Is your hard drive about to fail? Know these symptoms!

We hope you never have to experience the most painful of computer events! No, we’re not talking about unexpected software updates that change all your personal settings. We’re talking about losing all your data due to hard drive failure.

Do you feel lucky?!

Many times a year, I’m called out to rescue clients from failed computers. Only some of these failures are due to problems with the hard drive, but when so, there’s about a 1 in 5 chance that all data is lost. If this was your computer, this would mean that you have suddenly lost all your photos, documents, spreadsheets, accounting files, music and videos. They’re simply gone!

Bearer of bad news

Not to trivialise our mortality or the burdens of an emergency room doctor, but I sometimes think that having the job of telling someone that they’ve just lost a loved one must be similar to when I have to tell people that they’ve lost all their files. About half the time, women go to tears while men will take a different tack and, instead, get angry with me. The best I can do for them is stay calm, commiserate and talk them through what happens next. Occasionally they remember that some form of backup has been done and even if it is particularly old, this is better than nothing. However, in most cases, there are no backups or the files they really wanted were new and hadn’t been backed up yet.

Second chances

In 95% of cases, there is still a way to retrieve the data from the failed hard drive; data recovery specialists. The problem is, data recovery specialists are expensive because they use specialist equipment such as oscilloscopes and specialist facilities such as clean rooms… plus, the “patience of a saint” is almost a mandatory job requirement for these technicians because the recoveries are very time consuming and tedious. Accordingly, their services start at around $500 but it is not unusual to be upwards of $2500 for the more complex recoveries.

If only failing drives could warn you

Sometimes clients who have lost data due to hard drive failure say, “I wish there was some sort of warning that my hard drive was going to fail because then I could have at least done a backup”.

Unfortunately, we cannot go into our past and change things, but when it comes to computer failures, there are some specific tell-tale signs that do warn you of impending hard drive failure.  If you know these, then you can do something before it’s too late!

The signs of the devil

So what are these signs?  Here is a list of a few things to look out for:

· Your computer has very recently become slow. When you click on something, for example, it seems to take ages before the computer responds at all.

· Sometimes when you start the computer, it won’t start properly, but if you restart it, everything seems fine.

· You’re using some program and it randomly shuts down or throws up an error message for the sort of everyday activity that has never been a problem before. Later, it may be perfectly fine again.

You may be able to see a pattern in the above; random unexplained events.  Once these events start becoming more frequent, you are in the danger zone!  As the frequency of these symptoms increase, be warned that your hard drive is accelerating towards its impending doom.

Emergency first aid

Don’t panic! Here’s what you do:

Step 1.

Backup your data!  Not just your documents, but also your photos and emails. Emails are usually the most difficult to backup because they are often stored in hidden folders to avoid being accidentally deleted or damaged.

Step 2.

Get your computer checked out by a professional.  It could be another problem causing these issues – its not always the hard drive – but a computer technician has the best chance of making this determination. .  It’s important to note that the hard drive, isn’t the whole tower, its just one component inside the tower. Your computer is made of many components (eg, graphics card, CPU, RAM, etc).  Each of these components can fail and be replaced individually, so it’s not usually necessary to replace the entire computer.

If it is your hard disk that is faulty, it is much simpler to replace it before it fails than to wait until afterward. The cost of a brand new 1TB (1,000GB) hard disk for a desktop computer is less than $150.  

In a nutshell

If your computer is starting to behave strangely, if you are finding that your software or your computer needs re-starting frequently, it’s time to take action.