Backblaze is a company that has been performing data backups to hard drives for several years. Their server rooms consist of literally thousands of hard drives, which gives them a unique opportunity to study drive lifetimes.
Backblaze also studies failure rates of hard drives by model number and manufacturer and publishes a quarterly report. In a study they did in 2013, their data showed that after 4 years of use, 20% of all hard drives failed. They estimated that after 6 years, half of all hard drives in use worldwide would fail.
I have a customer who is still doing her company bookkeeping on a 12-year-old hard drive. I had another customer recently give me a 20-year-old computer running Windows XP and its hard drive fired right up. So obviously, many drives will run for much longer than 6 years without having any major issues. But let’s remember that hard drives are mechanical devices that will all fail eventually, so a current backup is a good idea too.
If a drive does fail, you can sometimes recover data from the damaged drive, but it can be an expensive and time-consuming process. It’s a LOT easier and much less expensive to back up your files and swap an older working hard drive with a new one than it is to try to recover your data from a crashed drive.
If you’re using an older computer with an older hard drive, I can replace that old hard drive with a new one and copy your data over for you. In most cases, people also see an increase in speed with a new drive.
Trust me, it’s better to do it before it becomes a crisis.
At some point, you will replace your computer with a shiny new one. If you decide to sell, donate or dispose of the old computer, it’s important to properly wipe the data off your old hard drive first.
Sensitive files that can potentially be recovered from an old hard drive include financial and tax information, work project files, personal photos and videos, medical documents, passwords, your web browsing history, and more. If you don’t want these files and information falling into the hands of your computer’s new owner, or worse yet, a hacker, you need to perform a secure wipe of the drive.
PC Overhaul can securely erase hard drive’s to Department of Defense standard DoD 5220.22-M. This overwrites every area of the hard disk 3 times with randomized data, ensuring nothing can ever be recovered.
But before I wipe your old hard drive, we should back up your data first. Very often, people think there’s nothing important on an old computer. Later, after the computer is gone, they sometimes realize they are missing files that may have been left on the old computer. Don’t make this mistake!
I can back up all your important files to an external drive or the cloud, then securely wipe your hard drive with professional-grade software and provide you with a certificate to verify the process.
And if you are going to re-sell or donate the machine, I can also reload Windows on the computer and perform some tweaks to the system to make it better than brand new.
Most of the time you will probably replace a computer before your hard drive stops working, but if you let them run long enough every hard drive will eventually crash, fail or die.
There are 3 types of hard drive failure you have to concerned about.
First, there’s a physical problem with the drive. The most common things that fail are the PCB board (the chips or power connector on the board), but there are dozens of moving parts in a typical IDE or SATA hard drive and they can all fail. I explain this kind of failure in more detail here. Symptoms vary. If there’s certain physical damage you may hear a loud clicking noise. Sometimes if the heads are stuck on the platter you’ll hear more of a buzzing or beeping noise. Or if the power connector is damaged, you may hear nothing- no spinning, no whirring- and the drive may not be seen by Windows at all.
Your hard drive can also crash if it has too many bad sectors. Sectors are small clusters of storage space that hold your data. When a sector goes bad, software on the drive is supposed to try to move the data to a good sector, and mark the bad one so it never gets written to again. In some cases, sectors can become so damaged that the computer can have trouble reading the data, lock up, refuse to boot or crash.
In this example, the hard drive shows problems with the reallocated sectors count, the current pending sectors count and the uncomfortable sectors count. Each variable has exceeded the allowable threshold, so the data on this drive needs to be backed up right away.
The second possibility is called logical failure. This is not a problem with the physical drive itself but with the file system on the drive.
Imagine your hard drive is a library, and your files are the books on the shelves. Your computer has its own version of a card catalog to find your files, called a File Allocation Table, or FAT. Saving changes to your FAT is one of the things Windows does when we shut down or restart the computer. If the FAT is corrupted, Windows can’t find the files it needs to run the Windows Operating System, and you will be unable to boot your computer.
Just like the books will still be on the shelves in a library without a card catalog, your files should remain intact on your hard drive even with a damaged FAT- your computer just doesn’t know how to find them. This can be caused from a virus infection, system driver conflicts, damaged Windows files, bad Windows updates and other software issues.
If this is the problem, in most cases I can perform a Level 1 data recovery to get your files back. The files can be backed up to a good hard drive or flash drive, then your hard drive can be wiped and reloaded with a fresh version of windows with a new FAT. Then I can transfer your files back over to your new Windows installation. I can backup any user created files (photos, documents, music, videos, etc) but not your programs – I would need the software and licensing information or serial numbers to reload your software.
External hard drives are susceptible to physical and logical issues as well, but they also have a potential problem that doesn’t exist in internal hard drives. External drives are really just an internal hard drive in a fancy enclosure so you can connect them with a cable and move them around from place to place. The enclosure has its own power supply and data connector and sometimes these connectors die or break after dropping the drive. In that case, the hard drive inside may work perfectly and the enclosure may be the issue.
With all the different ways your hard drive can fail, this is a good time to remind you to always keep an updated backup of your files. Spending $100 on an external hard drive or a cloud backup service can save $1000 in data recovery fees, so backup, backup and then backup again.