Byte Me Article 93 – Learn warning signs to beginning of the end of your PC’s hard drive

Learn warning signs to beginning of the end of your PC’s hard drive

29 September, 2012

Last week we talked about hard drives and in particular how solid state drives will slowly replace the traditional rotating electromagnetic hard drives that have been popular for the last 25 years.  The hard drive is the small internal device in a computer or laptop that stores all of your important data (documents, photos, tax information and emails).  Since the article I have had many readers enquiring – ‘can you tell if a hard drive is about to fail’?  Well, in many cases you can as the latest versions of Windows will often report on the health of the hard drive and often the computers performance will also change.

The majority of hard drive failures occur when the rotating platters or disks in the hard drive start to develop bad sectors.  This occurs when portions of the disk where data is stored become unable to reliably store the data in that area – called a sector.  When this starts to happen the computer will often start to run slower and may also freeze or lock when you are using it.  Sometimes it will also show up as taking a long time to open a file which previously was a quicker operation.

2012-09-29 Byte Me Article 93 - Failing Hard Drives

Some computers will even pop up a message telling the user that ‘hard drive failure is eminent – please backup your data’.  Never ignore this warning!  Also the events that take place when using a computer – such as start-up, shutdown and log on events as well as different error events will normally get written to a log file in the system (surprisingly called the ‘event logs’).  Whenever we service a PC this is one area that we pay particular attention to.

The event of a dying hard drive will often get written to this log file as a critical error and is normally displayed in red.  Computer users can access these logs themselves by going through the following procedure.  Click on the ‘Start’ button or ‘Windows Home’ button in the bottom left corner of the screen – next right click on the ‘Computer’ or ‘My Computer’ icon and select ‘Manage’.  This will take you to a ‘Computer Management’ screen.  From here you will be looking to open up the ‘Event Viewer’ tag on the left hand side of the screen.  Next you will be looking for the ‘Windows Logs’ or ‘System Logs’ depending on what operating system you have.  Finally you can sort the ‘System’ logs in order of severity (Level) and find any that are shown by a red icon.  If the ‘Source’ of any of these red errors is the ‘Disk’ then your hard drive could be ready to fail.

When hard drives have been failing for a few days or worse a few months it can become impossible even for us to recover the data.  There are companies in Sydney and Melbourne that specialise in recovering data from failed hard drives but they normally charge around $500 just to make an assessment and give a quote which can then run into thousands of dollars.  Even the new Solid State Drives can fail (electronically instead of mechanically) and the same complexities and costs then occur to retrieve the data.  As I have said numerous times in these articles – the value of an effective regular backup system cannot be overstated. 

Future Byte Me topics can be emailed to [email protected] and Bruce is contactable at Kerr Solutions, 205 Musgrave Street or on 07 49 222 400.

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