Recently, a relative called and said her laptop wouldn’t boot. She wondered whether I could help. I asked if she had a backup. “No” was her answer.
I booted into linux (using [Knoppix](http://www.knoppix.net/) from a bootable CD) and attempted to back up her Windows account to an external USB hard drive. As I worked with the laptop, I discovered it was shutting itself off. On my second attempt, I managed to make a successful backup.
I tried running the system restore, but it would fail at random intervals. Next, I booted into the [System Rescue CD](http://www.sysresccd.org/) and ran the memory test. It shut at random intervals during each memory test. I figured it couldn’t be the hard drive that was at fault, but that the hard drive had probably gotten corrupted from the computer powering off suddenly.
My relative took her laptop to Geek Squad to see if they could diagnose the problem. They ran the system restore, and it succeeded. They didn’t do any further troubleshooting. They charged her $50.00 without solving the root problem. It continued to shut off at random intervals.
A colleague of mine looked at the computer, and found that the heat sink on the CPU was clogged with dust. Most likely, the CPU was getting too hot and powering off. He removed the dust buildup, and from then on, the laptop seemed to work well. I was able to restore the files, and my relative was much happier.
And she bought an external USB hard drive to do future backups. Good thinking.
I use [Mozy](http://mozy.com/) for automated, regular backups of my most important files. It’s not a complete solution for my whole hard drive, but it’s far better than nothing, and it only costs $5.00 a month. For linux, I need a similar solution. It turns out that there is one: [spideroak](https://spideroak.com). It runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. And it can synchronize files between several computers.