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)

The Top 5 Upgrades To Speed Up Your Systems Now

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

Things happen a lot faster in a small business than they do in the corporate world. This is why it is critical for small business owners to ensure their technology is up to date.

Here are five upgrades you should consider including in your IT budget to help you get things done faster.

Get a faster Internet connection
Surprisingly, many businesses which completely rely on Internet connectivity still settle for slow Internet speeds.

It may not seem obvious at first; however, speeding up your Internet connection will speed your business activities, such as file downloads and webpage loading.

You might even consider signing up for a second internet line with another provider just so you can balance your Internet access between the two.

This will speed things up and provide a safety net in case one provider’s network fails. Most of the firewalls we recommend automatically have two Internet connections for redundancy.

Upgrade to Gigabit networking
Upgrading your network speed to Gigabit Ethernet will give you a 10-fold increase in network throughput.

GbE used to be expensive; however, today there are affordable gigabit network switches. In addition GbE works over CAT 5E cabling that is widely deployed, and it is typically built into most desktops and laptops.

Upgrade hard drives to Solid State Drives
If you are not yet ready for a company-wide system upgrade, you can still stretch the lifespan of your desktops/laptops by upgrading the hard disk drive (HDD) to a solid state drive (SSD).Печать

An SSD can read and write data at a higher speed, which allows users to boot up their systems and launch applications faster. SSDs are affordable; even a lower-end model will deliver a significant system boost.
We’ve seen incredible performance increases when installing solid state drives. Windows will boot in 5 to 10 seconds, Word loads instantly, and even QuickBooks speeds up.

Switch to 802.11n  wireless
If your office runs on an 802.11b or 802.11g Wi-Fi network, this would be a good time to deploy the 802.11n wireless.

This comes with a faster wireless speed that makes for a better experience and can support more wireless devices. Note that GbE is necessary to support these faster 300 Mbps 802.11n Wi-Fi access points.

Upgrade computer RAM
More RAM never hurts, and this is bolstered by the sheer affordability of RAM.

While modern computers with 4GB or more of RAM generally have adequate memory for nearly all user demands, increasing your RAM allows you to reduce virtual memory or even turn it off. This makes for a much faster computing experience.

(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.

Data Loss Prevention And Recovery Tips

With every business relying heavily on their computers and network, it is a huge risk to not properly care for your important data.

The fact is a computer’s hard drive becoming damaged, corrupt, or even completely unusable is not an issue of whether or not it will happen to you, but rather an issue of when.

If you do not properly care for your data you may wind up in the unfortunate situation of having to recover your lost data.

Backup Your Data
First of all, the most important step in preventing lost or corrupt data due to a faulty hard drive is to back up your data. This may sound silly, but there are many people that simply do not have a good backup strategy in place to protect them from the inevitable hard drive failure.

You see hard drives are much like your car; they have moving parts that function nonstop as your computer works and processes data.

These moving parts eventually will wear out and when they do if you did not back up your data you will have to recover it. Backing up your data is the best solution; it will save you a huge headache when your hard drive fails.

If you have a backup, the recovery process is as simple as buying a new hard drive, reinstalling Windows and your applications, and then transferring backed up data over.

Backups can be in many different forms from CD’s, DVD’s, Flash Drives, External Hard Drives, Online backup, etc. Whatever your choice, it is good practice to not only back up your data, but make sure you can recover it from the backup as well.

Unfortunately, many times we see business owners backing up their data, but never taking the time to do a test restore. It’s only when disaster strikes that they find out the backups had errors.

In the event that you did not have a good backup solution or it was not working/tested properly there is the option to try and recover the “lost” data.

If Your Hard Drive Crashes
In order to have the highest success rate recovering your old data make sure to follow the following procedures:

Upon realizing you have lost data make sure that you immediately stop using your computer.

The reason you want to make sure that you stop using your computerimmediately is that when data is lost as long as it is still on the hard drive and has not been over written on the actual hard drive disks it can be recovered.

When you use your computer data is randomly placed on your hard drive disks so using your computer after data loss greatly increases the chances of losing the data you wanted to recover because it was overwritten from the computer being used.

Avoid System Utilities
Do not run any system tasks such as a Disk Cleanup or Disk Defragmenter.

Running Disk Cleanup or Disk Defragmenter both can cause you to permanently lose data that you need to be recovered.

These system processes move data around and in doing so could overwrite your lost data.

As long as you follow the steps listed above you can bring your computer to Tech Experts, and we can run various programs that allow us to recover lost files that have not been overwritten by other files.

This is the reason it is so important to stop using your computer as soon as you realize the data loss.

Data Recovery Firms
If in the case your hard drive is damaged mechanically there are companies you can send your hard drive away to and have them manually open the hard drive and recover that data in a “Clean Room.” Just a side note, never ever open a hard drive.

When these other data recovery companies open your hard drive they use a clean room that exceeds the cleanliness of a surgical room.

They do this because even the smallest amount of dust or dirt in the hard drive will ruin it in a very short period of time.

This is the reason it is so expensive to have data recovered in this fashion, usually in the $1700+ range depending on the company you use.

Long story short, always make sure to have a good backup.

Having a good backup can save you a lot of headaches in the future.

Feature article By Tech Experts Staff for Tech Experts


Analyzing And Cleaning Out Your Computer’s Hard Drive

These days, hard drive space is incredibly inexpensive. If you’re running out of space, installing a new hard drive could be an easy option to free up storage.

Many times, though, hard drives can become cluttered with old and uncessary information, that, when removed, will give you plenty of free space.

There are a few tips that that will help you find where your storage is being consumed, and potentially save you the investment in a new hard drive.

Disk Space Fan
The first utility to examine is a little application called Disk Space Fan. The standard version of the program is free, and there is also a professional (paid) version. The free version will work for freeing up some space.

Disk Space Fan will show you what folder or folders are using up all of your hard drive space.

When you open the program it will show you all the current hard drives on the computer. Most users will be just working from the C drive. On the C drive there will be a “Windows” folder and a “Program Files” folder.

Next to those folders you will see the size of the files in the folder. This will help you by seeing which folder has more files in it. By clicking on whatever folder you want to analyze you can keep clicking on the folder to find where the most hard drive space is taken up.

This will give you a better idea of where your space has disappeared to. Be extremely careful when deleting files and folders.

If you’re not sure if the folder can be deleted, the best practice would be to leave it in place and talk with your computer professional.

The above method works if you are really looking to cleanup space on a hard drive. For other people maybe just cleaning out temporary files or some old program files is enough.

A great application for cleaning up temporary files and folders is a tool called CCleaner. This tool is an all in one tool to help clean up a computer that might have a lot of old and unused files on it. The software is free for everyone to use.

CCleaner will clean extra program files, Internet explorer temporary files, disable startup items, remove programs that you do not want installed and even cleanup unwanted registry entries.

I am not a person to ever recommend a user to play with the registry but CCleaner does a great job in analyzing the registry and only removing the unwanted registry entries.

The only setback with CCleaner is that it does not have any scheduling feature to allow you to run it regularly without manually running the program every time you want to make a change on the computer.

ATF Cleaner
Finally, if you are a Windows XP user there is a very simple application that I recommend you run every week or so.

ATF cleaner is a freeware application that the user does not even have to install. This application cleans out only temporary files from programs and also the Windows cache.

These are just a few nice little programs that every user can use to help keep their computer running fast and free up disk space.

USB Flash Drives Great For Backups At A Low Cost

A few issues back I discussed what random access memory (RAM) was, and how important it was to have as much memory as your computer can hold. This month I’d like to talk about memories. Or more to the point the storage and retrieval of memories.

I’ve experienced countless numbers of hard drive failures in computers that belong to our home user clients and as a result of this failure they lose all of their precious photo memories.

Once I tell them that I cannot rescue these photos, a lot of times they get that deer in the headlights look, and it is so sad. I got to thinking about this as just this past holiday season, my wife and I purchased a digital camera. Never having owned one before, I have been taking pictures like crazy and downloading them to my home PC.

In years past, it wasn’t an issue to back up your photographs. You used to take your pictures into the store and have them developed. It didn’t matter which type it was, slides or photos: Once you got them back developed, you could put them in an album and anything short of a major disaster those images will live on for generations. Your “backup” was the negatives that came back with your pictures.

Hard drive failure can lead to a loss of so many memories that many feel this would be a major disaster. We’ve touched on various backup systems for business users, but home users should be just as vigilant in the protection of what they consider to be their important data, their photo memories.

As technology has changed over the years, storage technology has evolved just as quickly. We used to backup onto floppy disks. Then came the writable CD player. And just a few years back came the development of an affordable DVD writer that can store much more data then a CD.

But the latest technology is the USB thumb or flash drive. This tiny portable electronic drive has no moving parts and is small enough to fit on your key chain.

And as companies refine their technology; these drives have become more and more affordable.

The ease of use is one of it’s best features, a truly plug and play device that works instantly on any computer with a current operating system such as Windows XP or Windows Vista. You can move the drive with true ease from computer to computer to copy those memories and have them stored away for future generations.

I’ve seen USB flash drives with 4GB of storage sell for as low as $25. This type of capacity will allow you to store numerous photos and can serve as an electronic photo album. The other nice thing about a USB drive for backup is that you can use them for more than just pictures – any important data you have on your computer can be backed up or copied.

If you’d like more information about how to use a USB drive to backup your memories (and important documents), just give us a call at (734) 457-5000.

Computer Slowing Down? Try A Memory Upgrade!

I just turned a little older, and as anyone my age can attest, the first thing to go is your “memory.”

It is no different with your computer. I recently upgraded our workstations here at Tech Experts, from 1gb of RAM to 2gb, and I could not believe the difference in the way our stations run. Programs that I use on a daily basis run unbelievably fast.

I’ve been asked over the years, “What exactly is RAM?” RAM (Random Access Memory) is the temporary working memory that the Windows operating system, programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and documents use when your computer is running.

Don’t confuse RAM with hard drive storage, which is where all your files are stashed. For years, processors and software have been growing increasingly RAM-hungry. Even just a year ago, 512mb was considered enough. We started out at 1gb, and upgraded to 2gb in our stations, which seems to be the “sweet spot” for Windows XP.

If you are working in Word, have a couple of websites open in Internet Explorer, and Outlook is open for your e-mail, inside your computer, each of your programs is competing for RAM. Windows is juggling which program gets priority at a given moment.

If you don’t have enough RAM, Windows will use the hard drive as virtual memory. The problem is, though, that swapping programs back and forth between RAM and your hard drive is much less efficient than keeping everything in RAM.

If your system seems sluggish and you notice lots of hard drive activity, chances are good that adding RAM memory will rev your system up. Programs that you run in a business environment need to process information RIGHT NOW. That’s why we’re recommending all of our clients upgrade to 2gb of RAM in their workstations. The speed improvement is incredible!