please ensure that it is a valid path and that you have sufficient access.” My data is in a folder named Irving. What do I need to do to back up my computer?

I.R. Lanzner

A: The problem is that the Windows XP backup utility cannot back up to a CD drive. If you want to do that you’d have to acquire a CD-burning program that includes a backup utility that works with Windows XP. One example is Nero (ahead.de/eng/index.html), though there are others you can find.

Note: In a recent column I mentioned that some computer makers, including Dell, allow you to purchase new computers without operating systems. I unwillingly put this promise to the test when one of my own computers died suddenly.

Because I already own a licensed version of Windows Vista Ultimate, I saw no reason to have to pay for it again with a new computer. I immediately ran into frustration on my shopping trip. While Dell does offer some computers without an operating system, each model I was interested in was not offered that way. As for Hewlett-Packard, they don’t sell any models without an operating system.

I ended up buying a computer with Vista Home Edition installed and then wiping out the installed OS.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.