How to Avoid Hard Drive Failure

The Very Real Risk of Hard Drive Failure

Hard Drive Failure – The potential for data loss and need for data recovery & how you can mitigate the problem…….

Or how to minimise the risk of experiencing a really bad day!

In a previous post, How to Care for an External Hard Drive, we suggested a few simple steps you could take to ensure you avoid a really bad day.  In that earlier post, we focused on external hard drives, but our observations and recommendations apply equally to the hard drive(s) in your desktop, notebook or NAS.  We’re not forgetting solid state drives (SSDs) or flash storage devices which are becoming more common as system drives in a range of different systems.  Despite SSDs now available in capacities greater than 1 Tb, in $ per Gb terms, conventional disk drives provide great value for money.  They’re not obsolete yet …..

At Affordable Computer Repairs and Service we obtain more jobs than we would like from customers desperately requiring data retrieval due to external hard drive failure.  In fact, it’s one of the highest number of enquiries that we get for computer repairs in Brisbane.

So many people believe that simply connecting and backing up on a portable/ external hard drive is the complete solution to the safe storage of precious files and important data.  However, like any hard drive, these external hard drives (whether they happen to be a 3.5 inch desktop or 2.5 inch portable devices) can and do fail. Not only should they not be relied upon as your one and only back-up device, but external hard drives also need to be handled with care.

So how do you care for an External Hard Drive or any data storage device for that matter?

You can’t completely eliminate the possibility of hard drive failure – it is after all an electro-mechanical device comprising a number of different components – but you can mitigate the risk of device failure and data loss. It is not difficult to care for an external hard drive extend its life and also should save you the heartache of hard drive failure.

An increasing number of portable 2.5 inch drives are purpose-built USB 3.0 types. This simplifies the manufacturing process and reduces costs, but it can also complicate the recovery of data in some situations. Previously, the same SATA drives you find in a notebook computer were put to use – just with a SATA to USB adapter fitted. The larger 3.5 inch drives with an external power source still use the SATA to USB adapter setup.

Also complicating matters is the increasing use of solid state drives (SSDs) in external storage devices.  However, just because these have fewer moving parts to break, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any more reliable, but this is a subject for another time.  SSDs are fast replacing conventional hard drives particularly in various notebook computers, particularly Ultrabooks, Apple MacBooks, MacBook Pros and MacBook Air.  Great as it is for speed, it comes at the cost of storage capacity. If you are unlucky to have one of the aforementioned devices with a 120, 128, 250 or 256 Gb SSD or flash drive, you’ll be tempted (or forced) to regularly attach an external HDD or flash drive (thumb drive/ USB “stick”) via a USB port and work from that – that is working on your critical files (opening and amending files, writing and saving data to these external devices).  This can be risky, and for some people has proved to be disastrous, as good and convenient as USB technology may be, is not infallible.

No matter how careful you are, devices can and often fail.  In our experience, no brand is necessarily better and more reliable than another.  So whether you are using a Seagate, Western Digital, HGST, Toshiba, Samsung, Buffalo, Maxtor or Lacie, remember that most are competing at the same price points in the market (ie. $ per Gb) with very similar storage capacities and performance. There are reasons why the external hard drive that recently bought at the retailer seemed like such a bargain. These tend to be entry-level or mainstream products that are manufactured to a price.

Some brands offer higher performance (a rotational speed of 7200 rpm vs the usual 5400 rpm) and supposedly better quality manufacturing processes and components.

Nevertheless, nothing is guaranteed. Don’t  just rely on the one device.  Get a second one, and make it the back-up device for your back-up device.  It’s the simplest way to spread the risk of data loss through hard drive failure, but it isn’t you only other option, especially given the popularity of cloud-based storage and applications like Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive just to name two of the numerous options out there.

Storing and Moving Your External Hard Drive

The majority of external/ portable hard drive data recovery jobs that we obtain are from customers who have knocked or dropped their drives.  It may be due to a single recent incident, but often is the result of prolonged misuse over a period of time. Most people don’t realise just how delicate external hard drives are, and are often guilty of ignoring the warning signs of impending doom.

A hard drive needs to be kept somewhere where the likelihood of it being dropped or knocked off a table onto a hard surface for example, is unlikely.  A drop onto a tiled floor (and sometimes even a soft surface like carpet) can seriously damage your drive – especially if it is powered and running – meaning you can’t access the data on the device.

When carrying around an external drive, again you need to be careful.  Ensure that it is surrounded by padding and is secured firmly.  Just dropping a HD into a bag is asking for trouble.

A conventional hard drive contains one or more magnetic disk platters that require it to be laid down flat for optimal performance and reliability.  If it is operated whilst on its side or tilted in any way it can cause malfunctioning of the actuator and heads (that read and write data), the spindle/ motor (and bearings) and the spinning disk platters which can lead to malfunctions and/or slowing down of the drive.

Like any electronic device, your HD should also be stored somewhere where there is little likelihood of liquid (your coffee for example) is spilt on the drive.

Maintaining an Optimal Temperature

Like your computer hardware in general, it is important to maintain an optimal temperature for your device – ensure that there is sufficient air flow and cooling.  For example, air vents and inlets need to be kept clean.  A build up of dust etc can be removed using compressed air. The same principles apply to the hard drive(s) inside your desktop or notebook computer, or your NAS device, or your portable/ external hard drive.

Care & Maintenance

To be on the safe side a disk error check should be run every two to three months, and if prompted by the system, don’t ignore it.  Also, be patient and eject your hard drive correctly particularly if a file transfer may still be in operation even while a message has been received that the process is complete.  When using the eject option you can be certain that the transfer has occurred in full as the system will force waiting files to be transferred before the device is powered down.. If your current hard drive is starting to cause you problems, becoming difficult to read/ write data (ie. an I/O error), it might be a good time to get a replacement. Don’t wait until it fails completely, because it will cost you dearly, and may not be recoverable.

Things to look for when Purchasing an External Hard Drive

(or a replacement hard drive or solid state drive for your desktop or notebook computer)

It is always tempting to buy the cheapest portable hard drive, but like many things what you pay for is what you get and to buy a hard drive or SSD on price alone can be an expensive mistake.  In choosing a portable or internal hard drive (or SSD) the most important and obvious factor is the reliability of the device.  Do a little bit of homework, there are plenty of articles available on the net regarding which manufacturers’ external hard drives are proven to be the most reliable.  We suggest that you look at articles provided by those without a vested interest in selling portable hard drives!

The following article in PCWorld (May 2016) should be of some assistance:

Remember that new models are being released on a regular basis and surveys like these are updated on a continuous basis.

If you you’re a professional user, doing lots of CAD work or audio visual production and editing, you might be interested in articles like the following:

Affordable Computer Repairs and Service

This advice on how to avoid hard drive failure has been provided by Affordable Computer Repairs and Service who provide mac, laptop and computer repairs in Brisbane.

hard drive failure