Death of a disk

It even happens to storage bloggers.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor
blog 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.

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