hard drives, storage, time machine

Ok, maybe not all of them, but they do all die.

I’m prompted to write about hard drives due to a couple of customers who had a rough time last week when their hard drives failed. The hard drive is the part of your computer that stores all of your files. All of it; pictures, music, documents, applications, everything. When it fails–note that I didn’t say if it fails–you can wave goodbye to all of your stuff. Sounds blunt, but that’s reality. We replace failed hard drives every, single, day.

Hard Drive Image

“What about data recovery” I hear you ask. I recently helped a customer who had gone through a hard drive failure a few years ago, and a company who specialized in data recovery managed to get all of his wife’s pictures back…for $2,600. It can be a complex and costly process. All of this is particularly sad due to the ease with which you can save yourself the heartache that can result from a hard drive failure. Read on…

You may have heard about backing up your computer, but weren’t sure what was involved. The idea is that you will have two copies of your data on two seperate hard drives. One inside your Mac, and another external to the Mac. One common mistake is to move some data to the “backup drive”, then erase it from the internal drive to free up space. That data is not backed up because in now only exists on one hard drive. Fortunately, Apple has made data backup simple for Mac users. Starting with OS 10.5 Leopard in 2008, all Macs have come with a software utility called Time Machine. Time Machine can be found in System Utilities under the Apple symbol in the top left corner of your Mac’s display. Directions for Time Machine setup can be found here. It’s simple process, and you only have to do it once.

In the past, people avoided backups due to the associated costs of external hard drives. Today you can get a 1 Terabyte drive for less than $100. When your internal hard drive fails you can easily restore your Mac’s data as though nothing had happened and you will look at the price of that external hard drive as one of the best investments you’ve made.

Time Machine Image1

Many people tell us there’s nothing important on their computer, but once we start ticking through the items included in ‘everything’ we typically end up with “oh, no, I can’t lose that.” It doesn’t have to be a big to be important.

Here’s another consideration. Remember the two unfortunate folks with the failed hard drives? They both had Time Machine backups on external hard drives. Wait, what?! Wasn’t that supposed to fix everything? Not when you back up an 8-year-old hard drive with another 8-year-old hard drive and both fail. A large cloud storage provider with up to 25,000 hard drives running at a time, and a lot of hard drive failures provide the following guidance:

  • 90% of hard drives will make it to their third birthday
  • 80% of hard drives will make it to their fourth year
  • Beyond four years, reliability is dicey

External hard drives often come with branded software already installed, that tends to duplicate and interfere with functions already built into the Mac operating system.  I have found that the best thing to do is erase the unnecessary sotware and not install it. At the best, its taking up space for something I’ll never use, and at worst it will nag at me about the fact that I haven’t installed it.

A practice I’ve adopted over the years is to create a calendar event on my Mac on the day that I start using a new hard drive; “LaCie 4 terabyte Installed,” then I set the event to repeat every year. When the fourth anniversary rolls around for that hard drive–assuming it made it that far–I replace it. Period. I’d rather make that change before the old one fails.

Hard drives aren’t as cheap as the three boxes of Kleenex you’ll go through when your hard drive fails and you don’t have a backup, but the extra expense is definitely worth it!

Headshot K S16 Alden

Alden is an Apple Certified Mac and iOS technician at PowerMax with thirty years of Mac experience.