Businesses have long understood the importance of backing up their important files, creating a level of redundancy that ensures everything goes on as normal if one or more of its computers are destroyed by a fire, water damage, or some other catastrophic event. In some cases it’s even a legal requirement to keep records of everything.
Home users are slower to get it. Even though most of us have put our entire music and home video collections on our hard drives, along with all of our digital photos, and files like taxes and address book, most of us are still not backing up. All it takes is one critical disk error, one power surge, one unbalanced drive motor, one hard bump, one undetected manufacturing defect in the disk or circuit board, the gradual loss of strength in magnets or integrity of the ferromagnetic disk coating, a broken fan and overheated case, or the accidental installation of a damaging virus — it could be anything, really — you could lose everything in the crash.
There’s always a chance you can salvage some or all of your files by paying a data recovery company several hundred dollars to go digging. There are also programs out there to let you do it yourself, but it all depends on the type of crash as to whether or not the programs will work — as well as your own technical prowess in getting another hard drive running in your computer to test the broken one. The best and cheapest solution is to back everything up yourself.
According to a study commissioned by Google, the failure rate of most hard drives is between two and four per cent, but can be as high as 13 per cent in certain conditions, with certain models. The study looked at 100,000 consumer grade drives used by Google, as well as high end drives that are built a lot better but cost more. While Google wouldn’t specify the makes of drives that were most susceptible to crashing, they did make a few discoveries. The first was that temperatures were more important than previously thought when it comes to your hard drives, and that most computers run at temperatures well above the recommended range. As a result they recommend maintaining your fans and ensuring adequate airflow.
Another thing they discovered was that SMART drives, which are self-monitoring, are not always reliable when it comes to reporting drive deficiencies.
However, if you do come up with a scan error when you check over your drives — something you should be doing every so often using your disk maintenance utilities — a drive is 39 times more likely to fail in the next 60 days than drives that scan cleanly.