Message means drive may fail soon

Q. I am running a 2 GHz Dell PC with Windows XP. I have divided the hard drive into several partitions. I usually keep the PC on all the time.
However, when I turn it off and restart, I always get a message that one of my disks (Drive K) needs to be checked for consistency. If I let the computer check the disk, there are no problems encountered, and Windows starts. If I hit Enter to abort the disk check, Windows starts.
This happens every time I start my computer. Is there something I can do to solve this annoying problem?
A. You may be in bigger trouble than you think, because that warning message you are getting usually means that there is a mechanical problem with a hard drive and there is a strong chance that it will fail sometime in the future -- probably the near future.
Those messages are sent from a feature called SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) built into most motherboards to check hard-drive reliability.
A great many people, this writer included, have been confronted with that SMART warning and also found, as you have, that if we just ignored it, the computer would start as it always had. This makes one assume that the warnings are false, because the computer starts up every time.
Then comes the awful day when the computer starts chirping like a bucket of crickets as the drive's reading arm starts skidding across the write surface, turning data into irretrievable gibberish.
The reality is that even though the computer detects problems with the track and sector data for a drive, those problems aren't likely to cause problems right away. But something is wrong, and you need to be a tad fretful for the immediate future.
Right now, you should back up all the data on the drive and then keep making backups every time you shut the machine down.
My warnings aside, you probably can shut off those grim reminders by calling up the BIOS setup menu at boot-up, usually by holding down the F2 key as the drive starts to spin. Depending on your BIOS version and motherboard, you will probably find a setting to either shut down the SMART warnings themselves or to shut down all system warnings.
But let me leave you with a paraphrase from Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca": If that drive crashes and you didn't make a backup, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Well, maybe not for the rest of your life, but having a hard drive crash remains just about the worst thing that can happen to a computer.
Q. I've been trying without luck to play my VCR on my computer, which has Windows XP. When I had Windows ME I could play it and make recordings with no problems.
But when I installed the Dazzle program I use for viewing video on the computer, it said for me to get a decoder of some kind in order to use the program because it wasn't on XP. What's going on?
A. A lot of video that people produced on computers running Windows 98 and ME will not play on Windows XP because of a decision by Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp.
Specifically, earlier Windows versions had bits of software known as a codec (compressor/decompressor) called Indeo from Intel for reading movie files in certain formats. As Microsoft moved to push its own video formats like WMA, it decided to squeeze customers by removing Indeo from Windows.
The Indeo codecs were purchased by a company called Ligos Corp., and Windows XP was programmed to occasionally tell users that they need to download the modules. This codec, which was little more than a bolt in Windows 98 and ME, now is a $14.95 extra if a lot of people ever want to use their early digital movies.
Predictably, this stirred up a lot of anger by computer mavens who do things like make movies on their PCs. So the Web is littered with sites that offer codecs for free download.
But I cannot recommend doing this because codecs are installed by running an EXE program, and so offering free codecs is another ploy that hackers could use to trick people into running devastating software.
So if you ever want to see those movies again you'd better go to and fork over some funds.
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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