The Ups and Downs of Hard Drive failures

November 16, 2013 - Personal

Hard Disks fail. It is a fact that those of us who use computers understand.

Perhaps ironically, however, many of us who otherwise warn others about backing up data and hard drive failures seldom follow our own advice.

Last week, my Secondary Hard Drive (appears) to have finally given up on life. Of course this was no surprise to me- I believe I wrote previously about how it was becoming rather stalwart and unwieldy, requiring me to disable the indexing service just to keep it ‘alive’.

The Typical “symptom” was that the drive would disappear from the system after a prolonged uptime. Or, to be more precise, the drive would suddenly return I/O errors on all requests and refuse to even acknowledge the system itself. This problem started a while ago and I have to say it gave me quite a fright initially. I did go on a backup binge, but at the time I couldn’t replace the drive nor buy any external storage to backup to. The drive also hung chkdsk /f and basically was already a lost cause at that point. I managed to ‘rescue’ to to be usable more or less by tweaking some indexing options so windows didn’t try to index the drive. It seemed that accessing certain files caused the problem. I reduced my access and particularly reads and writes to the drive, and the problem “went away”. Out of sight out of mind.

Of course this is not how hardware failures work, and I knew that well. Over time I basically forgot the problem existed and started to read and write data to the Secondary hard drive, without a care for the fact that the drive was failing. As I was testing a CSV export program for my job (which I wrote the output to D:\ because hey I always write random crap there) The issue returned. Not pleasant. I rebooted a few times and performed several cold boots but I was unable to revive the drive. I’ve removed it from my system for the moment, because at the time I rather needed my machine for things. Later when I was able, I investigated my options. Particularly, I wanted to know what I had lost, in terms of things that I had created myself and didn’t have backed up. All my C# work is on my OS drive, so that was safe. I also have a number of backups of my VB Projects folder, which has remained relatively unchanged for quite some time. From what I can tell I did lose a number of program installations, game saves, saved ISO files (VMWare made me quite aware of this), the .PSD files for many of my Wallpapers (which sucks a lot, those are a PITA and you can’t just remake the exact same thing).

Anyway, A lot of the data is stuff I can simply download again- Music can be redownloaded or re-ripped quite easily, for example. That stuff I don’t care about. The worst part is I don’t even really know what I lost.

At this point my approach is simple- Keep using my system with my 750GB drive and hope it doesn’t croak either. The failed drive was a Seagate Barraccuda 7200.11 (1.5TB). my remaining System drive is a 7200.11 as well, and it’s about a year older as well, which makes me a bit wary. It hasn’t had any outward issues, though I’ve managed to make mountains out of molehills with otherwise benign disk accesses.



“So where were your backups?” you ask. A reasonable question. All my source code and assets for that source code are safe, with multiple copies. The issue was that my secondary drive was my largest drive and basically became a dumping ground for pretty much everything. As a result I had no other drives large enough to serve as a backup. By the time I had problems it was too late- I could mostly access the files but a bulk-copy of almost everything inevitably had issues. My more important stuff is backed up multiple times and strewn across a number of backup DVDs as well. Things like my Photoshop work less so; I managed to find a bunch of them on an external that was relatively new- in fact, I suspect I might have only lost one or two of the photoshop files, which is a good recovery.

Basically,  It seems that everything super-important to me on that drive was pretty much backed up, or can be redownloaded again.

For the long-term I was hoping the drive would at least last until I make a new build. given these recent issues I’ve changed tact and have decided to go the route of purchasing two new Hard drives and going for a fresh reinstall of Windows to boot on this system instead. Most of my issues with this computer have simply been problems with the Hard Drive, and the 7200.11 apparently has some issues. My idea at the moment is to go for a 480GB SSD drive and a 4TB Data drive. This brings me to the upside.


Having recently reinstalled Windows on this laptop I’m typing on now for similar reasons, I can say that reinstalling Windows and all your applications is a massive pain but also has it’s advantages- the nice thing in particular is a nice clean system. Of course my desktop isn’t too bad in that sense but there are quite a few applications and games installed that I can’t uninstall because “I might want to use them or play them someday” Even though I’ve never used or played them, ever. My transfer strategy is essentially to go the route of installing the new SSD and the 4TB, and installing the current Boot drive after I get that initially setup for the purposes of copying data. In fact I might benefit from just imaging my current drive and placing it on the 4TB at that point, just so I don’t get bitten later on. I also plan on getting an External SATA enclosure for use later as a backup external but also as a last ditch attempt to get access to my “failed” drive. In the meantime, my new Laptop drive has been extremely reliable- I thought 1TB was overkill and I still think it may be, but it’s previous drive was failing as well- even worse than the one in my desktop was- so having a system that I know isn’t going to simply stop working.

I originally was going for an SSD in the laptop- just to give SSDs a fair go. Also, because my laptop drive was failing. I was too impatient to order one online and so ended up buying one at London Drugs, the downside being that all they had was SSHDs and the smallest was 1TB. Not wanting to leave with nothing (I walked an hour to get there dammit) I bought that drive. Can’t say  I Regret that decision, giving these circumstances- now I have more space that I can use as a safe backup for my desktop’s data, once I figure out why it’s not working over the network.


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