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Backup or lose it

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My son called me yesterday when I was in Richmond picking up my daughter for Thanksgiving and asked me what it meant when your computer says f1 to retry or F2 for setup.
 I asked him if he had ever backed up his computer.  He was not sure what I meant so  figured that meant he had no backup. When I got home I tried everything that I could but the harddrive appears to be fried.  This is the second time he has lost everything – last time was due to  bunch of viruses on his computer.  He was running current virus software this time but his computer was old.  I set up another computer for him but he has lost everything. I haven’t given up on recovering his data but I don’t have much hope
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