Right around the July 4th holiday this year, my laptop hard drive failed. My PC would not start up at all. This had never happened to me before, so I was a bit shocked. I eventually replaced the drive and got everything working again, however it was a slow and painful process.
Here are the highlights of what I've learned from this experience:
Backups are only good if they're kept current - REALLY current - and if they include ALL of your data files.
- Automatic backups can be set up pretty easily but you have to leave your PC on all the time to take advantage of performing the backups while you're not actively using the PC.
- Backups need to include ALL of your important data files. Keep in mind that not everything may be stored under "My Documents". Some types of software might store your data file in the same folder as the program itself, so you need to be sure to include that folder or file in your backup process. Email is a good example of this, if you use Outlook.
- It's a good idea to have a software package such as Norton's Ghost which provides automatic backups of your data, as well as doing "restore point" backups. A restore point will get your PC back to the same state as just before a failure, so all of your data, as well as all of your software installations, will be included. This is also very helpful if you buy a new PC (as long as you don't change operating systems).
Rebuilding all of the software that you need on a new hard drive (or if you buy a new PC) will require more than just your software CDs.
- If you've ever upgraded any software using a downloaded file, you need to know what file and keep a copy of it where you can locate it. It's a good idea to keep a running list of all the software you've installed and/or upgraded from a download. Keep all of these downloaded files together in one place. Keep the downloads list current, and burn the downloaded files off to CD or back them up for easy re-use. You can re-download some of these from the vendor's website, but if you've got an older version you may get stuck buying a new copy.
- Keep all of your software CDs together and keep the license keys with them (or write the keys onto the CDs themselves).
If your PC seems to be running hot, it can cause your hard drive to fail.
- My internal fan seems to have stopped working, so I think that is what cause my failure. A cheap desk fan keeps me cool for now, but I think a new PC will be on my "buy" list very soon.
- The easiest part of the whole process was actually replacing the bad drive. I only had to open up the bottom of the laptop, pop out the old drive and put it's bracket on the new drive to install it. It took less than 30 minutes and I've never done it before.
There are companies out there that can try to recover your data from a bad hard drive, but it's not cheap.
- I got very good results with Data Recovery Group in Southfield. They were able to save pretty much all of my data (almost 70 GB) and it cost me $500. I dropped off the hard drive at their office and they called me when they were done, just a few days later.
- It could have cost me $1500 or more to get my data if the issue with my drive had required DRG to disassemble it in a "clean room" and use the magnetic media in a different machine. Fortunately this was not necessary.
- I actually had backups for a lot of my data, but the few things that were missing or old in my backup file made it worthwhile for me to pay the money.
My hard drive crash cost me a total of $650. About $60 of that was for the replacement hard drive. Another $90 was for a large external hard drive for the Data Recovery Group to use to store the data they saved. The other $500 was for DRG's work to recover my data.
Overall I was glad to get my data back but I realize that I could have bought a whole new PC for $650.
I hope this summary can help you to avoid the pain I experienced. Bottom line is back up everything, back up often and keep an organized list of everything you have installed on your PC. It's a little work to set up the backups and create the list of software, but believe me it's worth a little time now to save a LOT of time if you happen to have a failure. It's also very helpful if you need to transition from one PC to another (like when you buy a new one).