NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Keep your Hard Drive Driving
by Chris Doyle, Ontrack Data International, Inc., June 2001
(click to email author)

Here's a quick quiz: What takes a licking yet keeps on ticking? Right-your hard drive. The truth is that hard disks manufactured in the last few years last longer than that old clunker you're using as a doorstop.

Here's the surprise. You can squeeze a longer life-maybe even keep a faulty drive trucking-with a few easy tips.

The silent killer of hard drives is heat-especially high-speed SCSI drives. My recommendation? Use a hard drive cooling fan with all hard drives. You can buy them direct at http://www.3dfxcool.com or at FRY's. I have cooling fans for both my IDE and SCSI drives. In the lab, we have cooling fans on the drives at all times.

Optimize your hard drive on a daily basis. As much as a pain this may be for some, optimizing your drive has several benefits. Besides optimizing the files, this process also catches many minor problems that may manifest themselves into a major problem later.

Examples? Cross linked or orphan files. Another good reason is that if you do have a problem accessing data on your drive, when a utility is run, such as Norton, nuts and bolts, tiramisu, the chances of recovery are much higher if the drive has been optimized recently. (By the way-Mijenix (http://www.mijenix.com) makes a great utility to perform this function {{Smile}}

Without questions, you must run SpinRite on all of your drives once a quarter-at number five, the highest. This is a personal recommendation. Steve Gibson's utility is excellent, and will find many if not all surface defects before they manifest themselves further. Trouble in Paradise, also known as TIP, is an excellent tool for Zip disks.

Should I mention backing up your data on a regular basis? Do it often, early, and often and early.

Examining your power supply is critical. It's not too difficult to tax a power supply in some systems if they are fully loaded. If possible, I recommend you make sure that the systems have a decent power supply-at least 250 watts or more. (PC Power and Cooling makes the best). Also make sure that your hard drives have their own independent power connection, not shared by other devices. An uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is another good idea (and don't sweat, these things are much more reasonably priced then in the past).

Many people ask whether it's best to keep your computer running all the time-or better to turn it off and on. My recommendation is turn your computer on in the morning and off at night. I also think that disabling all power saving devices is best for hard drives. Forcing a hard drive on a desktop PC to spin down every 15 min of inactivity-and then waiting a minute or two to spin up-is worse than turning the computer off and on.

Never, ever move the computer while it is up and running. (Try telling that to laptop users!) Any blow to the computer-it tips over, is dropped an inch or more-and that bump gets transmitted directly to the hard drive. Most of the time it will cause a minor head crash. Worst case? It will cause bad things to happen. No, don't ask. But you'll be calling Ontrack to get an estimate. {{smile}}

Don't forget about static when handling drives. The newest and highest performing drives come with (hushed tones, please) Giant MR Heads. They're ITAICS extremely sensitive to static. Ontrack has redone all of our static procedures to handle this technology, and I can tell you from first hand experience that static will kill drives dead.

Drives that make clicking, thunking, or grinding noise are experiencing a mechanical problem of some sort. No surprise, huh? But each time the drive is powered up, the more that damage is occurring on the drive. If data recovery is needed in this case, please ITAICS please, please-the less you do to the drive, (powering up or using utilities) the more data we can recover. And the faster we can recover it.

If you think you have a problem with a drive, try going to the manufacturers Web site. Download the specific utility they make to check the drive. Since the utility comes from the manufacturer, they know how to check specific issues with their drives.

Here are some examples:

    IQuantum: QDPS
    IBM: DFT
    Western Digital: WD Diag
    Maxtor: MaxDiag (I think)
    Ontrack's Data Advisor: This tool will work with all drives. And it's probably the safest tool to use to check a drive.

Here's a tip for tinkers, users that do a lot of testing of drives. In many cases, it's very difficult to get rid of a hard drive after installing a particular operating system or file system type. That's especially true when using programs such as System Commander.

Try booting up with Ontrack's Disk Manager. The utility has a feature that will write zeros to every sector of the drive. This puts the drive back into the shape it was when it came from the factory. After the process is done, it's easy to partition and format the drive. Don't forget, though, that this will destroy all information on the drive.

Here's one for all of you SCSI users lurking out there (including me). Keep your drivers current. Driver and BIOS updates for your SCSI card can make a world of difference in how your drive performs. Don't forget to make sure you follow the specifications for cabling and termination.

Okay, now that you have some new tools for preserving your hard drive, I have some bad news. I saw a 40GB drive advertised at FRYs for $29.99 (after rebate). {{just kidding}}

OnTrack's Chris Doyle loves to hear hard drives happily humming. You can reach him at CDoyle@ontrack.com

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