Losing data is one of the most frustrating experiences a business owner can have. From corrupted files to hard drive crashes, not being able to access important documents on your computer or portable drive is both stressful and time- consuming.
Although there are numerous ways to recover data from damaged hard drives, there are several actions users can take to prevent or delay hard drive failures in the first place.
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To extend the life of a hard drive, the first thing users can do is follow manufacturer directions on safely handling and using devices.
"Today’s magnetic disk and solid-state storage devices are well engineered for the rigors of consumer use," said Scott Wright, product manager at Toshiba Storage Products Business Unit.
Nonetheless, they are not indestructible. Manufacturers have created hard drives and systems that use hard drives to meet certain standards that will ensure the best long-term component life, Wright said. "Consumers should be sure to follow the simple advice that system makers offer."
One such advice is avoiding extreme temperatures, as they can damage or degrade many types of electronic components in consumer systems, he said.
"Some simple things consumers can do is avoid placing their systems in direct sunlight and making sure that there is always adequate airflow available to systems like PCs and game systems," he said.
This is because improper environmental and cooling conditions can damage hard drives in more ways than one.
"If your system has inadequate airflow, heat can build up and cause component failure," said David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International, a data recovery, file system utilities and data security company. "Very dry climates can also make your hardware more susceptible to damage from static electricity."
Another way to extend the life of a hard drive is proper power management. For instance, like any other device, hard drives need a break from constantly running, such as when a computer is on, but not in use.
"Power management is there for a reason," Zimmerman said. "If your computer is always on, allow it to go into sleep mode, giving your hard drive a rest during long periods of inactivity."
Zimmerman also advised users to make sure computers are connected to a good quality uninterrupted power supply (UPS) with built-in surge protection to further prevent power-related damage.
"Power spikes and surges associated with storms or bad power sources are common culprits in hard drive failure," he said. "If your UPS comes with management software to turn your system off safely during a power outage, use it."
Additionally, users can also take a more active approach to protect their hard drives. One way is to monitor hard drive performance to prevent any failure before it even begins.
"It's a good idea to install and use a utility to monitor the Self-Monitoring Analysis Reporting Technology (SMART) status of your hard drives, which advises you of deteriorating conditions," Zimmerman said. "Signs like read and write errors, motor speed, and a number of different types of errors can indicate an impending failure."
Physically, users should always handle notebooks, portable computers and external hard disk drives with care, he said. "Moving and banging these devices while they are working or not working are never a good idea. Although everything is shock rated, do you really want to take that chance?"
In particular, there are several things users can do to prolong the life of portable drives before, after and while they are not in use.
Steven G. Burgess, President of Burgess Consulting & Forensics, a computer forensics company that specializes in data recovery and expert witness testimony, gave the following tips on extending the life of portable hard drives:
To extend the life of a portable hard drive:
- Treat it like it's made out of glass, with nitroglycerine inside. Have a soft case for it, or keep the original box to carry it around in. If you carry it in a backpack, wrap it with something soft; even a towel can help keep it from a damaging impact. If you have it in checked luggage, it really needs to be in a padded box.
- When operating, keep it on a flat, non-slippery surface, free from insulating items like stacks of papers, mouse pads or cloths.
- When unplugging, use the "Remove USB device" option, rather than just unplugging it outright. This will usually remove the power from the drive or shut it down, diminishing the prospect of an electrical event damaging the drive, as well as limiting the chance it will be unplugged in the middle of a write event. This is even more important on a Mac, where it isn't uncommon to damage the file structure by unplugging a drive while live.
- To unplug, pull gently from the cable connector — don't just yank it out from the middle of the cable or worse, by just yanking out the drive itself.
- Occasionally inspect the USB plug to see that it is free of dust and corrosion.