by David Glick

Why did I write this article to extend the life of your hard drive? Recently I read an article online regarding whether a hard drive’s life can be extended and I felt it would make a good article topic, so here goes:

What is a hard drive? Hard drives are relatively small (about 4″ x 5.75″ x 1″ for desktop drives, about 4″ x 2.75″ x 3/8″ for laptop drives) rectangular pieces of equipment that store your data, programs, and operating system on your computer, whether it is on or off. They are electronic and mechanical devices that consist of spinning disk(s), moving heads, and one or more circuit boards. They are made to last for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of hours of power up time. This is called MTBF or Mean Time Before Failure. You can look up on Google what your drive’s model number with the term MTBF to find what your drive’s life expectancy is.

For example, clicking on a drive at this Western Digital page will show you these drive’s specs including the MTBF number. I was surprised to discover that a hard drive I will be placing into a computer tomorrow has 1,000,000 (yes that is a million) hours MTBF. That is over 114 years! Just remember that is Mean time – this drive could still fail tomorrow or in 100 years. We don’t know when it will and this is the purpose of this article.

How can drives fail? Sometimes the drive’s interface will fail (the electronics on the circuit board mounted on or in the drive) where the drive will spin and even act like it will work but refuses to communicate properly with the computer, and sometimes the mechanical portion fails (either the dreaded click(s) of death will be heard, the spindle motor fails and the platters fail to spin, or the head comes in physical contact with a platter destroying part of it). You may or may not be warned of the impending failure. Most if not all drives these days have a SMART interface which can warn you in some cases of impending failure and give you an opportunity to move your data to another location.

Can we prevent that or slow down the wear process? Somewhat: you can turn your computer off or put it to sleep (or hibernate) if it will not be used for more than a few hours. I turn my computer off at night before I go to sleep and turn it on again the next morning when I wake up, unless I am having it do something like download a big file. Other tips include keeping your computer dust-free as much as possible to reduce overheating, and avoiding drops (such as with your laptop) or major hits from foreign objects like baseball bats, especially when the computer is powered on (seriously!).

Will my drive eventually fail? Yes, some day! For that I say “Back Up Back Up and Back Up again!” – every single day if that’s how often you change data or add data to your computer that you would be upset about if it got lost. Carbonite is a good online solution but it costs money every year. Local backups can be made that will do the same thing (consider keeping one backup off site in case of a local disaster). Windows 7 and 8 have great auto-backup programs – hook up an external hard drive (rotating two or three drives is best, really), run the Backup program from the Control Panel (for Windows 8 use the “Windows 7 File Recovery” in the Control Panel “Large Icons View”) and your computer will then back up your valuable data on schedule as long as an external drive is attached at the scheduled time and the computer is on. You can also have the program make an image of your hard drive to get back up and running quickly if your drive fails prematurely or something happens with your data!

Today I went to my local eye doctor’s office to help with an issue – they have been having issues with their eye care software due to the updates that have recently come out. Now the only solution aside from reinstalling their software from scratch and potentially losing some important data is to go back a couple of week’s backup and recover a few of the files that were in use then. I recovered the files they needed from the July 25th backup today and tomorrow those files will hopefully help resolve their issues.

As a footnote, this office fortunately has me check their backups on a pretty regular basis. Part of my job is to alert them to issues that come up. For example, they recently outgrew their older backup drives after three years of use. Before this became a problem, I recommended we begin using larger drives. Just so happens that if we had not begun using the larger drives, we may not have had a usable backup to help with this issue.

Lesson Learned: always back up your stuff and verify your stuff is really being backed up.

Call us at 602-515-1733 or 928-649-3032 if you need help with your computer OR backing up or recovering your important data.

Here is an article that provides reviews of online Cloud Backups if you are interested in that topic.