A few months ago my 3 year old boy destroyed my wife's laptop. I walked into the room and he was there on the couch with it on his lap. We'd recently replaced the keyboard he'd slowly been picking apart. Wanting my wife to continue enjoying typing with the whole alphabet, I told him to get away from her laptop. Big mistake. He clawed desperately at the keyboard, like some bizarre Tasmanian devil starving for little white-on-brown letters. Stop that! Even worse. He stood up, screwed up his face, and lifted the laptop up high. As I tried to close the gap across the room, he threw it down hard. Right on the plugged in power cord. At least he didn't use a Phillips screwdriver on it.
I inspected the damage. The screen was intact. We'd lost some plastic around the power jack though and it wouldn't run off of the power supply, just the battery. An hour and 200 tiny screws later, I'd disassembled the entire laptop to get to the power jack. It looked fine. A little bent, some broken plastic shroud, but the solder joints were fine and everything seemed connected. I connected the mish-mash of components together and got it to power on fine. Problem fixed? 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws later it was back together. It powered on and ran from the adapter. It even booted up into Windows fine. I gave it back to my wife.
3 seconds later it locked up. Every time the cord moved it locked up. 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws later, I figured out that the slightly bent jack must be shorting out against an adjacent board. I noticed that eBay was full of power jacks for the Dell Inspiron 8600 so they're pretty fragile. Two layers of electrical tape solved the shorting problem. 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws and back to my wife.
It worked. If she was at all careful with the power cord, it ran fine and stayed charged. Problem solved.
Then she got a blue screen. Then the WinXP chkdsk on bootup screen. Disk errors. I spent a couple hours re-running chkdsk and eventually some other disk tools trying to get the drive working enough to keep going, but Windows was quite offended by this and would have no part. It didn't even like me copying her data off and kept thwarting me partway through by constantly taking those 3 minute "not going to do anything but make hard drive sounds" breaks that XP likes to do even when it's running fine.
I gave the laptop the finger and popped in a Knoppix DVD. With very few complaints, I was able to run two different backups of the laptop: a complete drive image using partimage and more useful file-by-file copy. With those safely on an external hard drive, I tried to make the laptop's drive work. I ran some destructive disk testing tools that seemed to think it was fine. I reinstalled Windows XP and got blue screens. I ran some more disk scan passes and it said it was fine. I ran memory scans for days. Nothing wrong.
So is it the hard drive or something really wrong in the laptop? I cleared off another laptop drive, put it in and installed Windows. It won't boot. I booted up Knoppix and checked that the partition was marked bootable. I installed Ubuntu on the drive and it booted and ran fine. I reinstalled XP but it still wouldn't boot. Maybe the drive controller is bad somehow. I cleared off a USB drive and pulled the laptop-size drive from it and put it in the laptop. I reinstalled Windows and this time it booted fine. It ran for a few days of light use with no problem.
I bought a new-ish hard drive from Geeks.com and got XP reinstalled and it's running fine. I was able to recover almost every file but still haven't tried to fight the battle of getting iTunes to recognize it's DRM protected content my wife purchased. I wish I could make the 3 year old do that for me.