What Are The Signs Of A Failing Hard Drive?

Anthony Glover is Tech Expert’s network engineer.

As a network engineer by day, I can say that have seen a lot of hard drive problems and, if they’re not taken care of properly, they can cause a severe technical headache. It is important to notice the signs that are present to you and, fortunately, there’s several to note.

Sluggish performance of your workstation is one of the main issues. This can occur without warning and it can even seem like a virus or cause a blue screen of death (BSOD).

Another sign is your PC or workstation making clicking or grinding noises. This can cause a read failure to occur and cause the drive to be inaccessible, which in turn causes data loss. [Read more…]

Three Sure-Tell Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Under ideal conditions, the average stationary hard drive lasts five to ten years. With the growing use of external drives and laptops that are toted around frequently and exposed to damaging elements, that life span shrinks to between three and five years.

Consequently, it is important to watch for indications that your hard drive is failing, so you can back up all of your valued files and data. Here are three signs that it’s time to act:

Slowed Operation and Freezes
You should immediately back up the contents of your hard drive when you notice that freezes and display of the blue screen become the norm.

It is even more imperative to do so, if these problems continue in Safe Mode or after a fresh installation of your operating system because that’s an indication that hard drive failure is imminent.

Corrupted Data
When it becomes problematic to save or open your computer’s files and you start getting error messages about corrupted data, you should know that your hard drive is failing.

As a hard drive’s functionality gradually wanes, this is a common problem, so act fast to ensure your business and personal data stays intact and safe.

Presence of Bad Sectors
If your hard drive has bad sectors, or areas incapable of maintaining data integrity, you may not immediately notice the problem.

The presence of such sectors is a grave problem and tells that your hard drive is in its final strides.

To check your hard drive for bad sectors, run a disk check with the options to automatically fix the problem and attempt recovery of files.

The Importance Of Centralized Storage

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

Do you know where all of your data is? Is the file you’re looking for saved to workstation-01 or workstation-12? What happens when a user deletes a file you need from their workstation? What happens if your workstation dies?

If you’re a business owner or manager and have trouble answering those questions, centralized storage of your data may be your answer.

You can remove the stress of accidental deletions, have direct mapped access to your files, secure your data from intrusion and, most importantly, make it easy and simple to back up your data.

Centralized storage can include an external hard drive, USB flash drive, NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, cloud environment, or storage on a server. The best method is determined by your business structure.

Smaller businesses may opt for simple external devices attached to a workstation or a NAS device to save and back up their data. Simple external devices such as larger-sized USB flash drives and external hard drives are a low-cost solution.

NAS devices cost more, but they are useful additions to business networks. Most mid-ranged NAS devices offer raid levels 0, 1, and 5, so they can be customized for speed or data protection.

Some NAS devices are running a server-style operating system that will integrate into your existing AD. This will offer additional security features over a simple external hard drive or USB flash drive.

Businesses and home users that opt for the simple and least expensive method need to be very diligent about their data. Smaller devices are more susceptible to theft and damage.
They also tend to have shorter lives than other more costly methods. Should you go this route, make sure you maintain backups of your data and immediately replace your device at the first sign of possible hardware failure.

Data recovery from a simple solution device may not always be possible and it can become very costly to try.

Closeup of open hard driveLarger businesses will want to opt for on-site storage with network drives and backup solutions in place. Or they may want to invest in the cloud for a storage. Most medium-to-large scale businesses already have some form of a network server and backup in place, so all that may be needed is additional hard drive space or the creation of folders to house data.

You may also want to install a dedicated server for just data storage and possibly to handle your printing management. Cloud-based storage can be costly depending on the amount of data that needs to be stored, the security level, and the number of simultaneous connections to your data.

Cloud-based methods tend to be best as a secure backup option, but can be used for raw storage. With web-based access, all your employees need is an Internet connection to access their data.

Both on-site server storage and cloud storage offer strong backup options, the ability to restore deleted files, ease of access from off-site locations, and the sharing of files and folders across a wide area.

Whether you choose to go with a low-cost simple solution or a more robust solution, centralized storage brings peace of mind that your data is accessible and secure.

Your business will become more efficient and streamlined just by maintaining your data in one easy-but-secure location for your employees to access.

For more information about implementing centralized storage in your business, call the experts at Tech Experts: (734) 457-5000.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Ghosts, Goblins And Failed Backups… Oh, My!

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Welcome to October, fourth quarter, and Halloween!

The season of ghosts, ghouls and other scary creatures is the perfect time to talk about another frightening subject: The state of your backups!

First, the facts:

  • 6 percent of all PCs will suffer some sort of data loss each year.
  • Every week, 140,000 hard drives crash.
  • Simple drive recovery can cost more than $7,500.
  • More than 600,000 laptops are lost or stolen each year.

Scary Statistics
These are pretty scary numbers, particularly if you use your laptop for business. My experience has been that, while most business owners understand the importance of backing up their server, many forget about the data stored in email, on local PCs or laptops and flash drives.
The cost to replace a laptop pales in comparison to the effects the lost data can have on your business.

Whether it’s theft, a natural disaster, fire, flood, theft, or human error, any loss of important business data can be debilitating to your business if you’re not prepared for them.

Fortunately, there are three easy steps you can take to protect your business from the downtime and data loss that can result from a disastrous event.

Choose the right backup provider
Make sure that your backup system can provide you with both offsite and onsite backup, with an option to be back up and running within 24-48 hours. This is what our Experts Total Backup service is designed to do.

Keep in mind that many low-cost solutions require days or even weeks for full recovery of your files, due to the slowness of the Internet.

Your backup solution should not only protect your data, but should also give you a backup of your programs and network settings so your business operations can return to normal as quickly as possible.

Conduct a “fire drill”
You also want to be sure that you conduct a periodic “fire-drill” with your backup. Too many times, we see clients who religiously change tapes, but never check their content. When disaster strikes, we discover the tapes are blank. That’s why we’ve gotten rid of tape based backups.

Keep your backup current
Finally, whenever you add computers, new software, or new services to your network, be sure your backup solution reflects those changes. This will ensure that you are backing up everything you need.

Free Report
Business backups are complex, and require a professional solution. I’ve put together a free, 12 page report that covers all of these items – and more – that is your’s free for the asking. Just give me a call!

An Uncluttered Hard Drive Equals A Happy PC!

Everyone knows you need free hard drive space to save files. But the need for free disk space goes far beyond saving a Word document or an MP3 file.

The hard drive is utilized by the computer for many things, most of which go on behind the scenes.

System Restore
If you have Windows Me or a newer version of Windows, your computer comes equipped with a function called “system restore.” System restore is a great tool.

If you install a program or a new device that causes your computer to go haywire, as long as you have a restore point from before that screwy device or application was installed, you can restore your computer to its earlier state.

Windows periodically sets restore points, and you can manually set them too, but these restore points take up lots of disk space – sometimes up to 5 or 10 percent of the hard drive.

If you have no free space, you can’t use system restore.

Page file
Your computer uses RAM (random access memory) to store programs that it is currently running, such as web browsers, games, and virus scanners.

Programs that are open, but are not currently in use are stored in what Windows calls the “page file” or “swap file.”

The page file is an area on the hard drive set aside to be used as “extra RAM,” so that the actual RAM is not overly taxed and your computer can run as efficiently as possible.

Windows initially sets aside a chunk of the hard drive to use as the page file, so unless you manually limit the size or disable the page file, any files you save on the hard drive will not impact the page file.

However, if you run a lot of programs simultaneously, it is advisable to increase your page file size, and without free hard drive space that won’t be possible.

Running the disk defragmenter

Windows comes with another useful tool, the Disk Defragmenter.

The defragmenter joins fragmented files and reorganizes the hard drive to make the best use of all available space (which helps your PC run faster).

You should run the defragmenter at least once a month, but you need free disk space in order to run it. (Ideally, at least 10 or 15 percent of your hard drive should be empty before running the defragmenter.)

Most anti-virus programs have an option to quarantine infected files.

The suspect files are set aside in a designated area of the hard drive so they won’t be able to further infect your computer, but if you need to get to the file, it’s still around.

Without free hard drive space, there is no room for quarantine. Therefore your anti-virus program may delete an important file it suspects as a virus and there will be no way of retrieving the file, or the anti-virus may not be able to do its job correctly and not do anything for that file because there is not enough space on your hard drive for it to move the file somewhere else.

Temp files
Your computer can pick up and store temporary files when you’re browsing webpages online and even when you’re working on files in programs, such as Microsoft Word.

Over time, these files will slow your computer’s performance down by decreasing disk space. You can use the Windows Disk Cleanup tool to rid your computer of these unneeded files and to help your PC run faster.

There are many more behind the scene activities that go on with your computer, having low hard drive space would limit its functionality and could cause serious system damages if not addressed properly.

It is best to have your computer optimized at least once every three months to get the best performance, and having it last longer.

Detect Hard Disk Failure Before It Happens

Roughly 60% of all disk drive failures are mechanical in nature – from spindle-bearing wear to read/write heads banging into delicate disk platters – and now technology built into the drives can report anticipated and specific failures to give you a chance to rectify the situation, hopefully before it is too late to retrieve your data.

In addition to monitoring a variety of parameters related to mechanical events (disk platter RPM, time to spin up, motor current, head seek failures, and sudden shock to the drive chassis), S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) can report read and write retry attempts necessary due to defective areas on the disk or head failure or drive temperature.

Many S.M.A.R.T.-enabled drives can also report how many times they have been turned on and off and the number of hours the drive has been on.

If S.M.A.R.T. is enabled in your system BIOS, the BIOS will check and report any early or permanent signs of disk failure. You can also monitor your drive’s condition with a S.M.A.R.T.-aware disk monitoring program.

To view all available S.M.A.R.T. information about your drive, try the free DiskCheck utility from http://www.passmark.com/products/diskcheckup.htm.

DiskCheck is a nonresident utility that will show you exact drive information and all of the supported S.M.A.R.T. statuses from your drive.

There’s also Ariolic Software’s ActiveSMART (http://www.ariolic.com/activesmart/) resident monitoring tool, which provides a wealth of detail on drive status and notification of potential failures.

If you get a S.M.A.R.T. warning about a drive failing, back up your data immediately and replace the drive.

A failing disk drive is no fun. A failed disk drive is even less so. In working with our clients, we’ve encountered a lot of grieving “Have I lost all of my data?” looks from end users.

It is indeed a sad time. Many times, clients don’t “get religion” about data backup until something catastrophic like this occurs.

A plethora of disk drive repair and data recovery tools are available to help recover your data. But, the single most effective way to ensure you won’t lose your data in the event of a hardware problem is to make regular backups!

We’ve long since given up on the pedestrian Norton Utilities like Norton Disk Doctor because it does not do enough to spend the time running it, especially for those really cranky lost partitions, erratic mechanical problems inside the drive, and when S.M.A.R.T. says the drive is bad or going to be bad soon.

When it’s time to recover partitions and data we unlock our arsenal of serious disk recovery tools, which are:

  • Steve Gibson’s SpinRite 6.0 (www.spinrite.com) for finding and fixing or moving bad data blocks on FAT, NTFS, Linux, Novell, Macintosh, and even TiVo volumes.
  • Ontrack’s Easy Data Recovery (www.ontrack.com) for digging deep inside a drive and extracting recovered data to other media.
  • Symantec’s GHOST (www.symantec.com) to “peel” data off a bad drive to a disk image for replacement onto another drive, or to extract individual datafiles with Ghost Explorer.

And, if our internal data recovery efforts fail, we always have the option  of sending a drive out to a special data recovery service, such as Ontrack (www.ontrack.com) or Action Front (www.actionfront.com).

These services are typically very expensive – sometimes $1000 or more – but if it is the only option to recover your data, other than re-keying everything, it may well be worth the cost.

Just remember – regular, monitored backups are your best defense against hardware failure and data loss.