Dealing with hard drive problems

It happens to all of us: You turn on your system and see the stomach-churning "disk not found" error. It's really not surprising considering hard drives fail -- more often than you might think.

It happens to all of us: You turn on your system and see the stomach-churning "disk not found" error. It's really not surprising considering hard drives fail — more often than you might think. You don't believe me, I know, so look at Study: Hard Drive Failure Rates Much Higher Than Makers Estimate.

Some Help From a Hard Drive Guru

If you've been following my saga, you know I had trouble with my mother's hard drive. It could be that my office is stuck in a harmonic convergence or some magnetic vortex, but a month earlier, I had a hard drive fail on a test PC.

The error was "Boot Failure: System Halted" and it was new one for me. I started digging for answers and I bumped into DTIData, a hard drive recovery company.

They had a toll-free number and even though it was late afternoon on a Saturday, I decided to call. I spoke with Dick Correa, the chief programmer at DTIData, who immediately diagnosed it as a BIOS problem. "I absolutely can tell from the error message," he said. Once I reset the BIOS back to its default and rebooted, the hard drive worked fine.

I learned a lot in that one conversation with Dick and most of what he said is on the company's site. For instance, hard drive errors are ideal diagnostic tools, provided you can interpret them. Read Dick's blog entry describing how to use his NTFS Partition Recovery tool and you'll get details on five of the most common booting error messages.

BTW, you might want to download the free DTIData NTFS Partition Recovery Tool and stash it on a floppy or a bootable CD, just in case. Read through the instructions to get a better idea what the tool can do.

If you're intrigued by Dick's material, take a look at Data Recovery Truth and Consequence and RAID: Five Steps to Recovering Your Data.

Feeling SMART? Maybe Not

Some of you may use a program to monitor your drive's health as a way to help predict when your hard drive is about to hit the ubiquitous bit bucket. For instance, the US$40 Hard Drive Inspector (15-day trial) does a terrific job providing the most intimate details about all the hard drives on your system. It also supports SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology), which tries to detect disk failure. Unfortunately, SMART. technology isn't always accurate. See It Isn't Smart to Rely on SMART for the platter-shattering details.

Backup Tips From a Network Expert

My network friend and guru, George Siegel, says: "I'm really paranoid about this stuff. I back up multiple disk images to protected areas of the hard drive as well as to an external drive. I also back up data to multiple locations using a straight copy utility such as Robocopy. Most of the time, it's overkill. But it's saved my butt more than once."

If your drive's still up and running, I have a few things you can do to prepare yourself--and your drive--for that fateful day when it hits a brick wall.

First, start by printing and saving a handful of helpful how-to pieces from back issues of PC World. . One that I like is Kirk Steers's ancient but still useful article, Take a Crash Course in Emergency PC Recovery. That not enough? Read my First Aid for Your Hard Drive or my colleague Lincoln's Spector's Diagnose and Repair an Unbootable XP or Vista PC.

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Steve Bass

PC World (US online)

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