Dell Formats Your External Backup Drive, Erases 3 Years Worth Of Data

Reader Robert’s Dell XPS died. Under warranty, a Dell technician came to his house and in the process of “fixing” his computer decided to hook up and format his backup external hard drive, thus deleting 3 years worth of his work. Dell admits that they formatted his external drive but all they have to say to Robert is “Welcome to Dell.” Robert’s letter and timeline, inside…

April 7th – Top-of-the-line XPS Computer dies. Last words – “Hard drive failure.” Fortunately for me, I have the Dell Super Duper You-Should-Never-Have-to-Worry-or-Suffer-Needlessly extended warranty plan. I feel confident in the personal guaranty I get from Dell.

April 8th – Called Dell support and say that the computer fails to boot. “I think it is hard drive failure, because the computer gasped with its dying breath, ‘Hard drive failure.'”

Dell’s response: “We think it is a Windows issue. Reinstall Windows and it will work fine.” It does not.

April 9th – Marathon SIX HOUR call with Dell support during which time we uninstall and reinstall Windows, erase and replace the BIOS, unpartition and repartition the hard drives (several times), and perform all manner of terrible remedies to the computer in hopes of reviving it. None work.

Before we begin applying the electronic version of leeches to the XPS, the Dell support person asks, “We will have to erase the hard drive, is that ok?”

“No problem,” say I. “I have all my information backed up on this external hard drive. As long as no one touches the external hard drive*, everything will be fine.”

“I think it is the motherboard,” says Dell support eventually. “We will send a technician out. You should receive a call from the technician within 48 hours.”

The technician never calls. *ominous foreshadowing

April 10th through April 17th – Wait for technician to call. Emailed Dell Support several times with issue number and nice little note asking about the technician call. None of the emails responded to.

Used Dell Support Chat a couple of times from work and get runaround about how much they want to help, but unless I am sitting by the broken computer, pulling my hair our in frustration when they ask me to reinstall Windows one more time, there really isn’t anything they can do.

April 18th – Talk to Dell support chat on my laptop while sitting in front of my broken computer. Dell says, “Oh, you are using the wrong Windows installation disc, the wrong Dell support disc, and the wrong Dell diagnostic disc. We will send you the right ones.” They send me the wrong ones.

Specifically, they send me the Dell diagnostic discs for their bottom-tier laptops instead of their top-tier XPS desk tops so none of the drivers on the disc work. AND Dell sends a French-language Windows installer disc, apparently because they want to reward me by giving me the opportunity to learn a new language.

May 9th – Long, involved, multi-hour chat session with Dell support. Dell support person says that yes indeed , they sent the wrong discs and they can try to send the right discs again to me.

Logic dictates that if they just try enough times, eventually they might correctly address my problem once, right? Sadly, I am past the point of logic.

I express a level of frustration and contempt that gets me transferred to a supervisor. Dell supervisor tells me that I might have been right after all and that it probably isn’t a software issue. They agree to send out a technician.

May 13th – Dell technician comes out to the house. (I was at work and my wife was supervising the technician. He assured her several times, “I know what I’m doing.”) Doesn’t replace hard dives properly. Somehow, my 300GB hard drives gets magically replaced with a 150GB hard drive.

Also, the technician decides to plug in the external hard drive, the one I use as a backup into the computer and format it.

Apparently Dell technicians are NOT trained on the fact that FORMATTING A BACKUP DRIVE DESTROYS ALL OF THE BACKUP DATA ON IT.

May 16th – Dell support tells me that, yes, a Dell technician came into my house and effectively deleted about three years’ worth of data. All the personal data. All the professional data. All of those iTunes files I paid for and backed up so that money wouldn’t be wasted.

Everything. Now gone.

But somehow, thanks to the power of corporate magic Dell is not really responsible for this. They owe me nothing for my time and my grief and while they are very sorry for the fact I am effectively up the creek without a paddle, AND while they pretty much admit that they pointed me to this particular creek and then stole my paddle, I’m really on my own here.

So… um… that’s my customer experience with Dell. I drop a large chunk of change and buy their top-tier computer and then pay extra for their top-tier customer and technical support and am rewarded by having my external back up hard drive erased.

Thank you Dell for taking all my money and then repeatedly kicking me in the virtual nutsack because it amuses you so. Thank you Dell for making me angry enough to blog about what a craptacular waste of time and money your entire support network is.

But mostly Dell, thank you for giving me a story to share with each and every person I know who comes to me and asks what kind of computer they should buy. Because I plan on sharing this story with as many people as possible for years to come.

Wow. As if we needed another reason to hate Dell, we can’t imagine why the tech would mount an external hard drive and format it with blatant disregard to its contents. We’re not sure what all of your lost time and data is worth, Robert, but we would really like to see Dell try to make this right.


Edit Your Comment

  1. That is so horrendous – hope he sues them blue

  2. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    Jesus, talk about incompetence.

    I know you have the parts warranty & all through Dell, but these days it really pays to make sure you have at least one good friend that is computer savvy.

    I’m so glad I’ll never have to deal with a PC manufacturer’s “technician”.

  3. AstroPig7 says:

    Can incompetence be so pronounced that it is indistinguishable from maliciousness? I can believe that someone mistakenly thought the external hard drive had something to do with the laptop’s issues. I have a lot of trouble believing that someone mistakenly thought that formatting the external hard drive would have been a good troubleshooting step.

  4. ChipMcDougal says:

    He must of been very patient because if that was me, you would be hearing about it on the 6 o’clock news.

  5. Banned in DC says:

    Depending on how he formatted the drive, all the data might not be gone. Get the disk to Ontrack or other data recovery service and make Dell pay for a full recovery. Might be well over $1000, but you should get most of your data back.


  6. shufflemoomin says:

    Not to be a real ass, but how did you unpartition and repartition a failed drive several times?

  7. Noiddog says:

    Dell are a bunch of assholes. I was deployed to Iraq when the internal battery charger on my laptop died. Meaning, my battery would no longer charge, it had to be plugged in. Dell says they will pick up your laptop for service if under warranty. Hmmmm…. not from an APO they won’t. So I lost my warranty with dell because I was in a freaking warzone and I had to pay to have my unwarrantied laptop fixed 13 months later. SCREW DELL!!

  8. Noiddog says:

    @Noiddog: They wouldn’t even send me a freaking self addressed shipping box for me to ship the laptop back to them. *cry*

  9. VallisCadillaxing says:

    I hope Robert has looked into trying to recover the data from his hard
    drive, because it is likely all still there to be found. There is plenty of
    Data Recovery software out there that can help you recover everything, with
    the help of Google. It isn’t very hard to do, and would be easy to use on
    an external drive. If you need, I’m sure a local computer expert would be
    glad to do it for you, but you are best off learning how to do these things

  10. cyberferret says:

    It shouldn’t be difficult to recover the data from the external drive as long as it was only formatted. If you’re in a city of any size, there should be data recovery companies. There is also freeware/shareware that would do it.

  11. keith4298 says:

    I would bring it to a service that specializes in data recovery. It may be possible to get the data back before you write over it…(reformatting doesn’t really ‘delete’ the physical info from the disk).

    Best case scenario, you get your data back…worst case, you have a bill that you can stick Dell with in small claims court.

    Good luck.

  12. Banned in DC says:

    @jyindc: More on formatting from the Wiki:

    Recovery of data from a formatted disk

    As with regular deletion, data on a disk is not fully destroyed during a high-level format. Instead, the area on the disk containing the data is merely marked as available (in whatever file system structure the format uses), and retains the old data until it’s overwritten. If the reformatting is done with a different file system than previously existed in the partition, some data may be overwritten that wouldn’t be if the same file system had been used. However, under some file systems (e.g., NTFS; but not FAT), the file indexes (such as $MFTs under NTFS, “inodes” under ext2/3, etc.) may not be written to the same exact locations. And if the partition size is increased, even FAT file systems will overwrite more data at the beginning of that new partition.

    From the perspective of preventing the recovery of sensitive data through recovery tools, the data must either be completely overwritten (every sector) with random data before the format, or the format program itself must perform this overwriting; as the DOS FORMAT command did with floppy diskettes, filling every data sector with the byte value F6h.

  13. lsocoee says:

    That’s a good thing that you were so responsible to back up all your data. It’s also a good thing that I wasn’t there, because I’d probably be in jail right now for cutting off that technician’s mousing fingers.

  14. Byzantine says:

    People think I’m crazy/backwards, but this is still why I buy CDs and not mp3s through iTunes.

    That being said, Dell screwed up big time. They should compensate the customer for all losses.

  15. renilyn says:

    After several years of, dare I say, Dell “Support”, I’m with this guy… I wouldn’t give those fools another dime.

    5 hours to replace a motherboard?

    3 different times to my house to replace the lid on the laptop?

    3-4 HDD’s needing replacement in 6 months?

    Neh I say! Neh to it all!

  16. AstroPig7 says:

    @jyindc: Unfortunately, certain files, such as compressed audio and video files, are very difficult to recover with most software and services. When I accidentally cleared the file table on one of my home systems, I was only able to recover image files, text files, and whatnot. My MP3 files were simply gone. Paying out the arse will most likely be this person’s only option, so I agree: Send Dell the bill!

  17. Banned in DC says:


    True, the MP3s might be gone, but at least he might be able to get his business and personal data back. And he’ll get to bill Dell many hundreds of dollars for the trouble.

  18. codpilot says:

    Ahhhh don’t touch that external hard disk!!

    It is easily recovered and not that expensive!! I have several pieces of software that do a complete restoration of reformatted drives. Generally for less than around $200 or so.

    Check with some local (not big box) PC technicians.

    All assuming you don’t write a bunch of new data to the drive – then all bets are off, and if the data is critical to your life – send it to the data recovery people.

  19. snoldak924 says:


    cheaper than a 3rd party, and will get all your files back.

  20. GrandizerGo says:

    This loss is about the technicians that Dell hires local to service customers like you in a geographic area.

    The techs that I have used have been extremely knowledgeable and professional.

    No loss of data, quick professional change out of a motherboard, laptop, EVEN though he knew it wouldn’t fix the problem, but that is what DELL ordered him to do.

    As the system was booting, he called them and started telling them it wasn’t the MB and processor, and to send him the right parts.

    Back 2 days later and fixed it again the right way and the laptop was happy again!

    I think that Dell needs to check into these techs they hire and require more training and background then they are accepting. OR let them know that if they hose a job, they are responsible.

  21. DoubleEcho says:

    If the files are extremely important, I’d recommend a program called GetDataBack. ([]) This has saved my ass countless times, and I’ve been able to pull data off of drives that were formatted 2 times over. It only costs $69 for FAT (also FAT32) and $79 for the NTFS version.

  22. Juggernaut says:

    @shufflemoomin: Not to be a Real Ass Part 2 – you left your computer with your wife knowing a Dell Tech was coming to your house?!

  23. SonicMan says:

    If all he did was format that drive, yiour data can be saved. DO NOT WRITE TO THAT drive. in its formatted state it can be recovered.

  24. SonicMan says:

    Hey. If you have not written to that drive, send the disk to me. As a fellow consumerist, I am willing to do the data recovery for free. You just pay for the shipping.

  25. I’ve learned to keep all my goods on external hard drives, and leave the programs and OS on the main drive. And, like keys or credit cards, I take my external drive and lock it up whenever strangers or guests come over. With an external drive, there should be some responsibility by the owner taken, especially if he’s constantly insisting to ensure that his data doesn’t get nuked inadvertently.

  26. majortom1029 says:

    The bad part is dell is one of the better companies to get support from. The only other way to avoid this is to make your own comp. You can get a bad tech from any company.

    PS if the external hdd was blugged in during an xpsp2 install it would recognize the externall hdd as a drive on the system and maybe the tech accidently formatted and partitioned the drive from within the xp sp2 setup.

  27. majortom1029 says:

    @majortom1029: I wish their was an edit funtion. i meant to say plugged in.

  28. heavylee-again says:

    No doubt the technician and Dell are at serious fault here. But if I were this guy, I wouldn’t have left the external HD accessible to the technician, knowing that I couldn’t trust Dell or their techs anyway.

    /just sayin…

  29. Nighthawke says:

    OnTrack’s software has saved me many a gig of data off of otherwise trashed hard disks. Contact them directly and fedex the drive to them. And tell’em the story and ask if they could bill Round Rock directly.

    I’ll bet they will do so with great gusto.

  30. darkrose says:

    If it’s really important, it would be backed up in multiple places. Hard disk failure isn’t a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when”. It’s extremely not wise to have important data all in once place for that reason.

    How hard is it to disconnect a book/external drive? The tech couldn’t have formatted it if it wasn’t hooked up to the computer to begin with.

  31. heavylee-again says:

    P.S. I’ve used PC Inspector to retrieve deleted files with good success.

    P.P.S. Dell’s warranty support for businesses (including small business, which can even be individuals) is much better than their consumer services.

  32. blackmage439 says:

    I have had only positive experiences with Dell’s support, so far.

    Instance 1: Hard drive on my parent’s desktop failed. Technician came out, for free, replaced it, for free. I handled the Windows re-installation.

    Instance 2: My new laptop didn’t ship with a Windows XP disc. Instead, it has a glorified “recovery partition” (read: Wasted Space that is useless if the hard drive dies or becomes corrupted). I called up, and asked for the disc. All the drivers and preinstalled software was sent to me, for free.

    Instance 3: Somehow, my XP disc was misplaced. I have no freaking clue what happened to it. I sent in a request for just the one disc via their online form. Despite a glaring message that “only one set of discs per computer” is allowed, I was sent another set for free. I’ll have to wait and see if they try to stick me with a cost sometime down the road…

  33. TMurphy says:

    If I ever have computer problems so that I know my external drive is my only reliable source of my important data, I’m putting that drive somewhere safe where no one will mess with it. After reading this I guess its not worth the risk to keep it conveniently on hand all the time.

    Anyone know if there is a basis for suing someone for data loss? I suppose it would set a scary precedent for gray areas if it worked, but it would be nice to see Dell own up a bit more.

    As for their techs, I think I’d ask to at least see proof that they’re A+ certified. I’m sure the local news would love to cover a story on Dell not having techs that are trained in the basics, should Dell refuse your requirement.

  34. BoomerFive says:

    Yes, DO NOT touch that drive. Your data should be easily recoverable as long as it is not overwritten.

    And @darkrose: read before you speak, he says plainly that the tech PLUGGED IT IN.

    “Also, the technician decides to plug in the external hard drive, the one I use as a backup into the computer and format it.”

    Engage your brain before your mouth, the guy has had a rough enough time as it is.

  35. DoubleEcho says:

    @darkrose: How hard is it to disconnect a book/external drive? The tech couldn’t have formatted it if it wasn’t hooked up to the computer to begin with.

    You forgot to read the part that said:

    “Also, the technician decides to plug in the external hard drive, the one I use as a backup into the computer and format it.”

  36. BoomerFive says:

    @heavylee-again: So he should have to lock up his equipment when a tech comes out? That makes sense.

  37. heavylee-again says:

    @BoomerFive: I didn’t say lock it up, but if the data were that important to him, why not? I keep one of the backup methods I use in my safe. But what I meant was, take it off the desk and put it in a drawer or in another room.

  38. Parting says:

    Ok, so I’ll have to HIDE my external drive, next time I’ll need tech support. That way the tech won’t find it.

    But where Dell found this ”tech”, I’m not very knowledgeable in computer, still I would never do something as stupid as formatting external hard drive.

  39. Parting says:

    @BoomerFive: No, you should stand above technician with a shotgun. Just in case.

  40. darkrose says:

    @BoomerFive: read before you speak, he says plainly that the tech PLUGGED IT IN.

    Yes I saw that, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the guy has ZOMG REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF(TM) on a writable drive. I’ve never been able to format a standard DVD-ROM, so maybe I’m missing something.

    Let’s talk about my system for data backup for a moment to illustrate how I do things:

    I have a 1TB(ish) Linux box, 4x500GB SATA disks in RAID 1 config + 120GB (IDE) primary OS drive. DVD burner installed in the server. It acts as a Media/MythTV backend, file server, development server for PHP/mySQL, and general “tinkering” machine. I also have 2 other computers (my workstation, son’s computer), and a laptop. I should point out that the only thing new on the Linux box is the 4x 500 GB hard drives and my tuner card for Myth. All other hardware is retired/hand-me down from other computers, the entire set up cost me around $500 with these pieces/parts.

    I do not keep data on my workstation. It all goes on the server. If it’s REALLY important, it also gets committed to a nightly export to a 200GB book drive that is completely encrypted. Every year, I back the 200GB disk which really only has a couple gigs of data, if that, to an encrypted DVD. I do it every year right after I do my taxes. This disk gets put in my firebox safe and last year’s gets run through the shredder after sufficient marking up/scratching just to be sure.

    So as you see, Data gets completely backed up (mirrored raid), REALLY important stuff gets backed up twice (mirrored raid+book drive), and OMG THIS IS LIFE OR DEATH stuff gets backed up three times (mirrored raid+book drive+DVD).

    You may say this is a huge PITA but everything is done automagically via cron jobs except the burning of the dvd which is done with a simple script I wrote to execute on-demand. My data is worth a little work. I think people have lost sight that it really takes just one mis-click and their data could be gone. Backups are still important, even today.

  41. SacraBos says:

    I cannot believe that the tech plugged in an external drive and formatted – or what brain damaged rationale he went through to think that was a “good idea”. I think you got a valid negligence case there.

    Try to get the data recovered, it may not all be lost. To the fellow consumerist offering to recover for free, don’t. Bill him. Bill him well for your services. Get Dell to pay this bill. Of course, do not sent him to collections if all attempts fail… :-)

  42. MyPetFly says:


    I have a C drive in my desktop computer at home, and I installed two more drives. The C drive has software and the files I’m working on at the moment, one of the other two drives is my data drive, and the third is a backup of the data drive, periodically synced up using SyncToy. I’ve got an Ethernet dual drive housing that, once I install drives in it, will be another backup available to any computer on my network.

  43. DoubleEcho says:

    @darkrose: darkrose, that’s a nice backup system, but I doubt the average user is going to know how to do shell scripting and set up cron jobs. It’s simple for you, but you have to admit that your process isn’t easy to put in place for most people.

  44. astruc says:

    I think I’m going to apply for a job as a Dell technician. I’ve never owned a Windows machine, but clearly lack of knowledge is not a barrier!

  45. Rbastid says:

    Yeah this is why I never let Tech support or anyone touch my PC. I had a similar problem but I just searched around the net and that combined with some prior knowledge was helpful enough.

    Really though if your External drive had everything on it why even risk having it by your computer if someone is coming to work on it. It takes 2 seconds to unplug and move to the bedroom or in a box somewhere.

  46. Rbastid says:

    PS. formatting is not the end of things. If you can buy a unformat prog you should be ok, as long as you didn’t add new information to the drive. I got back 40-50% of my blown drive after i reformatted and reinstalled windows. It might just take alot of searching cause you get many useless files.

  47. Buran says:

    @Noiddog: You did leave the country. I think those warranties are only good in the US, and even then maybe only in the continental US. Should be in your warranty, but I’d be shocked if the warranties weren’t US-only.

  48. dragonfire81 says:

    Gee I remember a time when Dell was actually known for its GOOD customer service. I guess those days are gone, never to return.

  49. musitron says:


    I’m a Systems Admin and I’ve used all the products mentioned above by other folks, and while they all do work, the one I recommend you look into is R-Studio. I’ve used this program to recover past TWO formats, recover fractured RAID arrays, and generally do what is thought impossible. AND it’s relatively cheap, at $80 for the online license. The free demo version will actually show you what files you’ll be able to recover before you actually pay for the software.



  50. Kevin Cotter says:

    Acronis Disk Utilities has recovered formats and repartitions on many occasions. I’ve only had good luck with Dell (always business gold support), but I watch ’em like a hawk.

    The tech is probably NOT a Dell employee, would calling his employer do any good?

  51. CarlR says:

    I’m not going to blame Robert here and feel that Dell should have to pay for data recovery services – though the only way to convince Dell may be to get a court to tell them that.

    However, this does bring up the need to have all REALLY important data backed up in MULTIPLE LOCATIONS – for the unlikely but possible case where a tree, flood, fire or Dell technician destroys all of your carefully maintained but co-located backups. There are so many internet services that allow this now for low or no cost that there really isn’t any reason to do it – most are easy to use and do their thing automatically in the background. If you are concerned about data security just encrypt it first on your end.

  52. BoomerFive says:

    @darkrose: You are missing something. The average user shouldn’t have to worry about an idiot tech plugging in an unconnected external drive and formatting it for no reason. Should he have backed up to dvd as well? maybe, but it doesn’t change the fact that the tech was an moron.

    You sound pretty knowledgeable so let me ask you, would it occur to you at all to format someone’s external drive to fix an internal drive error? Why did the tech even plug it in?

  53. darkrose says:

    @DoubleEcho: darkrose, that’s a nice backup system, but I doubt the average user is going to know how to do shell scripting and set up cron jobs. It’s simple for you, but you have to admit that your process isn’t easy to put in place for most people.

    I’m not saying it is, the point I’m trying to illustrate is that if it’s really super-duper OMG important, then it should be backed up in multiple locations. I mean geez, I can get a 1 or 2 gb thumb drive basically for free these days. I can use any number of the free photo hosting places to save my personal pictures. Most of the other garbage I can live without.

    There’s also some places that give away space (for free) for doing backups. As much as I hate Symantec, they have a nice backup service that does just that although I think you have to pay for more space, or it’s free for a while and then costs money.

    I’m not saying that the dell tech was right, or that the OP was wrong, just that you would think that if it’s that important it would be made as multiple backups (don’t get me started about how I’ve managed to have a drive fail, install a backup and have the backup hard disk fail..or back when I was using tape, have the drive eat a tape screwing up my whole backup set).

  54. heavylee-again says:

    @darkrose: You may want to read the arguements about how RAID is not a worthwhile backup plan here and here and here to start with.

    Just to add to the list of backup suggestions that is growing here, I’ll describe mine. Keep in mind, that I do not run an official business, but I do sidejobs for cash which involve storing data for website design, etc.

    Every weekend, I backup anything I don’t want to live without, to an external harddrive. The harddrive is not plugged in our used otherwise. After said backup, I randomly choose a couple files to open from the backup to verify that there is no damage. Then, the first weekend of every month, I burn said backup to a DVD-R and again do a random file check. I keep the burned DVDs in my fire/waterproof safe.

    My mom is like most typical computer users and only knows what she knows and is not a techy. So for her, I signed her up for and installed/configured their software on her machines.

  55. One copy is just that – a copy.

    Two copies stored in different locations – now that’s a backup.

  56. zentex says:

    you have to understand that Dell uses Onforce to supply local techs. This means any monkey who can sign up on a website online and pass some open-book dell tests can accept the work order to be paid very little.

    it’s sad really…

  57. I wouldn’t be able to control myself if that was me.

    I swear I’d buy adult diapers, get in my car and drive to whichever hellhole Dell has its HQ at.

  58. mmmmdoughnuts says:

    try burning 130GB of Multimedia files to DVD weekly/monthly/annually. Besides, DVDs degrade with time…I hope you are planning on “refreshing your copy” every 5-10 years….

    multiple hard drives and a service like Mozy/Coppermine/iDrive/etc… are the best way to go. But let’s face it…nothing is 100%.

    I do the backup to external drive every night, then copy that drive to a 2nd/3rd external drive on the weekend. I then run that drive to the safe box, get the previous week’s external and bring it home for the next weekend’s job. …so i have a data drive, and 2 external backup drives…and coppermine. …and a NAS where I do occasional backups for versioning purposes.

    …I guess I do a lot of backing up, but i don’t want to be in the situation where this guy is…

  59. @DoubleEcho: Second that suggestion. GetDataBack and other software from the same company are great. Well worth the money. They may not get you 100% of the files, but they get pretty close.

  60. lawnmowerdeth says:

    I highly recommend GetDataBack. It’s cheap, and it works well recovering deleted or formatted data. I saved a coworkers crashed drive just last week.

    And no, I’m not a paid spokesperson!


  61. garykung says:

    Welcome to Hell, the world 2nd largest computer breaker in the world……

  62. Phreggs says:

    Its actually against Dell policy to do such things without the customer (who’s name is on the account) being there. Erasing personal data is a big no-no. I’ve seen people not only get complete upgrades for such a mistake, but get Dell to pay for the Data-recovery process.

    This is even more the case, since the Tech formatted your external. Which is another no-no. Its not a dell-branded piece of hardware (or in a dell-branded piece of hardware), they cant touch it without account holder consent.

    So all in all, the Dell Tech over-stepped Dell policy on on-site part replacement/troubleshooting, erased personal data without account holder consent, and are very, very, very responsible for this.

  63. lemur says:


    Hmm… it is true that RAID is not a backup solution. But this only refutes the idea that RAID is in and of itself a backup solution. If machine A needs to have all of its data backed up and some sysadmin decides that the way to do this is only to add RAID to machine A, then that’s a problem because it does not protect against stupid mistakes. If the user accidentally deletes 1GB of data, then that data is lost. RAID won’t help recover the data.

    However, RAID has its place in a backup solution. Its place is on the server which holds the backups. If you are backing up workstation data to one server disk, then you expose your backups to the risk of hard disk failure. If you use RAID to replicate your backup disk onto another disk, then the two disks would have to fail before your backup fails. I think darkrose is doing it this way: the workstation data is backed up on a server which uses RAID to minimize the risk of the backed up data being unrecoverable due to disk failure. So RAID is not the entire backup solution but has an important role to play.

    (NB: while I think darkrose’s usage of RAID is sound, I don’t agree with darkrose’s criticism of the OP. And I think, as others pointed out, that the solution proposed by darkrose is beyond the technical grasp of most users.)

  64. trujunglist says:

    Dell should pay for the recovery, plain and simple. It probably would cost them next to nothing since Dell likely has some sort of data recovery team in house. That is, unless the tech did extensive formatting and wasted the data or something.

  65. heavylee-again says:


    Valid points. But darkrose’s description of his backup routine only included backup to optical media once a year. Otherwise, everything is on the RAID. Secondly, RAID has no positive gain from corrupted data.

  66. cabalist says:

    I have two words: “data recovery”

    I have five more words: “sue them” in “small claims court”

    Them = Local Service Company (often times Unisys) and Dell

    Recovering that hard drive will cost about $2000. Those are your immediate damages. Are there any additional damages (time off from work, time spent recreating data for a client, etc.).

    Despite the contract you have with Dell Unisys (or whoever the service provider is) cannot come into your house and damage your possessions. This is NO different from a tech coming into your house and knocking a vase off of a table. If that happened, you could recover damages equal to the replacement value of the vase. Just because you have a support contract with Dell does not give anyone the authority to damage unrelated items in your home. Would the tech be allowed to lobotomize an HP laptop in your living rooms? Can they totally destroy the camera sitting in your kitchen? Absolutely not. He laid his hands on an unrelated item and essentially destroyed it.

    I would not treat this item as a part of your computer, but as part of your home. The part he was specifically told not to touch.

    This is a slam dunk in court NO MATTER WHAT THE LAW. Controversial, I know, but probably true.


    I would sue Dell at the same time. This will bring pressure on the local tech company from Dell to settle. The local tech company may even lose the ability to service Dell boxes–or their fear of such a loss will encourage them to settle.

    $2000 (money for the data recovery) is where I would start (it should cover immediate damages) but I would probably sue them for the maximum possible under small claims court in your state (sometimes as high as $10,000) to ‘get their attention.’


  67. Meltingemail says:

    Obviously, the OP needs to contact Dell and see what they offer as recompense. If he hits a brick wall, I would suggest a small claims court suit or an EECB.

    If the OP Is feeling a little more vindictive — wasn’t there a post just a few weeks ago about crafting a letter to the company’s competitor, detailing the situation, and offering to become the competitor’s spokesperson – then sending the letter to the original company’s (e.g. Dell in this case) CEO and saying, “I want this fixed, or I’m going to become the Subway Jared for Macintosh and you will look very, very silly.”

    But that’s only after he tries the usual methods of getting things fixed.

  68. mmmmdoughnuts says:

    it looks like someone from Dell (assuming “Brad” is real) has made an attempt to contact the OP about the problem on his personal blog.

    …hopefully Dell is going to do the right thing.

  69. Negative says:

    IANAL, but this definitely sounds like a litigable offense. Sue them.

  70. nyaz says:

    Erase the bios? Um… no?

  71. nyaz says:

    Also dells main problem with technicians that come to your house is they higher contractors, thus Dell doesn’t over see them. And the Contractors pay the techs $30 a job, no matter how long it takes and they only get paid for mileage if it’s over 15 miles from the previous place they went. So really they have no incentive to work extra hard to get your job done properly.

  72. Jordan Lund says:

    Weird, I never had a problem with Dell support, but then again I was a corporate gold customer. We had 20 or 25 Optiplex machines for sales people at a BMW dealership. They had a known issue with bad capacitors on the motherboards and as they failed Dell sent someone on site to replace them. They even continued support of these machines past the warranty date.

    I also had 2 machines lose their power supplies and one bad hard drive. All replaced quickly and professionally.

  73. darkrose says:

    @heavylee-again: Valid points. But darkrose’s description of his backup routine only included backup to optical media once a year. Otherwise, everything is on the RAID. Secondly, RAID has no positive gain from corrupted data.

    No, it works like this:

    Data type 1: Stuff I don’t really care about (MP3/pr0n/movie images/MythTV videos/OS images, etc): RAID mirror.

    Data type 2: Stuff I care about (personal documents such as medical records, birth certificates, extremely important applications, etc): Book drive.

    Data type 3: Stuff I absolutely cannot live without (personal documents, as described above, tax records): Backed up 1x a year to optical disk right after I complete tax return for the year (rarely the only thing that changes in this list aside from medical documents but we’ve been fortunate to not have any major medical issues this year so far). Optical disk sent to storage in a fireproof safe.

    So basically Data type 3 gets backed up 3 times. It lives in the mirror, lives on the book drive, and lives in the backup. Data type 2 gets backed up twice (RAID & book) and data type 1 gets backed up once (RAID).

    Now I know RAID in itself isn’t a backup solution but it has saved my hiney in the past when a disk goes bad. I know how to recover when I screw up a file or delete it, so it’s not a problem. I am trying to protect against physical failure, NOT accidentally deleting. Accidentally deleting is covered by backup methods 2 and 3 (btw I use rsync for syncing to book drive so I only back up if the doc has changed *AND* I also rename rather than overwrite..and I *NEVER* delete. The book drive stuff rarely changes, so I’m not too worried about it.

    I have 700GB worth of data, but only maybe 100gb that would be inconvenient to get again (but could still be obtained) and of that, maybe 2gb that is absolutely irreplaceable. I don’t back EVERYTHING up beyond mirroring.

    The problem I have with OP is that if these files are so valuable, I don’t think I’d have just 1 backup copy. As many including myself has said, there are a number of free and low cost services out there to help with the backup process. Hell, you can buy a CD-RW disc for what.. a buck? Buck fifty? I also pointed out thumb drives, they are dirt cheap now–and some of them have write protect tabs on them (still), so that’s an option as well. I don’t really see how someone could personally have more than 1 or 2 gigs of absolutely can’t-live-without stuff (except maybe photos–but again, free gallery services!). I might be wrong but I consider myself a data I don’t know.

    No backup plan is 100% foolproof but slapping something on a book drive and expecting it to be there is kind of not exactly the best idea. What if the drive falls off the desk and shatters or it busts the drive head on the platter?

  74. darkrose says:

    @cabalist: This is a slam dunk in court NO MATTER WHAT THE LAW. Controversial, I know, but probably true.


    Most “support contracts” indemnify the company providing the support from any damaged related to them farking something up. I know my company does this because if one of our techs tells a customer to delete a hive from the registry and the user bunks it up and deletes his entire registry and subsequently has to reinstall Windows and lose his data, that’s not our fault.

    It certainly wouldn’t be slam-dunk, as EULAs have been challenged before and as long as the click-thru was done before the sale (IIRC, the Dell purchasing process does this as part of the confirmation), it is enforceable. So basically OP might get reimbursed for data recovery service, but that’s about it.

  75. heavylee-again says:

    As for the possibility of legal liability for Dell and the tech, I have no legal education so I can’t speculate on what would happen if there was a court case. But, to me, a support contract that would protect a company from liability if the customer does not execute instructions properly is a LOT more reasonable than a contract that says ‘we are not responsible for what we did’.

  76. vladthepaler says:

    Unless the Dell technician also zeroed the hard drive. it should be possible to recover the data from it even though it was formatted. Not that that makes Dell suck any less, I’m just saying they guy should check it out.

  77. brandymb says:

    I would have said F-U the moment he even ASKED to see my external backup drive!

  78. sega8800 says:

    well, i just bought a dell vestro like 2 months ago, already it is giving me problem when playing world of warcraft. it says something about video card driver problem, i am afraid to call dell. since i can still play the game and the error only pops up sometimes and do nothing, i’ll just keep it that way.

  79. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    Years ago (1999), I had a drive fail in a dell desktop. Under warranty, I called support. I told them the drive was broken. They had me do 2 minutes of fiddling and then they confirmed what I told them. Offering to send out a tech, I declined and just asked for the drive. It arrived the next day. I installed it and was on my way. One of the greatest customer service experiences of my life.
    Doubtful that would happen again with what I have heard recently.

  80. josh42042 says:

    let it be noted – always keep an eye on a tech/contractor when they are in your house. I always ask the comcast techs to tell me what to do, rather then let them do it. Any those cds that comcast gives you with a new cable modem? you don’t need it. all it does is change the blue E icon in internet explorer to a comcast logo and crap like that.

  81. lostalaska says:

    Note to Evil Dell Technician #09512:

    If you want to mess with your customers, remember formatting doesn’t completely get rid of the data, you need something more powerful like D-Ban that writes junk data to the drive and then reformats it, going through that cycle 3 times to virtually guarantee the data is gone. Otherwise, the customer can probably spend over a $1000 and get the data back, wasting all your hard spent time trying to destroy their data.

    On a side note, cross reference your job with the phone support. Be very specific that they mention when trying to help the customer that it’s NOT Dell’s fault the customer lost his “important” data and that the customer should have backed up their data preferably on a Dell external hard drive (try to sell them a back up drive at this point). Then wait for the sure fire hilarity of a customer finally snapping and going from a normal human being into a babbling tourettes screaming psychosis.

    Signed: Evil Dell Technician #12576

  82. coren says:

    Dell did something similar to me – I had a computer that just kept getting corrupt Windows installs and wouldn’t boot into windows. So I was told we would need to repartition my harddrive – without being told that this would, in the end, take all my data and flush it down the toilet. Way to go Dell! And of course they refused to do a damn thing after the fact. Haven’t bought a thing from them since (except that 1.5 TB drive for 67 dollars. Or 8 of them. *cough*)

  83. meadandale says:

    “Hmm, the computer won’t boot. It must be the fault of that pesky external HDD sitting over there not currently connected to the computer. If I just connect it and reformat it, the problem should just go away…”

    Seriously, why anyone is still buying desktops from Dell is beyond me. Pay the high school kid down the street $100 to build you one from scratch with the parts you want and you’re done.

  84. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    Because of this crap I dont buy dell. Cant do the same at work, but they just changed to HP. (started twitching when I heard)
    I’ve stayed with IBM (OK, OK now lenovo) and had no issues with them.
    My personal T61 is consistently outperforming the Dell precision m4300 they gave me.

  85. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    Dell is liable for this. The tech had NO REASON to touch the external hard drive. The problem was with the machine, not the external hard-drive.

    Use professional data recovery, and re-buy what you must. How much did that cost? Okay, now take that amount and DOUBLE it. Now add a zero to the end. Finally, add how much the computer system, warranty, court fees, etc cost.

    Easily $20,000+

    Note: I am writing this on a Dell CPU. But I won’t make that mistake (buying Dell) again. But I resolved that years ago.

  86. baristabrawl says:

    First off, I have a Mac. They’ll never be sending a tech out, because I have to cart the dang thing in. Secondly: I will always hide my backup from now on, just because of this story.

    Why in the hell would someone format an external hard drive. I don’t even like to look at someone else’s external, because I know if you’re smart enough to have a back up it must be important.

    Lastly, how do you not drive to this person’s house and beat them senseless with the CPU of their own computer? Things like this make me want to call my uncle Vinnie who knows a guy.

    I’m mad and this didn’t even happen to me. *shudder*

  87. Uriel says:

    Try this tactic Robert, first off, ask yourself if you think all the information on your computer, and the computer itself/time/aggravation/stress/possible health issues this caused is worth about $15,000-$20,000. Next, sue them for one of these figures. $15k-$20k is virtually nothing to a Dell higher up. They may spend this amount to take a limo from one state to another, simply because their pets get scared on an airplane. They will probably throw this money at you to get you to go away, just so they won’t have to show up in court. My deepest sympathies for having to deal with such poor service Robert, but remember, Mr. Dell didn’t become a billionaire by making people’s dreams happen.

  88. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:


    Are you serious? Honestly, you think that ^^^^ applies in this situation? The external hard-drive had nothing to do with the service call.

    Example: I have a dell laptop. It won’t connect to the internet. Physically or wirelessly. I have music, photos, documents, professional software worth $500. I also have all of it backed up on my desktop.

    If the tech DELETES EVERYTHING from the laptop, I have very little recourse. But if he touched the desktop there would be hell (and a lot of money) to pay.

  89. cabalist says:

    My point exactly.

    The agreement between the user and Dell only covers the equipment that was bought, at that time (that particular transaction), and specifically part of the support contract, from Dell. Just because this is a hard drive (ie a technology item) does not mean that Dell is absolved. They can no more come into your house and damage an unrelated hard drive, not connected in any way to the PC they have insured, then they can come into your living room and tune your new TV with a baseball bat while they are fixing your new latitude.

    Just because the item they destroyed was a hard drive, and they happen to sell hard drives, does not mean that the support contract ON ANOTHER UNRELATED ITEM would protect them from a lawsuit.

  90. RandiBabasaur says:

    I’d say IMO that the best way to recover data ‘formatted’ over (and that would include mp3’s and whatnot) is GetDataBackFor___ (where ___ is either FAT (for FAT12/16/32 systems) or NTFS (for NTFS formatted systems).

    Jonathan Herr