Initial examination:
Initial tests include an overall check of machine's functionality before exam focus shifts to client's primary complaint or issue. Drives, ports, cables, connectors and software all affect performance; any deficits will be noted.

Further analysis may include more extensive diagnostics, especially if issue is -  worst of all - intermittent. An estimate for repairs will be provided as soon as specific problem(s) are identified.

If machine checks out but drive does not - which is common as ALL drives fail eventually - then our priority becomes data recovery. If you have a current backup, we can usually get you up and running in no time, one way or another. Removable drives are pretty straightforward. Solid-state-drive-equipped machines (those after 2016) may have "onboard" storage, or a proprietary SSD which tends to complicate matters. (And, yes, SSDs do fail.)

Photos, letters, music, videos, docs, email, projects large and small - known as "target data" - these are one-off files that exist nowhere else. They can represent years of work that might be lost forever. We attempt to recover data in hopes of restoring a complete startup volume, but if that's not possible and we're forced to limit recovery to target data, the process becomes more complicated.
In any case, recovery requires a proper and adequate drive prepped to receive data prior to attempt.

If an nCity shop volume is used for recovery purposes, you'll be given the option of reimbursing the shop for this volume and taking possession of it, or see the drive erased
after its use. If we cannot recover your data we usually know in short order and have other data recovery options available.

Extended machine analysis:
Many other failures may prevent startup or proper operation too, and some can mimic drive issues. Tracking down computer problems may be a quick fix, or it may require disassembly, examination and further testing. Estimates and options will present when diagnostics are completed.

Software tests may involve OS operation and errors,
data structures, settings, drivers, etc. We'll discuss upgrades, settings and specs as relevant, check accounts, security and permissions as needed.

NOTE: Your login password (or presence) is required in most cases.

may include copy, scan and/or repair processes that can take a very long time to execute with precision (often run overnight). Larger/slow volumes = longer times. Time charges apply to supervision and monitoring as necessary, but not to unsupervised run time.

A given system's size, age and hardware/software configuration dictates selection of tools used in troubleshooting. Initial diagnostics are virtually guaranteed to find and fix a variety of minor errors, and any serious irregularities should be quite apparent. Regular maintenance is always a good idea, and ALWAYS maintain proper backup.

Specific diagnostics:
This entails a more focused look at errors unearthed and problems encountered in testing. Failed drives and data recovery aside, hardware faults typically point to replacement of a sub-assembly, from batteries to logic boards, These are sourced specific to need and passed along at cost.

Problems, of course, range from temporary to terminal; we try to be more than reasonable in both extremes where a quick adjustment is all that's needed, or in the case of catastrophic failure when all we can do is dispense bad news. For the vast majority of cases in between, a diagnosis is required and an estimate for corrective measures will be presented. Various options may be suggested for client's consideration before proceeding. Policies regarding data recovery and privacy are posted, and we do ask that clients read and understand this information as it pertains to the problem at hand.

Physical damage, mechanical failure
Attempting to rescue information from a crashed or damaged drive can be a long and complicated endeavor, and there are no guarantees when trying to recover data. We will try every avenue at our disposal, but attempting data recovery comes with a price tag whether the attempt produces useful data or not. Prior to recovery from a mounted drive, we have no idea if a block of data contains intact files or corrupt gibberish - recovery process is the same in either case. Success can only be evaluated after recovery.

On the other hand, if drive failure prevents data access or recovery, we'll know in short order. Such cases are referred to
specialized recovery.

The process
Be prepared for some down time. Bring your computer to our shop - leave all cables and peripherals at home - and we'll see if we can get it up and running.
  • Mount failure is the first determination. If drive tests pass, data recovery will be attempted in-house to a prepared volume.
  • Bare drives require a compatible host machine and/or bridgeboard to allow access. Shop minimum charge applies, even for those who "just wanna see if it still works."
  • A secondary storage volume (drive) will be required if recovery is to take place, of matching type and equal or greater capacity. This volume might replace (failed) internal drive, or it may become an external backup.
  • In extreme situations, we may be forced to ignore OS and commercial apps to focus on retrieving irreplaceable (unique) target files.
  • A signed, written agreement is required prior to attempting volume recovery. This agreement explains the process in greater detail and absolves nCity of any knowledge of, or responsibility for, whatever data may or may not be present or recovered from client volume.
Possible outcome
Despite having complete confidence in the quality of tools at our disposal, there are so many variables that data recovery must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Because we have no knowledge of the drive or device (beyond the fact that it isn't working correctly), our only approach is to treat it accordingly and make no assumptions as to its current or prior condition. No assumptions can made regarding viability of drive contents. Drives with huge blocks of data (sometimes identified as a partition) may turn out to contain only a massive quantity of zeros with nothing to recover, even though drive shows a large percentage of storage as "used." Because of these and other factors, predicting the _viability_ of whatever data may be recovered is not possible.

Volume contents
The goal is to move all data between volumes in one operation (aka, batch copy). We're not concerned with individual files or what they may contain, only that the volume's contents goes where it belongs and remains reasonably intact. The number of files, file size or condition may cause difficulties, and the names of some files may appear during scans, copies, and tests, but these are treated as containers without regard for content. It is in the best interest of all parties involved that the actual contents of a volume (and the individual files it may contain) is neither viewed nor discussed beyond the most general of terms. Please read nCity's Privacy Policy regarding volume content (located on our Home page).

Blinking question mark on startup
This usually means the Operating System cannot be found; causes range from simple to severe. If it happened suddenly, out of the blue, it may indicate a hardware failure, it might be caused by machine damage or OS corruption, or you may have run out of storage space. Causes vary, as do solutions, but having a current and complete backup certainly helps.

Blank screen on startup or wake from sleep
Check System pref settings, sleep/wake cycles, test sleep function by menu, closing and opening laptops, and (in rare cases), checking screen resolution settings. If problem persists, a hardware issue is likely.

Kernel Panics
These can be related to a specific application or program, a corrupt Operating System, or they may be symptomatic of a hardware issue. In other words, a KP is vague enough that it could be caused by most anything. On older System versions, a KP produced a black dialog box saying you need to restart in four languages. Newer OS versions may restart automatically without showing anything onscreen, in which case the machine will go into an endless loop of startup/shutdown until stopped by pressing power button for 6-10 seconds. If a restart doesn't solve the problem, we'll do our best to track down the cause.

Spinning beachballs, slow ops
This cursor has a legitimate purpose, indicating the OS is busy processing some command, but when you see it too often or for too long it can mean trouble. It may be a sign of insufficient RAM, a full or malfunctioning hard drive, bus error, illegal command, missing file or a variety of other things. If it only happens in relation to a particular program, blame the program and go from there.

Abnormal Startup tones
If you hear a series of beeps on startup, it usually means one or more RAM modules may be loose, failed or out of spec. This is a fairly easy problem to diagnose and fix, if RAM is removable. If RAM is "onboard" (literally soldered on logic board) - this is not good. A long, steady tone on startup can mean trouble of various kinds, too. No sound on startup usually means audio is off or misdirected, but it can also mean a hardware or bus failure, or damaged headphone jack.

Machine refuses to boot or OS installation fails
Brightness turned down to zero, keyboard not connected/paired/working, damaged power button, video card or bus error, drive failure, incompatible OS version, no power/dead battery - the possibilities are nearly endless. It may be tempting to blame the last operation machine completed, but this is usually just coincidence. Bring it in for a diagnostic and we'll track down the problem.