Hard Drive Crashes

An experience with one of my FB friends inspired me to write this short take on hard drive crashes. A crash can mean one of two things:

  1. The operating system (Windows, OS X, Linux . . . ) or files on the hard drive become corrupted, or
  2. There is a mechanical problem with the hard drive.

File Corruption

In the first instance, the information on the hard drive gets corrupted and, when one tries to boot into Windows, an error message is displayed. Sometimes, the message might be in white characters on a blue-colored background (hence the term, "blue screen of death") or might indicate that files needed to boot into Windows are missing. Some malware may have corrupted the "boot-up" information or corrupted some important Windows files. This is not necessarily a bad message as it indicates that the hard drive is mechanically sound and all (or almost all) data can be successfully rescued from it. There is no need for panic here. The best thing is to get the computer to someone who knows what s/he is doing and have him/her help you.

In certain instances, the hard drive can be restored to its original state quickly, which means all your software and data will be intact and no re-installation of Windows or other software is needed. The hard drive will be comprehensively scanned for any malware to remove it.

In other instances, however, that might not be possible. In this case, the technician will retrieve and backup your data, erase the hard drive, and then re-install Windows. Once that is done, your data will be copied back onto your computer while making sure that there is no malware lurking somewhere in your data. The only problem is that you will need to re-install all your software to return the computer to its original state.

Finally, in some instances, the information on the hard drive might be so corrupted that all information on the drive is unreadable! Special software is available to look for data from a "lower" level to see if some or most information can be retrieved. Success varies.

Mechanical Problem

Most computer people will tell you that a hard drive crash means that there is a mechanical problem with the drive. A mechanical problem means that some tangible component in the drive has failed. It could be one of the "heads" that read data from one of the "platters;" an electronic component; or even another mechanical part. How does one identify this problem? Obviously, if the problem is an electronic component, the hard-drive will not turn on. If the drive does turn-on, the computer might display a failure message on the screen saying that the drive is failing or close to failing. Most likely, though, you might hear a "grinding" or knocking sound as the hard drive power's up! You know for sure, then, the drive is bad and the chances of you or a technician doing something to retrieve data are close to zero (0)!

Hard drive manufacturers have facilities or arrangements with vendors who specialize in retrieving data from such failing or failed drives. These are dust-free facilities where a hard drive is opened and, depending on the cause of failure, data is rescued. The cost, you ask? An arm and a leg! Well, actually, $1,500 and up depending on type of failure!

Needless to say, mechanical problems can result in major expenses if one cannot do without the data that was on the drives. OK!

Why this Writeup?

Just for informational purposes! If you now do encounter such a problem, you have some information about what the problem could be and what you need to do to fix it. Now you know the difference between a "logical" and "physical" hard drive crash, and will be able to talk knowledgeably with a techie!

On a side note, I once assisted a person in India over the phone to help him diagnose a hard drive problem and retrieve data off it. Gives a new meaning to "tech support" - an Indian in the US helping someone in India, not the other way around!

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