After a short period, where hard drive failures appeared to be on the decline, I have witnessed a large number of failures recently in drives of only 3 to 4 years of age. Unfortunately, the constant pressure on computer pricing has led a large number of companies to purchase drives from the supplier with the lowest price.


While most of the recent failures appeared to happen to Maxtor drives, I have had failures in Fujitsu, IBM and Western Digital drives as well. After viewing a number of statistical failure reviews it appears that Seagate has the best reliability rating at the moment. On average their drives seem to cost about $10 more than most drives of a similar size but I would say that improved reliability is more than worth the extra $10 price tag.


The main complication in determining drive reliability is that many manufacturers produce multiple lines of drives and some models may be more reliable than others. Most drive reliability charting compares failure rates across the complete line of each manufacturer but does not take into account individual model statistics. These failure rates may be known to the manufacturer but they prefer not to reveal them while they try to correct the problems in the manufacturing process.


Many people refer to the computer itself as the Hard Drive. In reality, it is a component about 4x6 inches in size and about an inch thick. It stores the Window Operating System, all of your programs and all of your files. It is composed of a series of individual disks and read/write heads that rotate at from 5400 to 10000 RPM.


The distance between the heads and the disks is a fraction of the thickness of a human hair so any substantial physical jarring can cause the heads to collide with the disks resulting in damage or even complete failure of the hard drive. Routine wear and tear can also cause the drives to fail. This is significant because a lot of people leave their computers on 24 hours a day. Most consumer level hard drives are not meant for this level of use. Hard drives run rather hot and 24 hour a day usage will eventually wear them out.


There are a number of things that you can do to help your hard working hard drive last a little longer:


1) Turn them off when you are not using them.


2) Defragment your drive monthly to make sure the drive heads donít have to work overtime retrieving files.


3) If you have a choice, purchase a more reliable drive in the first place and hopefully avoid the failures.


Some hard drives have built in failure detection software. If the drive experiences failure symptoms and your computer reports: Hard Drive Failure is Imminent, you need to react to this sort of warning quickly. You may have only a matter of a few hours or days at best before the drive fails completely. You need to backup your e-mail and personal files and replace the hard drive quickly if this message appears. At other times you may experience other Windows errors which may or may not indicate drive failure as a possible source. In either case, hoping it will just go away is usually not a good option.




With the advent of DVD Writers and large capacity USB Flash Drives, backing up personal files has become a relatively simple process. Microsoft Office users frequently store their files in My Documents. Keeping all of your personal files in one place makes it easier to back them up. Unfortunately Microsoft has chosen to store certain files, most commonly e-mail, in obscure places. These folders in many cases are even hidden to prevent users from accidentally damaging them.


I prefer to keep all of these files in one location so that they can be easily backed up in a single process. To do this I usually create a folder called My E-Mail under the My Documents folder. Then within the e-mail program of your choice you can direct the program to move your e-mail to this new location where it can be backed up.


To do this in Outlook Express:


Select:Tools / Options / Maintenance / Store Folder


Then select Change and browse to your newly created My E-Mail folder and click OK to exit the program. When you go completely out of and return to Outlook Express it will relocate your email folders to the new location.


To do this in Microsoft Outlook:


You must physically move the Outlook.pst file to the newly created My E-Mail folder using Windows Explorer. When you go back into Microsoft Outlook it will tell you the file is missing. You can then browse to locate the new folder and redirect it to the new location.


Once you have centralized your files you can back them up with a simple copy and paste of your My Documents folder to a blank DVD or USB Flash Drive. In many cases I can create a single icon to simplify this procedure. Backups are ultimately your only protection if your hard drive fails. Data recovery as a last resort can be expensive.