Minimising Data Loss from Hard Disk Failure

There is never a good time for things to go wrong. But it always seems to happen at the worst time, when you least expect it.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Hard Disk failures are only partial failures. So whatever you do, don’t panic and start reformatting, or adding extra files onto an already damaged device there is a very good chance that most of your data can be recovered even if your Computer won’t boot.

I am typing this from my laptop that I have re-installed the Operating System after my previous hard disk failed.

Fortunately, I had a spare SSD hard disk available, so I was quickly able to get an Operating System installed on there to get up and running quickly. Additionally, SSDs are much faster and more reliable than traditional Hard Drives, so good so far. Unfortunately, this SSD has only a fraction of the capacity of my old HDD which was mostly full, so there is no way I can fit all the data on there.

Luckily, the data on the broken hard disk was mostly recoverable so I have put it in an external USB hard disk enclosure and slowly recovered the important files to my new Hard Disk. Due to my distrust of corporations with my data, I don’t sync across devices and other such time-saving features, so rebuilding my bookmarks and logins etc. is proving quite a time-consuming task.

So what have I learned from this event?

Having many files backed up onto a Network Storage device has been worth its weight in Gold, I am able to quickly access these files and restore any that I need on my machine.

Organizing stuff into folders has been a real blessing aswell. Of course I didn’t organise it enough, but for the most part, my pictures, videos, development files, music, downloads etc. were organized into folders and pictures and videos even into years. A lot of these are also backed up onto a network drive, so its just a matter of distinguishing any that I haven’t backed up and getting them on there so that there are copies on more than one device.

Having a much smaller Hard Disk now has forced me to think what do I really need on there. Several years worth of downloads, including large installation files and ISOs (Disk Images) etc.. Well I can just download them again if I need them. Pictures and Videos I have several copies of can go too, but the ones I hadn’t backed have been now!

All-in-all, it has been an exercise in being minimal. Even with fast USB drives and network drives, backup up or restoring the best part of 1TB of data takes hours or days, so not having to restore everything is great. Once I have restored all that data I can, either onto my laptop or another device, I will probably reformat my old Hard disk and use it as an extra spare backup device. Since it has failed me once, it is not reliable enough for me to trust with really important data, but I have recycled a few old Hard Disks in this way over the years and actually, they have been mostly reliable so definitely don’t throw them away.

My recommendations:-

  • Get a USB, Network or Cloud based Storage for all your important files and back them up regularly.
    You may be able to use a ‘Sync’ feature in but be mindful of organizing your storage so you aren’t filling the storage with unnecessary files. Even though when a Hard Disk fails most of the data can usually be retrieved, this is not always the case, so do not rely on multiple backups on the the same Hard Disk (be aware that your Hard Drive may be partitioned into several separate drives so appear like they are separate devices). Don’t rely on shared images on Social Media or Whatsapp etc. these are not guaranteed and are typically a much poorer quality than the original
  • Make it a regular practice to do some ‘housekeeping’
    Deleting unnecessary files or at least committing them to backup on another device will minimize the junk you have to sort through in the event of a problem occurring.
  • Organize your folders
    Preferably, things like photos and videos will be organized into subfolders by date aswell. Depending on amounts, you may prefer to have years, years and months or categorise them into occasions or by type etc. Whichever way, try to be consistent so you can easily regularly back up any new ones onto your preferred Network Device.
  • Make extra backups of really important files
    USB Memory Sticks are ideal for this but also DVDs and CDs if you have a suitable writer. Having one backup is good but it is possible for more than one device to fail at the same time, or theft or damage occur if multiple devices are physically in the same location.

If you are reading this because you have had a disk failure yourself but aren’t able to restore the data yourself, let me know and I can perhaps advise or quote for recovering the data for you.

See my Data Recovery Services for more information