NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2006
Hard Disk Disasters
By Dick Maybach,
Member Brookdale Computer User Group, New Jersey

N2nd@att.net (click to email author)

Hard disk failure is the most serious PC problem, because it jeopardizes all your data. Even if everything else in your PC dies, if your hard disk is good, you can just move it to a new machine and be back in business as though nothing had happened.

The first problem is to recognize hard disk failure. Look for one or more of the following symptoms.

    · A squealing or clicking noise – you will have to open your system case to find where the noise is coming from. Diskette and CD-ROM drives and fans can produce similar noises.
    · A longer than usual time to boot up.
    · A longer than usual time to open a folder or file.
    · Spontaneous file or folder name changes.
    · Frequent error messages.
    · Missing or corrupted files or folders.
    · Frequent “blue screens of death”.

If these begin to appear, immediately copy your data files (most likely your My Documents folder) to another device, preferably one with removable media, such as a CD-ROM or a DVD. Do not turn off your PC and do not spend time trying to diagnose the problem before saving your data. Every second you delay increases the likelihood that more data will be lost.

Clearly, the best defense is to back up your data before you have a problem. However, few people do this, and even if you do, it may have been some time since your last backup.

If your hard disk fails before you can save your data, all is not lost. If your data is very valuable, for example if it’s customer data, you can send your disk to a commercial firm that specializes in data recovery. This service will cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but usually there is no fee unless they are at least partially successful. If you decide to do this, shut of your PC immediately and contact the firm for instructions. If your data is worth less than this amount, there are two things you can try that may work.

    · Remove the hard drive from the system unit and give it a light tap by holding a screwdriver by its blade and tapping the unit with the handle. Reinstall the hard drive and reboot.
    · Remove the drive and place it in a freezer for several minutes, until it is cold to the touch. Reinstall and reboot.

    If either of these works, move your data to a safe place immediately.

    If you have only a partial disk failure, save as much data as you can; then try the following. · Restart your PC, but before Windows boots get into the BIOS setup utility. If you watch the screen carefully, you should see directions on how to do this. Often you will press F2 or F10. Look for an area called Utilities or something similar and run any drive diagnostics available.
    · Run CHKDSK. (Click on Start, then on Run…, and at the prompt type “chkdsk x: /r”, where x: is the drive in difficulty. If c: is problem drive, you will probably see a message that chkdsk can’t check the drive now, but will offer to check it the next time you restart. Answer “y” and reboot.
    · Run diagnostics supplied by your drive manufacturer, or if you don’t have one, use Western Digital’s Data Lifeguard Diagnostics, available free from http://westerndigital.com. Versions are available for both Windows and DOS.

You can take some simple steps to prolong the life of all your PC components.

    · Keep the system unit clean, especially if it sits on the floor. Once every month or two open the system case and remove any dust and debris with a vacuum. I prefer this to compressed air, which just moves the dirt to a new resting place.
    · Don’t move your PC while it’s operating; especially, don’t jar it.
    · Use a power surge protector or preferably an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The latter are widely available for $100 or so. Besides reducing stress on your components, one of these will save your data if the power fails. I always had a UPS at work, and every so often I would see the lights blink and hear streams of profanity from other offices whose occupants did not have one.

Modern PC components are quite reliable, and the chances are that you will replace your computer before anything fails. However, you should have a plan in case there is a problem. Similarly, the chances are that you will replace your car without ever having an accident yet you still wear a seatbelt, and carry insurance.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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