Eventually Your Hard Drive Will Fail


We’ve all heard that our hard drives will fail at some point. This goes for those that are inside the computer, as well as external hard drives attached to a USB port. The estimates of how long they last certainly varies, but five years seems to be one I frequently hear about. As you probably know, most external hard drives now come without a on/off button, which basically implies they are designed to be left on from the day we buy them. At least that is how I use mine. Please comment if you have heard otherwise. I’m very interested in what you have experienced or do.

Several days ago I had my first failure of one of my numerous external drives.  I used this drive to back up all of my non-photo files, including my financial (Quicken) data. I use a program called Karen’s Replicator to do the backup. Why I use this program is another story. I run the program automatically weekly, and also use it to selectively backup certain files at shorter intervals if I need to. After each running of the program, there is log that is generated giving the statistics of the previous backup job. I quickly scan the log of the latest backup, before closing the program – a good practice, which I am definitely going to continue.

I do the automated backup at 1:00 am Sunday mornings. I leave my computer on overnight to do this, since it takes quite awhile. On Sunday, as usual, I quickly scanned the log. This time, every job completed, but with failures. Non of the jobs, could find Drive P (the letter assigned to this external drive by Windows 7). Sure enough I could not find it either using Windows Explorer. I rebooted my computer and it appeared, but Windows Explorer operated quite slowly. When I would try to open a file located on the drive, I would get a message that said the file could not be found, even though it was listed!

Well that was enough for me, I immediately re-configured Karen’s Replicator to backup my data to another external drive, keeping my fingers crossed that my internal hard drive would last a couple of more hours. It did, as really expected it would.

There’s more to this story. About two weeks earlier, I was using Windows Explorer to do some housekeeping, and discovered this same drive, Drive P on my computer, could not be found. I cannot recall, what I did to fix it. I probably restarted my computer and the problem appeared to go away. But I did nothing else at that time. It appeared to be working OK, and I promptly forgot about the failure.

BUT, at this first sign of trouble, I should have immediately looked into the problem more thoroughly and backed up the data I had there to another drive. I was lucky. I got a second chance.

By the way, I don’t know exactly how old the disk was, but I believe it could be pushing  5 years, since its capacity was only 320 Gb. This triggers another recommendation and a practice I will begin myself. Record the date you buy the drive somewhere easy to check from time to time, perhaps marked on the drive itself.  We tend to attach these drives and then promptly forget about them until we have a problem. That may be too late!

Addendum 1-6-10:

In the spirit of complete disclosure, I feel I need to tell you the latest in this little adventure. I plugged the bad drive into my laptop a few minutes ago, and again it is working perfectly. It was down to its last Gb of space so I cleaned out some space. Right now it continues to run fine. Obviously, I am not going to use it for anything important, but at least I have it experiment with etc.

This does not negate what I wrote above. This drive may run two weeks and then give me problems again. I’ll probably first check it more errors.

Addendum 1-8-11:

The drive never finished the error checking program. It was quite hot. After letting it cool down and restarting Windows, it was not properly recognized. It’s dead. Now I just have to see how to physically destroy it, in case someone smarter gets a hold of it. No more addendums. 

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2 thoughts on “Eventually Your Hard Drive Will Fail

  1. Just a note for others who may have the need to Physically destroy a drive. I once traded in an old laptop to CompUSA, before they closed their brick and mortar locations. CompUSA used a drill press to drill several large holes through the drive.

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