There are not enough people who have this fear: fear of their hard drives failing. It’s a fear that sounds almost silly to have; silly enough, at least, that there does not seem to be a proper “name” for this fear, such as there is a name for fear of snakes, or of spiders. Yet, it is a fear that anyone who stores data on a computer needs to have.
I am a long time computer using; my first computer “back in the day” was a Vic-20, then a Commodore 64. Granted, I was mostly a game user (I was a kid) and not a programmer, but even back then I realised the importance of having copies of your software: should the tape in the data cassette tape get eaten (any one remember the old Vic-20’s tape drive?) then all your precious games are gone.
Through the years we have advanced beyond old and slow tape drives and now have blazingly fast SATA hard drive and flash drives. Flash drives are speedy, but limited in size. Hard drives are slower (yet still fast) but huge, potentially 2 terrabytes in size.
Not only am I a long time computer user I also happen to work in the I.T. industry. For a number of years now I have made a point of putting multiple drives into my desktop machine, if for no other reason than to separate my data from the Windows operating system partition. This has served me well: on the occasions I have had to wipe the operating system and reinstall windows I have not had to fear the loss of any of my documents. My documents are not financial in nature, but personal: family pictures, music, and videos. Lots of pictures. Lots of videos.
Several weeks ago in the midst of using it, my computer made a sudden gawdawful sound reminiscient of maybe the dying breaths of a large cow as it is strangled by a boa constrictor. If you can imagine such a sound, you might be able to imagine what my computer sounded like. And then it was silent. The computer had crashed and powered off.
I scoffed. Oh did I scoff, for my data was separate of my operating system. I would merely slap a new drive in, put in a new operating system, and be done with it. Except… the drive that had failed was my data drive.
Despite my lengthy time in the I.T. industry I did not know that if Windows could not find any one of the drives it was looking for, it would not boot. At all. And now I was scared. All my pictures were backed up. All my music was backed up. Most of my family videos were backed up. But not all.
At this point I begin to enter “NTFS Data Recovery” mode. My first thought is to not even worry about Windows: I have a USB boot drive with Ubuntu and a number of utilities on it, including the great dd_rescue. This works mostly fine until it doesn’t.
The problem with hard drives is that they have a lot of moving parts. Of all the various components that comprise a computer system hard drives (and printers) are the ones most likely to fail due to the fact that they have the most moving parts.
Not only do they have moving parts, but moving parts generate heat. Combine moving parts with disk-seek retries as a disk attempts to read a failing disk and you’ll find that the disk continues to fail and, in fact, get worse. That is, trying to rescue a failing disk can make it fail faster. It really does seem like a catch 22.
The major trick is to somehow keep the disk cool. Many posts on disk rescue issues recommend putting the disk into the fridge or freezer. That will work for a short while, but if the disk is badly damaged, or if there is a large amount of data to recover, the disk will ultimately begin to heat up before all data is rescued.
Another suggestion is to loosely wrap it in a cloth and sandwich it between two ice packs. Of course, this only works if the disk is placed outside the computer with the computer case open and all its guts showing, so don’t do it if you’re not comfortable with it. I can tell you, however, that it worked for me, and I was able to rescue 200GB of videos without data loss.
I have since tossed the faulty drive. I don’t even want to look at it anymore. I have also saved all my critical (family) documents in triplicate: one on the desktop, and once on each of two 1TB external drives. Being that I am about 50GB away from filling those TB drives it’s about time to purchase an additional two.
I can live without ‘documents,’ but I would be very unhappy if my family’s pictoral and video history were lost due to lack of foresight on my part. Computer failures do happen. Recovery is bad enough being stressful, it should not also be heart wrenching.