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The life and times of a hard drive

Don’t get caught when good computers go bad

Computers fall into two categories: those that have failed and those that will fail. And for those who have experienced computer failure, whether by the means of a virus or a crashed hard drive, chances are if they weren’t before, they are now extremely familiar with the ways to lessen the blow of the next crash or virus, and they’ve probably implemented them.

The circumstances faced by someone with a dying or dead hard drive are something Rick Chaney knows a lot about. The owner of the Madison Apple computer store User Friendly Inc. is currently working with one customer to help him retrieve data lost in a crashed hard drive. Data retrieval can cost as little as $400 and as much as $1,900 or more, according to Chaney.

But there are much less expensive ways to cushion the blow of a downed hard drive. Chaney’s first suggestion: sensible use.

“Don’t try to download as much music and Internet images as you can onto your hard drive and expect not to have problems,” Chaney said.

Computer users should also clear their hard drives periodically, whether they own a PC or a Mac.

“Be aware of how much memory you have in your machine,” Chaney said. “There is only so much to go around. And be aware of your machine’s limitations.”

Chaney also suggested that computer users run some type of utility program periodically on their computers. Apples come pre-shipped with a disc utility program and Windows machines have a defrag program.

“And don’t plug your machine into a modem port from the wall,” Chaney warned. “Plug it into a surge protector. If you can’t do that then turn off your computer and unplug it from the wall during lightning storms.”

When a computer gives memory error messages, Chaney suggested users run some kind of anti-virus program. That may not fix the problem entirely, but it may point to something that will need to be addressed in the future.

Steve McNiel, general manager of PC Warehouse in Ridgeland, said viruses may not be as expensive a problem to fix as a crashed hard drive, but the results can be just as disastrous. Sometimes the only way to get a virus off of a computer is to reformat the entire hard drive.

“I think the virus actually kind of eats away at the files little by little,” said Sutter Bailey, president of the Jackson Oracle User Group and database administrator for the Mississippi Department of Education.

“A crash is when everything goes out all at one time as a system failure.”

The bottom line with all computers is that magnetic media, which is what one is saving their data onto when they save data to a hard drive, is less stable than optical media like that burned onto a CD, said Chaney. Magnetic media will eventually corrupt itself through simple daily usage. It’s just a question of time.

“You should assume you’ll have a breakage, because you will,” Chaney said. “But you can lessen the negative effects from the breakage.”

McNiel agreed. It’s nearly impossible to prevent a hard drive from crashing, he said, “but if what you have on your computer is critical to your business or you can’t live without it, then you need to be backing it up one of three ways: on a CD, a tape drive or on a Zip disc.”

There is no way to predict when a hard drive will crash, and sometimes a hard drive will last for the life of the computer. But it’s a good idea not to wait and see when or if the hard drive will crash. Instead, act as if it it’s going to no matter what, said McNiel.

“The gist of this is that a pound of prevention is paid for with an ounce of cure,” Chaney said.

By purchasing a CD ROM burner for an old computer and backing up to CDs, a server or even simple floppy discs, and by keeping anti-virus software updated, computer users can continue to live, at least for the most part, worry free.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.


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