In the 21st century, there’s hardly any aspect of our lives that’s not been moved to the cloud. Everything from media consumption to communication to finance management and data storage everything has moved on to the cloud to provide universal and easy access. Today you can go about your day without having to bother that your files are on another computer. You have the peace of mind simply because you know that you can access all those files in a single click.
While cloud computing has been one of the more helpful innovations of our time, you cannot ignore the fact that in reality we still rely on the good old hard drives for mass storage of data. A couple of factors actually make it a preferable option. For one, hard drives come in for real cheap, you can grab yourself a 1TB hard drive for less than $100. Second, they’re more accessible. What I mean by that is with cloud you always have the uncertainty of the network strength associated with the ability to actually being able to use the service. If you don’t have internet connectivity, you are just completely locked out of your account rendering all those features useless. The third one would be the fact that buying hard drives is a one-time purchase. The company sells the product to you instead of licensing or renting it out to you for a monthly subscription fee, which is kind of the case with most cloud storage providers. If you actually add up the subscription fee at the end of a year it would definitely be equal to what you would have paid for a couple of physical drives.
That being said both options have their own pros and cons. For the purpose of sticking to the point, we’ll focus on hard drives, why they fail, how to ensure they don’t fail and what to do in case they fail.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty details how to fix hard drive failure, it would help a lot to understand how hard drives function internally. That would not only help us in understanding the fundamentals of storage technology but also enable us to better understand the popular causes of failures.
The hard drive is a magnetic core based storage medium. In the most minimal explanation possible, it consists of a silver platter (not actually made of silver) where information is stored magnetically. The unit also consists of a “head” which moves over the platter writing 0s and 1s as small areas of North and South poles on the platter. In a read cycle, the head would go to the same point as it were on the write cycle, notices those magnetic North and South poles and deduces them as 0s and 1s. A modern hard drive is capable of storing well over a trillion 0s and 1s per platter.
Modern technological innovation like flash storage and solid-state drives have made hard drives pretty obsolete and if at all you’re interested in learning about those, read this article by me.
Now let’s get into the meat of this post (figure of speech).
Hard drives or for that matter any electronic device is made up of millions of small components. Each of these has a lifespan, beyond which they most likely fail to function. There’s nothing that can be done about that fact. This is why manufacturers only provide a “limited” warranty over their products. That being said as owner of the products there are some ways in which we can prevent a malfunction of the devices before their lifespan comes to an end. When it comes to hard drives, they’re pretty critical to our daily lives. They store important data which can sometimes be mission critical to our jobs. If a failure occurs it can prove to be a huge pain in the behind trying to reverse the damage. In this article I’m going to cover every aspect of saving yourself the trouble of going through such a situation by covering how to avoid hard drive failures, signs of failing hard drive, what to do if a failure occurs etc so let’s get right in, now that we know the basics of how a hard drive works.
Preventing a Failure
The best and the first way to avoid failure is to buy quality products and one of the most common ways in which a hard drive fails is because of physical damage or impact to the body. In this case, it’s always a better idea to go for something rugged and tough that would last long instead of preferring a thin profile. My personal recommendation would be the Transcend StoreJet 25M3. I bought it back in 2013 and it’s been 3 years and this thing has never failed on me. All thanks to the military grade drop protection.
That was a buyers recommendation. Assuming that you already have one, here’s what to do to avoid failures. Always be gentle with the drive and use it on a flat surface where it’s likely for it to take a fall. Another thing would be to keep it in a static free area without magnetic contact. Remember the hard drive stores things magnetically so a presence of a magnetic field can mess up with the data stored within. Small magnets would be harmless but keep it away from things like your microwave. Another proven safety measure would be to always keep a backup. No matter what you do, if the odds aren’t in your favor, you may incur a data loss so if you are dealing with media on a daily basis. It will always be helpful if you use a RAID array and maintain backups of your files. This is what will be your first line of defense against a critical failure.
Tackling a Failure
Now that I have provided the prevention for failures let’s take a look at what are the cures in case there still is a failure. So you did all you could but unfortunately one fine day, your hard drive bailed on you? Alright, you don’t need to lose hope, this happens and you would be surprised at how uncommon this is. If your hard drive failed you need to make sure you do a couple of things immediately.
The first one would be to figure out if your device is within warranty or not. There’s a high chance that it is because manufacturers typically provide at least a 3 year warranty period. Let’s assume that your hard drive is under warranty. What this ensures is that even if there is a possible hardware damage, your manufacturer will still repair or replace it. That’s mostly a good news.
Before you hand over your drive you need to make sure you retrieve your data back. If you happen to have a backup, awesome you can skip to the next step. If however, you don’t, I am going to recommend a couple of recovery programs available out there to help you in this task. But before that, I am sure some of you might be wondering, “My hard drive crashed how on earth will I ever be able to recover anything, I mean it is essentially erased isn’t it?”
In a way yes. You may have accidentally erased files, formatted your drive or it may have gotten corrupted in some way. But file erasure doesn’t work the way you think it does. When you delete a file from your computer, you may think you are completely erasing it off your storage, but actually, it isn’t getting erased right away. When you delete a file, your operating system simply removes the path to access that file and declares the space used by that file as “free”.
Unless a process over-writes on that location at least a couple of times, there is still a high chance of recovering your files. In a way, a file may be retrievable for years after you delete it. Pretty interesting isn’t it? Alright, let’s start now. One of the first things you must do is to figure out the criticality of the damage. The first thing you must do is opening up a hard drive utility on your computer and seeing if the drive is being recognized by the utility on the system or not. On Windows, you can use Mini Tool Partition Wizard, it’s better than the Disk Management Program. On Mac and Linux, the Disk Utility app is more than sufficient.
If your drive is being shown on the program, it means it’s just been corrupted, go ahead and just format it. If you can’t see the drive then it’s a serious issue and you should probably just let the company technicians handle this one.
Assuming that you formatted your corrupted hard drive, we’ll proceed to the next step. At this stage, we can say that 80% this was a one-off corruption due to facts like incorrectly unplugging the drive, dropping it or removing power during a data transfer. Be careful next time.
Now that the hard drive is formatted and functioning again, let’s start the recovery process. On Windows, you can use Recuva, I am recommending this on the basis of the track record it has for recovering files in a personal incident I have dealt with. If you are on Mac, Stellar Phoenix Data Recovery is a popular option.
Pro tip, start the recovery process before going to bed, it takes a few hours to find the files and a few more to actually recover them.
Plug in your drive and then launch the program and let it do its thing. For recent deletions and corruption, there’s a good chance of recovering a large number of files say like 70-80%. I know it’s a full recovery but it’s better than nothing.
Data loss is extremely harassing, no means of storing data will always be foolproof. There’s always going to be one in a million chances of losing everything while this article details every possible scenario to prevent and tackle data loss. Maintaining a backup of drives will never have a better alternative.
What people are saying
Thank for sharing! I think I lost my hard drive until read this!