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How to Tell When Your Hard Drive is Going to Fail

How to Tell When Your Hard Drive is Going to Fail

Hard drives form the basis of our computing. The use of computers comes down to manipulating data, and the hard drive is, of course, where we store all our data; family albums, music, work documents, email, the list goes on.

Most of the components in your computer are electronic devices. They don’t fail with time like a mechanical device such as a car. But your hard drive is one of the few mechanical devices used in modern computing, and as such, it’s destined to die eventually.

It’s important to learn to recognize the warning signs of an imminent hard drive failure, since you might not have the budget for an extensive back-up system, so you can rescue all that data before it’s lost—sometimes forever, not retrievable at any cost.

Why do hard drives fail?

Logical Failures

Logical failures occur when the electronics of the hard drive failure or the software (firmware) has a problem. This kind of failure is usually the cheapest and easiest to have fixed. Unfortunately, it’s also an uncommon failure.

Media Failures

If the hard drive has been handled roughly, or the magnetic platters are scratched, have read/write errors or low-level formatting problems, this is a media failure. These are also relatively uncommon. Once the platters are scratched, the data should be considered scrapped.

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Head Failures

A head failure occurs when the read/write head crashes into the platters (the head crash), has an “improper flying height” or the wiring between the logic board and the head is faulty—among other failures related to malfunction of the read/write head. This is a common failure. The head crash is particularly nasty.

Mechanical Failures

Mechanical failures probably make up the bulk of hard drive failures. The motor burns out, the drive overheats, bearings get stuck—the kind of thing you’d expect to find when a car fails. These can be nasty but if the failure didn’t affect the platters, you might have a chance of recovery, but at a cost.

How do I find out when it’s going to fail before it fails?

That’s not always possible, and sometimes a hard drive will just die—but it’s still important to keep an eye on the symptoms of an imminent hard drive so you have the chance to back-up your data and get professional help.

Hard drives are incredibly sensitive bits of hardware, so don’t try to crack it open and have a look inside unless you know what you’re doing. And most definitely ensure that if you do crack it open, the platters don’t get exposed to the open air—hard drives can only be opened in Class 100 clean rooms or they’re pretty much instantly destroyed by dust.

It’s a lot easier to back-up than to get your data recovered. Once you detect any of the signs of failure you need to ensure that you have a back-up and if not, make one. Then when the drive dies, you can claim your warranty if you still have it, or buy a new drive, and be on your way.

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Recovery can cost thousands and thousands of dollars; it sure is a ridiculous amount to pay, but there’s not much you can do but shop around and find the best price. The cost of transferring a back-up onto a brand new drive is much cheaper than having a recovery specialist do the same for you.

Strange Noises

Sometimes hearing strange grinding and thrashing noises means your drive is beyond repair—for instance, if you’ve had a head crash, it very often is. Or it could just be that the motor has failed or your hard drive is grinding away because of noisy bearings. If you’re hearing strange noises then act very, very quickly—you probably don’t have much time.

Disappearing Data and Disk Errors

Computer won’t let you save a document? Or you’re sure that you had a file on your desktop yesterday that’s nowhere to be seen today? Programs that always worked suddenly stop working, asking where a file it depends on is stored?

These are all potential signs that your hard drive is on its way out. Of course, it could be that your kids moved your files for fun or a virus is eating through them, but disappearing data is never a good sign for your drive if you can rule out those alternative causes.

Your computer stops recognizing your drive

This may seem obvious, but if your computer no longer recognizes your drive chances are there’s a problem with it, not the computer. Test it in a friend’s computer and see if your hard drive is recognized by it.

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Often, this will be a logical failure—unless you can hear strange noises that indicate a severe mechanical or head problem.

Computer Crashes

Does your computer regularly blue-screen or suddenly reboot? Does it crash often, especially when booting your operating system? If your computer is crashing, especially at times when the computers is accessing files (such as during the boot sequence), it may indicate a problem with your drive.

Really Slow Access Times

It shouldn’t take half an hour to open a folder in Windows Explorer, or two hours to empty the trash. I’ve come across this problem plenty of times over the years, and it’s always followed by a failing hard drive within a month or two.

If you have this symptom on your computer and your drive does not fail, please uninstall Vista from your 486.

Sound is a great indicator. As soon as the sound changes from the norm, or you get plenty of clicking and grinding from your hard drive, you need to power it down immediately. Get to know the sound of your hard drive while it’s young and in working order, because you’ll need to be able to hear the slightest differences when it gets older.

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What next?

Don’t try to be a hero. If there’s time, get your data backed up. If there’s not—nasty noises, for example—get it out of the computer or enclosure, wrap it in anti-static plastic or aluminium foil and keep it safe until you can send it to a professional. Hard drives are very sensitive, just like those kids who die their hair black and write poems about suicide. Don’t mess with them.

When you contact a recovery specialist, they will give you details on shipping the drive, though they tend to prefer you hand-deliver it to prevent further damage.

When it comes to hard drives, just remember to keep an eye on it and act quickly. And, of course, keep extensive back-ups, even if you have to skip groceries one week to do so.

More by this author

Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on June 17, 2019

40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 40 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

For Getting Things Done

1. OmniFocus

This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

Download it here.

    2. Forest

    Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

    Download it here.

      3. Things

      Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

      Download it here.

        4. 30/30

        Recently covered here at Lifehack

        , 30/30 is a newcomer to the game that incorporates lists and timing of tasks into an elegant and easy-to-use interface.

        Download it here.

          5. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            6. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              7. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

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                8. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                  9. FlowTasks

                  From the folks at MetaLab, Flow is a gorgeous collaborative task management app that is easy-to-use and incredibly functional.

                  Download it here.

                    10. Calendars 5

                    This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track and complete your to-dos.

                    Download it here.

                      11. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                      A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                      Download it here.

                        12. Due

                        A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                        Download it here.

                          13. Checkmark 2

                          I use this app

                          for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and a valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                          Download it here.

                            14. TeuxDeux

                            Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — Teux Deux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then Teux Deux will be right up your alley.

                            Download it here.

                              15. Wunderlist 

                              Another incredibly popular choice is Wunderlist. Part of 6Wunderkinder’s software family, it sports a gorgeous design and is incredibly functional. We’ve talked about the app a couple of times here at Lifehack, so check those posts out here.

                              Download it here.

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                                16. Nirvana

                                For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                                Download it here.

                                  17. Priorities

                                  An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                                  Download it here.

                                    For Building Habits

                                    18. Productive

                                    With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                    Download it here.

                                      19. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                      You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                      Download it here.

                                        20. Streaks

                                        This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                        Download it here.

                                          21. Remember The Milk

                                          Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                          Download it here.

                                            22. Day One Journal

                                            When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                            Download it here.

                                              For Files Organization

                                              23. Evernote

                                              Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                              Download it here.

                                                24. Pocket

                                                You can save an article, video or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                                Download it here.

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                                                  25. Sync.Me

                                                  This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                    26. Droplr

                                                    One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      27. Dropbox

                                                      Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive in your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        28. iDolly 

                                                        In conjunction with Dolly Drive and DollySync, iDolly allows you to edit and share your documents from your iPhone.

                                                        Since all your changes sync automatically to all your devices, the current version of a document will always be accessible because Dolly Sync keeps everything in sync. Very handy.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          29. Soulver

                                                          It may seem odd that a calculator app shows up on this list, but this is no ordinary calendar app. Ben Brooks over at The Brooks review describes Soulver as follows: “It is what calculators would have been if they were invented at the same time computers were, instead of what we have with most calculator apps.” [3]

                                                          Download it here.

                                                            For Working Smarter

                                                            30. Captio

                                                            A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              31. Drafts

                                                              A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things and more.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                32. NoteShelf 2

                                                                This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                                Download it here.

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                                                                  33. Doodle

                                                                  This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    34. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                                    I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      35. Launch Center Pro

                                                                      A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        36. GoodReader

                                                                        This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          37. LogMeIn

                                                                          Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                          Download it here.

                                                                            For Improving Security

                                                                            38. 1Password

                                                                            There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                            Download it here.

                                                                              39. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                              You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                              All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass autofills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                              Download it here.

                                                                                40. Truecallers

                                                                                Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                                Download it here.

                                                                                  There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                                  More Great Apps Recommendations

                                                                                  Reference

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