Data Disaster

Avatar of Chris Coyier
Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

Hey folks, don’t salt your scotch with tears on my account, but I’m posting to tell you all I just suffered a complete data loss on my computer. I figured I’d go through how it happened.

I woke up on Tuesday morning to a Spinning Beachball of Doom on my screen. Long story short, sometime during the night the hard drive completely died. This is the second time in a year the hard drive on this iMac has been trashed. I’m not worried. The last time it happened I took it in and had it replaced within a few hours. Of course, I back up everything with Time Machine, and to a Drobo (redundant RAID) to boot.

This time, the Apple “Genius” (I always quote that, no disrespect, I just hate that name) quoted me a seven-day turn around. No way. This is a business critical machine here (what isn’t?). I ask him if I can trade this fully Apple Care covered machine in for a discount on a Mac Pro, which I’ve been wanting forever. The answer is No. Unsurprising of course, but I figured maybe they’d throw me a bone since this machine is clearly a lemon.

I buy the dang Mac Pro anyway, which I absolutely can’t afford, but I can’t be without a computer for 7 days either. I figure I can sell the iMac later and recoup some of that cost. So I tell them they can just do a straight replace on the iMac hard drive and away I go home with my new Mac Pro in tow.

I set up the new Mac Pro and hook up the Drobo where my Time Machine backups live. On the Drobo, I use Time Tamer, a Drobo app to limit the amount of space Time Machine uses, because I don’t want Time Machine using my entire Drobo. How that works is that it creates a disk image file (a .sparsebundle). When Time Machine runs, it mounts that sparsebundle as a drive, writes to that, then unmounts it. Well, since my iMac died during a Time Machine backup, it left this sparsebundle file corrupt.

Double Whammy

OUCH. So the hard drive with 10 years of data on it is dead AND my Time Machine backup is dead. Double whammy.

How did I know the sparsebundle was corrupt? When I went to launch the .sparsebundle file, it didn’t mount… At first it told me there was no mountable volumes. After some restarts, it stopped telling me anything at all when double clicking. So now I have a 968.32 GB (nearly a TB) corrupt sparsebundle file.

Glimmer of Hope

The one strand of hope is that this file is somehow salvageable. I actually have had Disk Utility trying to run a repair on it for the last 8 hours or so. If that doesn’t work, first I’m going to pick up a spare 1TB external drive and copy the corrupt file to it (so I have a backup in case the problem gets worse). Then I’ll try something like Disk Warrior on it and see what happens.

F*ck it Dude, Let’s Go Bowling

Even if I lose 10 years of data, the only real response I can have is just to take it on the chin and keep going. I’m still a designer. Does losing data mean I don’t know how to design anymore? Nope. The fonts though, that’s gonna suck. I’d take my fonts back over the photos (maybe).

Comments are off. Like I said to start this off, I’m not looking for pity here. I appreciate the kind wishes, but I just want to put it behind me, appreciate all the good things I have (like a sweet new Mac Pro!) and move on.


As I mentioned, my best hope was to try and do some recovery on the .sparsebundle file. My first attempt was to run the standard Disk Utility program repair on it. It did indeed need repair, and it went to work. It ran and ran and ran (for four days!) until eventually I got a popup message saying that the repair failed (sad trombone). But just after that, the disk was mounted on my desktop! Strange, but good. So I set about copying files from the latest version of my Time Machine backup to my new computer / new hard drive. It was slow going but I got most of my stuff back. Didn’t want to mess with moving preference and library files and stuff, so a lot of that stuff is still gone but….