Survival Kit for CAD Machines

9 Dec, 2009 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager's Toolbox: To recover from a computer disaster, follow a few simple steps before anything goes wrong.

I had an interesting experience with Microsoft's XP Service Pack 3 on an old machine this week that made me think really hard about backup strategies. My venerable Dell 8200 machine, which I keep for compiling legacy code as far back as 2002, became unbootable after a service pack was applied. "No problem," said Microsoft; "simply boot in safe mode and perform the following fixes" — all of which makes no sense if the core problem is that the machine is unbootable! I've since recovered by performing a repair installation on the machine, but if I hadn't had the right information backed up, the whole experience would have been a disaster.

So what should you do to make sure your machines are prepared for such a disaster? I offer the following checklist:

  1. Save an installation disk for your operating system with the correct service pack.
  2. If your original disk doesn't have the correct service pack, consider making a "Slipstream" installation disk using the nLite (for XP) or vLite (for Vista) utilities available from nLiteOS. You can read about and download these free tools at
  3. Back up your users' data on a consistent basis (this goes without saying).
  4. Keep the original driver disks obtained with the machine, as well as those that come with any new hardware devices you install. Store these disks, along with your original OS disks and/or Slipstream disks, in a secure location.
  5. Be sure to note your machine serial number, work ticket number, order number, or other identifier the manufacturer issued with the machine. Sometimes this number is the only way to find out which types of peripherals were shipped with the machine, which can be an invaluable aid in recovering.
  6. Keep a note sheet with your emergency kit that details any weird issues you've ever experienced when working on the machine as that, too, may be valuable information during disaster recovery.
  7. Every time a new service pack is applied to your machine, be sure to repeat steps 1 and 2.
Last, but not least, watch out for the following:
  • Do not assume your IT department has taken all these steps.
  • Do not assume that other CAD users have taken all these steps.
  • Do not assume that general server-level backups done by IT will save all data on your users' machines.
  • Do make sure you take care to protect your machine and data.
I recovered from my system problems — will you? If you take the steps outlined above, you'll be fine.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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