Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tick Tock your drive is dead (9/2006)

Q. My computer has been making a “clicking” noise lately. Sometimes it freezes for a moment after it clicks. Sometimes the computer won’t even come on. What do you think is happening?

A. A hard drive failure usually occurs without warning but occasionally your hard drive can warn you. This “click” sound is a fairly common warning sign. The sound is a distinctive “TOCK” or perhaps a series of “TOCK-TOCK-TOCKs” and is the sound of the data read-write head banging itself against the stops inside the hard drive enclosure. It is also the death knoll of all your data unless you back up your stuff immediately.

Other signs of imminent failure are a system that takes long minutes to boot-up after pressing the power button and frequent system lock-ups. Seeing a message that reads “HARD DRIVE FAILURE IMMINENT” might also be a clue that you should take some action to protect your data.

This has been a particularly bad week for hard drives here at the shop. One customer lost all their data due to an electrical brown-out in Sheffield. A Florence church lost some critical data because of an electrical surge during a storm. A few customers lost everything due to ordinary mechanical failures common with hard drives. One customer considered mailing their drive to a data recovery company who could extract data from their drive until we told them it would cost between $500 and $2,500. Sometimes we can extract data from a partially-failed drive but that is an exception rather than a rule. All these customers had one thing in common: They all knew they were supposed to back up their data but they never got around to it. They all could have saved themselves a lot of anguish and money had they taken steps to protect themselves.

Computers have gotten much more reliable in the past few years. Hard drive technology has evolved so that the average life span of a hard drive far surpasses the useful life of a typical computer. However, the hard drive is still the most failure-prone component in a computer. It is not a matter of “if” but “when” your hard drive dies and takes all your data with it -- unless you perform regular backups.

Backing up your data has never been easier thanks to affordable hardware and software solutions priced anywhere from free to many hundreds of dollars. Nearly all new computers come with CD or DVD burners that can backup an enormous amount of personal data. External USB hard drives are inexpensive and can backup the entire contents of your hard drive. If you have a home network, you can back up one system to the other using the built-in backup software included with Windows XP. There are dozens of devices and hundreds of strategies for backing up your data. It is up to you to choose one that is best for you.

If you don’t have a clue as to how to back up your data, I’ll be going over some of that in upcoming articles. If you want to get started now, any competent computer pro can guide you.

1 comment:

Tech Rx Inc said...

This is true to a point. The real reason why hard drives make these noises is because they too; are intelligent. A hard drive contains a "pcb" (nope, not the toxic waste products in the rivers) it's a controller. This board tells the hard drive how to spin up/ spin down; how to move the motors read-write heads etc. It also stores the S.M.A.R.T data etc.

60% of drive failures are due to firmware problems. When the drives are subject to heat; or buggy software on the drive - itself; the same problems you mentioned can happen. Also, your right; sometimes us data recovery people (like myself @ can recover drives. It's expensive. If that PCB board dies, we have to find a match. If the software is corrupt; we have to find out what and try to upload it from a good drive. ALl of which is time intensive. Hope this helps make it more clear!