Hard drive error reinforces importance of data backups

A bad hard drive can strike at any moment--be prepared. See how our Technical Q&A solved one member's hard drive problems and how responding members reinforced the importance of backing up your data.

Hard drive failure can be a disaster. No one wants to lose valuable data, but end users often overlook the importance of data backups. This is a lesson often learned the hard way—after a hard drive failure. In the enterprise, end users should back up data on the network. Users not on a network should back up data on portable media such as CD-ROMS and floppy disks.

TechRepublic members made this point clear in response to a recent Technical Q&A posting. Member jazzbo54 detailed the following hard drive dilemma: When running #1-TuffTEST-Pro, a diagnosis utility, the "surface test failure" error message was generated. The hard drive is a Maxtor D740X Ultra ATA 133 40-GB model 6L040J2, bought last December. Jazzbo54 uses a 460-MHz AMD K6-2 machine running Windows 2000 Professional. He is a self-described "heavy user" who burns CD-ROMs quite often and browses/chats via DSL on average six hours per day. On a side note, jazzbo54 is also encountering the Blue Screen of Death, Internet Explorer 5 problems, and occasional crashes.

Priority number one: Data backup
Alpha-Male offers immediate advice. "First things first! Get your data protected. Copy it to another drive, burn it to disk, back it up to tape, whatever. The drive may not be on the verge of death, but there is no way it is reasonable for a new drive to have surface test issues…The drive failing would be bad, but it failing and you losing all your data would be much worse. Take care of that immediately... then get a new drive."

Wlbowers echoes these sentiments, "Back up what you don't want to lose. Now! Once a drive starts to lose blocks, it is just a matter of time."

Maxwell Edison reiterates this point in a succinct, witty manner borrowing a page from the latest MasterCard advertising campaign. "Diagnostic program—$29.95, new hard drive—$100.00, your data—$$$$$$ priceless. Buy a new drive."

Next step: Contact the manufacturer
Neal2002 agrees that the hard drive might be on the brink of failure but suggests running Maxtor's own diagnostic utility. Maxtor offers Powermax, which you can download for free from its Web site. In fact, Maxtor recommends running this program before contacting customer service or returning any malfunctioning merchandise. The site states, "PLEASE NOTE: If you suspect that your Maxtor hard disk drive may be faulty, we recommend first running Maxtor’s diagnostic software utility Powermax to verify the error before contacting [customer service]…If the device is found to be defective, we will be glad to replace it for you."

Alpha-Male concurs and believes TuffTEST-Pro might be producing false errors because it's being "overly cautious." He continues, "If the error repeats [using Powermax], you can fill out a return material authorization (RMA) right there online." To service your problem, Maxtor support needs the error code.

Be diligent: Continue to test and back up regularly
Heeding this advice, jazzbo54 downloaded and ran Powermax. To his surprise, the diagnostic test yielded no errors or device failures. Spyperdog doubts the hard drive is failing, as indicated by TuffTEST, but reminds everyone of the importance of data backup. "As suggested, back up your data regularly. I'd continue to test with Maxtor's utility weekly rather than a third-party app." The customer support team at Maxtor is probably more likely to resolve and service problems detected by their own software, rather than a third-party utility, such as TuffTEST-Pro.

This is a reasonable solution to jazzbo54's technical dilemma. Regular data backup will prevent the loss of data if and when the drive fails. With this insurance, jazzbo54 can continue to use the drive. Running a weekly diagnosis will with Maxtor's software will ensure proper monitoring of drive conditions. The minute the utility discovers a problem, jazzbo54 can go to Maxtor with hard evidence produced by the company's own software. This proof would be hard to dismiss and should provide a great case for a warranty-covered replacement drive.

BSODs and other extraneous problems
In the original post, jazzbo54 described several other problems he felt might be connected to the bad drive. Spyperdog was quick to point out that his concerns might not be accurate. "As for the Blue Screen of Death, your OS is causing this, not your hard drive. Make sure Internet Explorer 5 is updated with all the security updates." He suggested upgrading to IE5.5 SP2, which is available for download on the Microsoft Explorer Web site.

This member continues by raising another good point—security. Since jazzbo54 mentioned being online most of the day using chat programs, spyperdog wondered if jazzbo54's antivirus software was up to date and whether he might be running a firewall. He explained that the crashes and blue screen problems might have been caused by not securing the PC. He reminded jazzbo54 that "chat and P2P programs are notorious for security problems."

Based on the problems in this post and the solutions posted by TechRepublic members, we should all remember: Data is sacred and should be treated so. Support professionals should recommend regular backup regimens to all end users. You never know, a hard drive failure could be lurking around the next corner.

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