Hard Drive Issues

One thing your hard drive manufacturer will tell you is this; Your hard drive WILL fail eventually.

It’s true, every brand, every model, every type.

Why is that? Well there’s a few reasons, but the main one that gives us an absolute mathematical certainty a drive will fail is simple mechanical wear and tear.

Until recent years, basically all hard drives were a little like a record player – a magnetic disk would spin at high speed and a magnetic read head would wave over it like a needle and detect the data. Over time the spindle in the center vibrates loose, the disks themselves get work, and the motor that moves the read head get old.

If any of these components starts performing below specification, a drive can fail completely *just like that*. Sometimes you’ll be “lucky” and hear the ticking noise of a struggling read head motor before it goes – be warned if you can hear a steady “Tick, Tick, Tick” from your hard drive it IS going to stop working soon.

So how long do they last? This varies. Most drives that are in computers that are still in service have a service life of around five years. This isn’t to say that after five years it’s going to break! Some drives have gone on to last 10 or even 15 years on occasion, however there are some caveats.

Often, drive head issues only become evident when you power up the drive. Most of those drives that last 10 years or even longer are never turned off and aren’t working very hard. In all probability if you turn that machine off for five minutes you won’t be able to turn it back on.

So how do you tell if you have a drive issue?

First and foremost, you’ll likely get an error like “No drive detected”, “Insert Disk”, or “Disk Read Error” depending on your operating system and just how bad it is.

Often, you can hear a steady ticking sound coming from the middle of the drive where the machinery is. This is a warning sign you shouldn’t ignore, and there’s nothing you can do to repair it.

Sometimes when a drive is completely shot, you can hear a sound something like “tick-whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr clunk”, which normally indicates the drive motor is misaligned. This is usually caused by shock and is often the problem with external hard drives.

What can you do about it?

First check is that the drive has a data cable and a power cable firmly inserted – it is possible for a cable to simply pop out eventually from vibration so this isn’t as silly as it sounds. Take the side (or top) off your computer and locate the drive. It’s a silver box, usually about 3.5″ wide and mounted securely in a bracket near the bottom of the machine. It should have one power cable running from the power supply unit (where all the power leads trace back to, in a big bundle of yellow, red, and black wires), and one data cable. Depending on the technology, the data cable will either be a grey ribbon that is about 2″ (5cm) wide with a flat plug across the whole width, OR a 1cm wide solid cable usually coloured red, blue, orange, or black. The colour is not important, however. Check that these cables are inserted firmly – NOTE they only fit one way over and into one place! Follow the data cable, whichever type it is, down to the main board in the computer and carefully ensure that it is firmly seated as well.

If re-seating the cables didn’t help, unfortunately things are getting a whole lot harder now. The odds are the drive is dead and you can’t do anything for it, but there are still some options.

The cheapest option is to call someone to look at it. A technician will come out, look at your problem, possibly move the drive onto a device that allows it to be read from another computer, and then they’ll give you the verdict. What you want to hear is that it’s not a drive problem, and now it’s fixed. If it is a drive problem hopefully the technician can recover your data and install a replacement for you.

What if it’s dead, and the technician can’t help?

Fortunately there are still options if you have super-critical data on a drive that doesn’t work. Unfortunately, they are extremely expensive.

If you simply must get the data back from your drive, you can send it away to a recovery company who will charge a fee to ‘fix’ it. Usually this fee is between $500 and $1500 depending on the fault and age of the drive. The reason this is so expensive is that the read head sits only 3 NANOmeters above the disks spinning at over 5,000 rpm and a single speck of dust can totally destroy the head and your data in an instant if it gets jammed and shreds the data off the disk, so a sterile lab is essential to this process as is some very specialised hardware. Some places offer free postage and others do a free assessment, it’s best to Google around for labs in your area.

Sadly the loss of a hard drive to a non-technical person can essentially mean it’s time for a new computer, however if you really don’t want to do that your drive can be replaced and your software re-loaded.

A cheap drive costs between $50 and $75, assuming your computer is less than about five years old. If it’s older, forget it, but a new one. If you don’t have your windows license available (you should have a little blue certificate sticker on your computer) then Windows will cost another $100. Having someone take the time to load it for you will vary in the area of $100-$200. Then do you want Office back on there? Chrome? A game? It keeps adding up, and already we’ve spent around $300 on a machine that is old and struggling when you could have a new one for $500.

So there’s not much good news when it comes to hard drive problems, unless you were looking to buy a new computer anyway. If you buy a new custom PC from Simpler Technology¬†though, we will transfer the data from your old drive if it is usable free of charge.