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My Hard Drive Died… Now What?

The worst has happened; the computer guy says your hard drive is dead. Immediately you might ask: “What does that mean? Is my data safe? Do I need a computer? What happened?” In this post we answer those questions and more so that when it happens to you, you are prepared.

What exactly IS a hard drive?

A hard drive, sometimes abbreviated HDD, is a primary part of your computer. It is where your computer stores the operating system, programs and all files. Standard hard drives have spinning, mechanical platters that magnetically save the computer data. This design makes them susceptible to damage and data loss or corruption. Damage can often be avoided by minimizing the drive’s exposure to excess heat and not dropping or moving the computer while it’s powered on.

What is the average lifespan of a hard drive?

It’s not a matter of if a hard drive will fail, it’s a matter of when. Standard hard drives (HDDs), found in most desktop computers and laptops, tend to fail sooner because they use moving parts. The average life of a hard drive depends on a few variables like the speed, environment, and how often it’s accessed; but it’s generally accepted at about 3-5 years on average.

 

As far as shortening the lifespan of a HDD – movement is probably the number one offender. You have to remember that the HDD has spinning parts internally so moving the drive while those parts are in motion is tantamount to bumping the DJs turntable at a party. Just like that action can cause the needle to scratch the record, the same event can cause the read/write heads of the HDD to damage the data platters inside the drive. Desktops are less susceptible to this than laptops because they don’t move around as much. It’s best not to carry around your laptop while it’s powered on if possible.

How would I know if it’s failing?

Disclaimer: These symptoms can be indicative of many different computer ailments, but are also typical of a failing hard drive.

  • Your computer is slowing down, freezes up frequently, or gets BSODs (Blue Screen Of Death).
  • Your files fail to open even though they saved without errors or disappear from their location.
  • Your HDD starts making strange sounds, especially a “clicking” sound.
  • Your computer won’t boot at all or no longer recognizes a secondary drive.
  • Your operating system warns you to backup data because a drive is about to fail.

What made it die(fail)?

The standard hard drive is a fragile device made up of several moving parts. This makes it highly susceptible to damage from shaking or jarring, especially drops! Drops can damage the motor and the platters can be damaged. The read/write arm and heads can also be damaged. The drives also have a circuit board that can fry from faulty power or manufacturing problems. The motor in the drive can also fail due to old age and normal wear.

What happens to all of my documents, pictures, and music? Is my data gone if I have a backup?

If the drive is in bad shape (i.e. doesn’t spin anymore) and you haven’t made backups, you are probably going to lose all of your data. If you have made backups, then worst case scenario is you might only lose some of the most current data (anything beyond your last backup). Data recovery can be attempted on failed drives that no longer spin, but it is done by specialists and tends to be very expensive. If it still spins and is in the process of failing, we may be able to use software tools to recover the data.

How often should I backup?

Ideally you should back up your data anytime there is a change to your data. But realistically, it depends on how much you use your computer (and data updates or changes). If you use your computer daily or create a lot of data regularly, then you should back up daily. If you really only use your computer to check email and surf the web, with very little data creation, then once a week backup is probably fine. Geek Easy Computers can assist you with setting up automated regularly scheduled backups.

Do I need a new computer? Do I need a special hard drive for my computer?

Most likely no. The hard drive is just a component in the computer that is typically easily replace and fairly inexpensive relative to the cost of a computer. Some older systems may use a format of drive that isn’t available anymore and some newer, budget systems may build the storage into the motherboard itself (making replacement prohibitively expensive). There are two mainstream drive sizes for desktops and laptops that are generally compatible. Some systems use a thinner laptop drive and computers with SSDs can vary between many different types of SSD.

Are SSDs (Solid State Drives) more reliable that regular hard drives?

Definitely.

  • Life Expectancy – SSDs have life expectancies reaching into decades. Expect your SSDs to last 2-3 times longer than mechanical drives on average.
  • Performance – SSDs have no moving parts, so their access and seek times are many times faster than those of their mechanical counterparts. Mechanical drives have high-burst speeds, but their sustained speeds are slow by SSD standards.
  • Shock Resistance. – Movement can have damaging effects on mechanical drives, especially during use. SSDs, having no moving parts, aren’t affected by mobility and are well-suited to such physical abuse. SSDs can withstand up to 1,500g during operation or 25 times that of a standard drive.
  • Heat and Power – SSDs run much cooler than spinning drives and use less power since there are no moving parts (which in turn can’t be damaged by outside heat or movement).

 

We Can Help!

Every hard drive dies eventually, and hopefully this article will leave you more prepared to plan for disaster. The best defense is having good backups. Geek Easy Computers helps make sure you are prepared before that disaster strikes!

 

Give us a call at 269-548-TECH(8324). We can evaluate your setup and talk to you about your computer needs & goals.

 

We want to make your technology easier!

 

me_smile Adonis Pointer is a photographer, a collector of vintage razors, and a certified technology geek!
Adonis has been involved in computer technology since well, a LONG time! He has been involved in nearly every aspect of the industry from sales to repair to training to consulting. As the Social Media Manager he writes the majority of the posts on the Geek Easy Computers blog.

 

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