As technology evolves hard drives are becoming more and more reliable. But evolution also has its downsides, too: densities and capacities are pushed to the extreme while the core of the technology doesn't change. All hard drives are made of moving parts, which makes them susceptible to crashes and damage. The problem is that this hardware is the component that holds all your valuable data, so the last thing you want to happen is disk failure.
You may be wondering how long a hard drive lasts, especially since the standard warranty is only 12 months. The internet is a great help here because it gives access to an endless list of tests carried out in controlled environments but the best real-life usage test comes from online backup company Backblaze. After being plugged in, the company’s oldest drives have surpassed four years, which considering the average user won't put nearly as much stress on a drive suggests that it would be fair to expect even more from your HDD.
Signs of Possible Data Loss
There are tons of factors that affect the lifecycle of a hard drive, but fortunately there are utilities that users can turn to in order to check the health of a drive. Modern hard disks include a feature called S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology), which is a way for the drive to report its problems. Some Mac optimization apps or data recovery software may include this same utility.
The good thing about S.M.A.R.T. is that it warns the user of issues well before the hard drive fails. Unfortunately, not all drives include this feature since some older Macs and drives may not be S.M.A.R.T.-enabled. The only thing to do in this case is to keep a recent and complete copy of the drive to preserve the data.
Mac users can check the S.M.A.R.T. status of their internal hard drive with Disk Utility. Actually, the built-in ‘disk doctor’ tool can also help repair a drive that you are having issues with, though it isn't capable of miracles like bringing a failing hard disk back to life. In other words, if the S.M.A.R.T. status says “verified” (see screenshot below), then you can relax, everything is fine with the drive. However, if it reads “failing”, then it cannot be repaired and you should consider heading to the nearest computer store or check OWC's online store to buy a replacement hard drive.
To check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your startup drive:
- Launch Disk Utility.
- Select the disk from the list in the left sidebar.
- Look for the S.M.A.R.T. status listed in the disk information overview.
How to Prevent Data Loss
If the status reports good news but the drive is acting up from time to time, then use Disk Utility's First Aid feature to verify and repair it. Time Machine – or your preferred backup service – should be used frequently to maintain an up-to-date copy of your data, while saving documents in iCloud is also good protection against data loss. By doing so, it's easier to revert back to a previous state if the hard drive instantly fails due to some unpredictable technical issue.
What to Do If Your Hard Drive Has Failed
Don't worry if you are hit by data loss out of the blue, since there is still one more option for getting your data back: data recovery software. Thanks to advancements in this area the file-mapping and rebuilding algorithm of data recovery apps means a greater chance at recovering lost files from failed HDDs. Apps such as Disk Drill, Disk Warrior, Stellar Mac Data Recovery to name just a few can scour failed hard drives for lost data and put a smile on your face as they bring back files you thought were gone forever.
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