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4 Tips for Monitoring Your Hard Drive’s Health

To keep your hard drive operational, it's important to monitor it's health to ensure early detection of potentially serious problems

To keep your hard drive in perfect working condition, you need to monitor its health regularly.  This is a fairly easy process, and with the help of a few utilities and a working knowledge of common failure symptoms, you can get the best possible operating life from your disk.  These tips will help you get started.

Listening to Your Drive

When a hard drive is suffering from a serious physical issue, it will often present noticeable failure symptoms.  Unusual sounds are a clear indicator that something is wrong with your computer, and you should immediately replace any noisy drive to avoid data loss. When your hard drive boots up, listen for clicking or whirring sounds.  Occasional clicks are not necessarily serious symptoms, but regular clicking accompanied by poor performance indicates a mechanical issue.

Using Disk Utilities Safely

Programs like Chkdsk and Scandisk on a Windows computer or Disk Utility on Mac OS X can help you monitor your hard drive's health if you know how to use them properly.  Disk utilities typically work by checking the integrity of your disk, verifying that files are readable and marking bad sectors to prevent your hard drive from trying to use them (more on this later in this article). Run disk utilities every few weeks and pay attention to the metrics.  If your utility indicates a physical media issue, replace your hard drive.  Never run disk utilities on flash devices or non-HDD media. Because disk utilities can damage a failing hard drive, you should only run them when your hard drive is fully functional.  If you suspect that your drive is suffering from physical issues, immediately turn it off and contact a qualified data recovery provider.

Watch for Bad Sectors

Bad sectors are areas on your hard drive's platters that have permanent damage.  Your hard drive cannot use these sectors to store data, and a large number of bad sectors indicate serious issues. Every hard drive has bad sectors, but when sector issues start multiplying, the hard drive probably has problems with its read/write heads. Keep an eye on your drive's bad sectors using the disk utilities mentioned above.  If you suddenly see your bad sector counts jumping up, replace your drive immediately.  Note that utilities like Chckdsk do not actually repair bad sectors.  They mark the sectors as bad and move affected data to another part of your hard drive, but they cannot treat permanent media damage.

Watch Your Usage

One of the best ways to extend the life of your hard drive is to avoid overloading it.  If you store an extremely large amount of information, buy a larger hard drive.  Try to leave at least 10 to 20 gigabytes as free space on a 100GB or larger drive.  On smaller drives, leave about 15 percent of the drive's total capacity as unused space. If you load your hard drive to capacity, your operating system will not have room to write necessary data, and you will run into stability issues that could affect your hard drive's health.  Many computer users make a dedicated OS partition to give their systems an appropriate amount of space. Finally, assume that every drive will fail. Hard drives have fast-moving parts, and these parts eventually wear down.  Even if you take care of your hard drive, you can expect an operating life of 3-5 years on average. Always keep backup copy of important files.  A backup protects you from costly data loss, and there are plenty of affordable, convenient options available.  Look into cloud backup services, external backup drives and other technologies to minimize your risks.
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