Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Predicting (and preparing for) the death of your hard drive

A bit off-topic, but you really don't want to be surprised by the failure of your hard drive. My home / primary computer is now almost 4 years old, and one of the first parts most likely to go, along with all my data, is the hard drive. HERE is an excellent post from makeuseof that provides links to some free diagnostic programs you can use to evaluate the health of your hard drive. I tried a few of the programs, and I ended up keeping the CrystalDiskInfo one as providing the clearest info most quickly. (Note that it is basically a download/unzip/run type of program. Ie, it does not require a whole installation process.) As you can see on the graphic, my hard drive has been powered on 1925 times and has been running for 11014 hours. That's a lot, but it appears that it is holding up well and is in "Good" health. The help file with the program will point you to the S.M.A.R.T. info on Wikipedia which will help explain some of the numbers.
Even though the hard drive looks good, you should have some kind of backup plan. Remember, you are not only protecting against hard drive failure, you are also protecting against theft, fire, etc. Here are some steps I have taken.

  • I have burned a bunch of CDs and DVDs worth of data (especially the space-hogging pics and music). I keep these stored in a different location than home with this computer.
  • I have a bunch of data that I store on my Google account online. This is nice, because I can access it from anywhere if need be. I also use services like SkyDrive (25Gb), Dropbox and to store / access / share files online. (Also check this Christ-Tech post for info on making it much easier to copy files to SkyDrive.)
  • I keep data synched between this home computer and my laptop using a service like LiveSync (formerly FolderShare) or using my USB drive and ViceVersa FREE.
  • I bought an external hard drive and copied over all my data.
Okay, you can thank me later...
UPDATE: 1) Be sure to read the comments. 2) The latest CCMag just came out today and features a long article about backup plans, software, and recommendations. Check it out HERE.


  1. Those diagnostic programs are a good start, but your hard drive can go from great to dead in the blink of an eye. It's best to just have an ongoing backup of your hard drive--obviously to some other hard drive.

    Syncback is great for this:

    Even better, for $5 a month Mozy backs up every important file on your hard drive, daily, with unlimitted storage, and it's all encrypted on remote servers, which protects you against theft and fire in addition to hard drive failure.

    I do love Dropbox for files I use daily.

  2. Thanks for bringing back a bad memory of when my drive crashed 2 weeks into your Greek class! :-D Tommy's right, Syncback is a great tool and works well with USB external drives.

    It's never a question of "if" ... only "when."

  3. Good advice one and all. I currently use an external hard drive; but, I may take a look at some of this other stuff. $5/month ain't bad.

    Plus, Y3K is coming.

  4. I d/led Crystal, but the help files don't work. Any suggestions?

  5. Thanks for the post. We all need to be reminded often about the importance of multiple, tested backups for important data.

    On the OS X side, I have 3 layer strategy. I have an external HD with 2 partitions. One is the same size as my laptop's HD, and I use SuperDuper! to create an exact clone of my hard drive every night. The rest of the drive is devoted to Time Machine for its versioning capabilities. The second layer is off-site storage of backup data on DVD-Rs. And the third layer is online backup of my most important work files and documents. I am lucky enough to have storage on a school server that is itself backed up in a couple of ways.

    Hopefully when my hard drive dies (whether it is my laptop HD or the external Time Machine HD), I'll be able to recover quickly.

    An axiom: If you only have one copy of a file, you do not have a copy of that file.