Death of a disk

Death of a disk

Summary: It even happens to storage bloggersThings are quiet today at Mojo manor. My external 160 GB disk died.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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It even happens to storage bloggers Things are quiet today at Mojo manor. My external 160 GB disk died. It passed quietly. No grinding noises. No SMART warning. No real warning at all, but for the last couple of months I'd been feeling a little anxious about that drive. Call me psychic. Or Ishmael.

It could even happen to you I'd bought a new 300 GB disk a couple of weeks ago and installed it in a spare enclosure. Backed up my 40 GB of music to it, as well as some archives from the 160. Just a precaution. Then the latest version of my favorite Mac disk utility arrived, so I put it to work.

Internal drive, fine. External 300, fine. External 160, uh-oh. Couldn't repair the disk. Lots of disk errors. Couldn't even reformat the disk. That is bad. The utility recommended that I back up all my data on the disk. I already had, but I checked it one more time.

160 GB goes "poof" Wishfully thinking it might be an enclosure problem, I swapped it out of the nice little Newer Technology Ministack v2, which looks like a Mac Mini, into an extruded aluminum case I keep around and tried one more time to reformat the drive. Couldn't do it.

I declared the drive dead at 11:43 am, PDT, this morning, and disconnected the power for the last time.

Lessons learned: your disk drive will fail

  • I'm glad it wasn't in a RAID array. Recovery would have been more complicated. As it was I just dragged the files on to the new drive, waited about an hour, and called it good.
  • Archiving to a hard drive? Big mistake. Archive to two hard drives. They're cheap.
  • As the Google hard drive study noted, a clean SMART report means nothing. Two different utilities couldn't reformat the drive and SMART was oblivious.

The drive was just about three years old. The Google data suggests three years is a good time to retire a disk. I think I'm going to follow that advice from now on. I was just relieved that I got everything off in time.

Going down with the Titanic 20 years ago 160 GB of disk required a large data center. Now it is just an aging disk drive. Take advantage of cheap disk and fast connections like Firewire and USB2 to back up irreplaceable data.

Get an external drive and move those files today!

Update: A second disk drive died! The year-old internal 120 GB drive in my MacBook gave up the ghost the day after. Fortunately I'd followed my own advice - I do that every so often to see how it works - and backed it up to the new 300 GB drive in the Ministack. The only data I lost was a Storage Bits post I was working on, about three paragraphs. And now I'm going to back up the new 300 GB.

If any Mac storage gurus are reading this: Disk Utility shows the drive as "Media" with a capacity of "0 bytes". The drive doesn't show up on the desktop. I've never seen that before.

Comments welcome. Any one have a disk failure story to share?

Topic: Hardware

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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52 comments
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  • My reccomendation....

    ... to small businesses / people using external hard drives as a backup device is

    1) Only connect them when using them. Don't leave them on all the time
    2) Every twelve months, or whenever you hit 80% capacity, write the time period covered by the disk on its case, store it securely and go buy another one.

    As you say, they are so cheap now.
    bportlock
  • Install the disk inside a Intel PC...

    and get yourself a product called spinrite, this program has good success rate of recovering from the type of errors you are getting.

    http://grc.com
    mrlinux
    • Spinrite...

      I have it at home and use it on a regular basis but I have never had a hard drive go bad. I would be curious to hear if you tried it and whether or not it would recover the drive. It would be an eighty dollar experiment though.
      Doug DB
      • I've used it before.

        Yes, I've used SpinRite on my Mac SATA drive in
        my G5 PowerMac dual 2.5 GHz at home. I had
        to remove the drive and install it in my "hobby"
        computer I built a while back, but it worked
        fine. My drive only had three bad blocks, but
        I've repaired other drives (not Mac drives) that
        were worse off. GRC is a pretty reputable
        place, so if you were to buy it just for one case
        of trouble and it didn't work or you didn't like
        it, I'm sure they would give you a refund.

        SpinRite works well enough that I got my boss
        to buy the four licenses needed to get a site
        license at work. I recommend SpinRite as a
        useful bullet to add to your troubleshooting
        ammo belt.
        djdawson
        • Gibson invented this type of repair tool

          For those not up on their PC industry history, Steve Gibson invented the first commercial software to re-format the data blocks block-by-block.

          Often, what happens is that over the years the magnetic field weakens until a block becomes unreadable. Re-writing data doesn't help because the entire block isn't re-written. Also, with repeated re-writing, the physical space taken up by a block on a disk can "drift" over time. The data portion gets rewritten but certain other parts of the block are only written during the initial low-level format. Gibson's software actually reads a single data block, stores the data, [b][i]reformats the individual block[/i][/b] and then re-writes the data.

          Imagine a sheet of lined paper with data written in pencil. You want to "re-write the data" so you copy the data, erase the entire page and then re-write the data. But you didn't re-write the [b][i]lines[/i][/b]. If the lines were crucial and the [b][i]lines[/i][/b] started to fade you would be stuck. Re-formatting each individual block is equivalent to re-writing the individual lines on the sheet of paper and [b][i]then[/i][/b] re-writing the pencil text. This type of product was considered a "must have" until drives with sector translation became the norm. Microsoft's defrag program does not reformat, it only defrags.
          Rick_R
  • Rolling on

    Heat can be bad for disk drives, so try to find an enclosure with a quality fan to
    help remove it. Keep the dust off of the vent exits, etc. Backup of course,
    because you never know what's going to happen. Consider keeping backups of
    your backups off property, because a fire or weather diaster could destroy
    everything. Online backup sites offer an helpful alternative for many people, also.

    S.M.A.R.T. typically doesn't work well, if at all, on external drives. I'd still use it on
    internal drives because it's better than nothing, IMO. If it warns you 1 out of 100
    times of impending failure, it's a chance to save your data. You might have run
    SpinRite on the drive, but there's no guarantee it would have had more success
    than a program like DiskWarrrior. Today I received a 500GB PATA disk drive I had
    ordered a few days ago. Cost was about $100. SATAs aren't too much more.
    Seems to me 500GB is the hard drive value sweet spot at the moment. Lots of
    storage for a decent price. I figure I'll slowly replace my old 250GB externals with
    new 500GB'ers. I imagine in a few years or less, a terabyte drive will be the norm
    and the 500GB will be too small. Technology rolls on.
    Chiatzu
    • Disk Warrior vs Spinrite

      Well I just did a quick read on Disk Warrior's website and from it's description it is about repairing the directory data structure
      Spinrite is about sector level maintenance which are 2 different things.

      PS I am not knocking Disk Warrrior, because Spinrite will not correct the errors that Disk Warrior can. Both are good tools, but they do 2 different things.
      mrlinux
  • Yeah if you had a RAID array you just ....

    ... would have had to install it and insert it in the array. The array would have then just rebuilt itself. I can see how that would have been difficult for someone of your ilk.
    ShadeTree
    • Nice personal attack.

      For no good reason.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • Really?

        It would only be considered a personal attack if you believe that RAID was not difficult to deal with which is what the author implied. To imply that RAID which is there to protect you from a drive failure is too difficult to deal with and thereby mislead your audience is reason enough for a personal attack.
        ShadeTree
        • In a way, the author is right...

          If the author is unfamiliar with RAID, then he is right. It is a bit of work to get it working properly in a home system, (depending on what RAID level you go with), not to mention quite costly to do it right. Most starting users of RAID tend to forget to get a controller card that is worth it's weight.

          Also, I do not sense any misleading of the audience by his statement, but I do sense hostility with your reply. To be quite honest, unless you are about to show every user that has a question about how to setup RAID and make it work properly for them, AND help them with any problems they may have, then you have no room to criticize his statement. Also, as a helpful hint, you should consider the source when you make bold statements or accusations in the future.

          Now, regarding backups, you might want to think about a stand alone solution, or a network backup drive that can be shared by several systems. They are a little bit more than standard external drives of the same size and give you the ability to backup remotely when connecting to your home network. I also would be lead to believe they would provide you with direction and support through some conduit or another.

          I do not use this method currently, as I have simply backed my data on to DVD discs, (verified the data, of course, and cheap too, heheh). I do, however, plan to get a network backup method in place as soon as possible.

          Mr. Harris, congrats on saving yourself a lot of trouble and backing up your stuff. Many a user has had to fork over a pretty penny simply to assume their data was "safe". Even after I told them so... Though, I never said anything of that nature to their face; that would just be adding insult to injury.

          Cheers!
          R3D
          • With the advent of SATA on the motherboard ....

            ... many of today's motherboards do not require a controller card to impliment RAID. As for instructions on how to do it, fortunately that has already been done for me.

            http://www.intel.com/support/chipsets/imsm/sb/cs-022648.htm
            ShadeTree
    • Right

      And if he had a home data center running he would not have had this issue as the on-site 7x24 techs would have replaced it for him after seeing the alarm via OpenView... and he would have had to make another article as he would have never known it happened.

      Sure he would - but it is his home - his solution worked for little or no cost to set up or hassle and he used only two externals and a program he was comfortable with. geezz give it rest - it is cost effective to do this - it is not a comment on RAID - RAID works - it just does not have to work everywhere - in particular the home.
      Jim888
      • How is this quote not a comment on RAID?

        "I?m glad it wasn?t in a RAID array. Recovery would have been more complicated. As it was I just dragged the files on to the new drive, waited about an hour, and called it good"
        ShadeTree
        • Let's See...

          He was talking about his home... not a data center.

          Having a firewire external disk and a backup program he is happy with for this low end arrangement is indeed less hassle than any RAID setup you care to identify. Not to mention cost again...

          What? You are compelled to spout RAID for all solutions? Your mother needs RAID? The kid down the street with an XBox? The folks that buy their PC at WalMart? Get real this is a backup solution. I think even Ou would admit that RAID is not for backup - it is for data redundancy and recoverability when time is a factor. This is not the case here so why try and make it so?

          "I?m glad it wasn?t in a RAID array. Recovery would have been more complicated. As it was I just dragged the files on to the new drive, waited about an hour, and called it good"

          Is this a comment about RAID for Oracle or SAP running thousands of MCA transactions that mean $ to someone? Or a comment about what he needs at home?

          Seriously, context is everything. A ZTR riding lawn mower is better (quicker - wider swath) than a push one - unless you only have 10 square foot yard.
          Jim888
          • Your way off base.

            You need to have followed this guy to get his impression about RAID and yest he meant it as a dig against RAID. Furthermore with RAID being standard on most Intel and others motherboards it is not outlandish to use it in your home. I will forgive you for not knowing this since Apple protects you from such mundane topics as what hardware they decided on for you. I would argue that since as he said drives are cheap a three drive RAID 5 array makes perfect sense for a home user. It would allow for faster seek times and provide a level of redundancy that protects the consumer from his/her computer not being available when they want to use it.
            ShadeTree
    • Depends on your RAID version.

      If you're using an original striping RAID (0), then a single failed drive can seriously suck.

      Anything modern (5 and up) is pretty bullet proof, just not something you typically find on an average joe home computer.
      ---
      Piro - "I see that RAID controller got the screwdriver."
      Largo - "It was not L337, it deserved D347H."
      - MegaTokyo
      D-cat
      • Agreed!

        If it was RAID 0 which is for speed and not data redundancy he would have had to add the replacement drive to the array and then loaded from scratch. I would assume in that case he still would have peformed the backup so no data would have been lost.
        ShadeTree
    • Double failures happen - and it did!

      RAID arrays are a PITA for a home user. Even a reasonably savvy one like me.

      On a Mac, with utilities like SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner it is easy to make
      bootable system disk copies. (It may be just as easy with Windows, I just don't
      know - please comment.) In an hour I can have a bootable copy of my system disk,
      much less than the rebuild time of a RAID 5 array.

      Since my system disk <strong> died the next morning</strong> - whoa! - and I
      had backed it up just an hour before it did, (see the update in the post) I prefer that
      method to waiting around for a rebuild to complete while hoping a second failure
      doesn't occur.

      Also, the phrase "someone of your ilk" is out of place in an otherwise reasonable
      comment. Just so you know.

      Robin
      R Harris
      • The Moral of the story is

        Back your Bloody data up before it's too late.

        Remember your recovery is only as good as your last backup. Create and maintain a automated backup schedule either using ntbackup or what ever the apple equivalent is.

        So stop the flame's guys.
        BobTheWraith