“You know something about computers…”

I hear those dread words too often from friends and family. Despite my personal crusade to convert the world to UNIX — “Friends don’t let their friends run Winduhs” (TM) — the call is invariably a plea to rescue some dire Redmond-infected platform from oblivion.

And so it was that the door bell rang a couple of days ago. On the door step stoop a neighbour clutching an over-sized (if you sat in the middle of the keyboard, you probably could get the advertised 5.1 surround sound), top-of-the-range, Blu-ray-equiped, totally-plastic, ACER aircraft carrier. In fact, it was the very same laptop I helped setup a few months ago. And what a good thing it was that I’d taken the time to burn the three recovery DVDs, because some rascal had set a password on the internal SATA boot drive!

Once a password is set on a SATA drive, you’re hosed if you don’t know it. I phoned up ACER, who were very nice and picked up the call immediately. However, they such situations are outside of warranty, and that it would cost £50 plus the cost of a new drive to fix the machine. Googling around, I discovered HDD Unlock, which claims to be freeware. I moved the drive into a USB/SATA enclosure, but quickly discovered that HDD Unlock only works on directly attached IDE and SATA drives.

Dusting off a old XP machine that hadn’t been booted in years, I attached the drive and “Hey presto!” HDD Unlock said it could unlock the drive … for a fee. Normally, I take exception to those that take advantage of others in dire straits, but it seemed like a good deal: £16 to unlock a 320GB drive (the bigger the drive, the more you pay). Being a top-of-the-range computer, it had a pretty decent hard drive (WD3200BJKT), which would have cost around £60 to replace.

One PayPal transaction and 90 minutes later (the bigger the drive, the longer it takes), the drive was unlocked, and I was able to reinstall it in the ACER monster and complete a full factory fresh install from the media I’d previoiusly created. I only record this here, because you may know of someone in a similar situation, or you may be in such a situation, and if you’re in a situation like that …

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