Hard drives are a marvel of electronics and mechanics.
They consist of tiny magnetic charged particles spinning at thousands
of RPMs passing under a read / write head that is nearly invisible to
the human eye. Sometimes it's amazing that they work at all.
With this complexity can sometimes come fragility.
To help them continue to do their job reliably and well, there are a few
steps you can take to protect your hard drives and your data.
- Utilize a
SMART status monitoring tool. SMART is
a system used by modern hard drives to monitor their apparent health.
The system consists of a collection of parameters that may show if a
hard drive is operating properly. There are several free tools available
that read these parameters and warn if a hard drive failure may be imminent.
- Provide proper
ventilation and cooling. Although a hard drive does not need to be
kept cold, it should not be allowed to run hot. A hard drive can create
a surprising amount of heat. Using a drive in an enclosed area without
ventilation or several hard drives in a case without proper cooling
may lead to early failure.
- Do not stack
external hard drives. Stacking
external hard drives can create excessive heat. By separating external
hard drives, you can help dissipate the heat and preserve the drives
handle running drives. A running
hard drive has internal platters spinning at thousands of RPMs and heads
moving at incredibly high speeds. Handling a running hard drive can
lead to head crashes, platter damage or bearing failure. Always wait
for a hard drive to completely "spin down" before handling
or moving the drive.
- Do not power
up drives that have been “cold soaked.” Computers that sit
in a cold car overnight will take on the ambient temperature. Hard
drive damage can result from a cold computer that is brought inside
and immediately turned-on. Allow the computer (and its hard drive)
to warm to room temperature before powering-up.
Sometimes failures are unavoidable and unpredictable.
In those cases, the best solution is to have a good backup. Backups should
be performed often and completely to ensure you have a copy of your most
recent data. In addition, you must always test
your backups to ensure
the data is being stored properly. It is not good to find out that your
backups are not running properly after you have had a hard drive failure.
- Backup to
an external hard drive or thumb drive. External
hard drives can be a convenient way to backup your data. However, you
should follow a few guidelines. Always use a drive with at least twice
as much space as the data to backup. Many times hard drives will fail
during a backup due to the increased drive operation. Create the next
backup before deleting the previous backup so you always have at least
one backup available.
an online / Internet storage account. Apple sells MobileMe
accounts for Macs that automatically backup your data, but there are
other alternatives. Several companies provide online storage space
for your files. Although these may sound promising, especially the
free choices, the pitfall is often connection speed. Is your Internet
connection fast enough to transfer a significant amount of data on
a regular basis?
- Write your
data to DVDs. This option is still
widely used, but is becoming less popular with inexpensive external
hard drives. DVDs do promote keeping multiple backups and are easily
used in most modern computers. They also have a nearly indefinite shelf
life if properly stored.
- Use OS installed
backup utilities. Windows
offers the Backup Utility and OS X now offers Time Machine. Both of
these pre installed programs can automatically backup your data to an
external location such as an attached external hard drive. Time Machine
(and Apple's Time Capsule) automates the process completely and requires
no setup other than attaching a drive to your Mac and turing on Time