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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.

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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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Published on September 25, 2020

10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

When it comes to digital security, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe enough, making it much easier for hackers to access your personal data. Whether you are studying in a library or scrolling through Facebook in a coffeehouse, it is vital to have a VPN installed on your device.

VPNs work wonders when it comes to securing your internet connection. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote server run by the VPN service, they protect your personal data from prying eyes. There is a variety of VPNs available on the web, and we have collated a list of the best VPNs that stand out from the rest.

How to Choose a VPN

  • Free trial period – Free trials allow you to try the product risk-free. The same idea technically applies to those with 30-day full refunds as well.
  • Speed – You want your VPN to be just as fast as the internet speed at home. Good quality VPNs are ones where you see little difference between those speeds.
  • Device connection – Of course, the more devices that can connect to VPNs, the better. It increases the customers’ coverage and the product’s value. You also want to consider compatibility since fewer VPNs may work for Mac or Windows only.
  • Number of servers – The number of servers determines how much capacity a VPN can handle while you are connected. The more servers there are, the more users it can handle without running into potential disconnections or slow speeds.
  • Kill switch feature – Having this feature means that your IP address isn’t exposed if the VPN disconnects for some reason. A lack of this feature is a big deal since the whole reason why you’re paying for a VPN is to hide your IP address, among other things. (Find out how to avoid getting tracked online here: Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked)

Why You Should Trust Us

Our hand-picked VPNs are incredibly efficient and offer such distinctive features that grant you safe browsing. They outperform many VPNs in terms of both speed and security. Their primary aim is to provide you the utmost security, thus enabling you to surf the web safely and prevent any potential threat from causing harm.

Among the best VPNs’ many unique features include split tunneling, strict logging policies, high encryption level, and availability of international servers. We have gathered them in this article to enlighten our readers and offer the best pieces of advice before you get one. Therefore, take our word for it, and if you go for a VPN mentioned below, you’d be fully appeased.

1. NordVPN

The most popular VPN on the market these days is NordVPN, and it’s easy to see why. It has widespread coverage, offering a selection of over 5,000 servers spanning across 59 countries.[1] Due to the high number of servers, its speed is similar to your Wi-Fi at home.

Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, has been using NordVPN for many years and wants to recommend it for its remarkable server count in different locations with no-logs policy. The VPN perfectly works with Netflix and Fire TV stick, too.

NordVPN is also compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download the app onto Chrome, Firefox, Android, and Mac OS. Thanks to its massive coverage, it’s easy to connect multiple devices onto these servers.

In terms of pricing, while NordVPN doesn’t have a free trial period, they argue that their plans are considerably cheaper than those of their competitors. For example, a one-year plan for ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month, but NordVPN only charges $6.99 monthly.

NordVPN has a new protocol called NordLynx that is based on WireGuard with speed benefits, though it’s still under development.[2] If you’re looking for general quality and affordability, this is one of the best VPNs around.

Buy this VPN.

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2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is the second-best option out there for keeping your privacy while browsing the internet. Like many other VPNs here, they will encrypt your IP address, offer vast coverage, and can have multiple devices connected to their servers.

Compared to NordVPN, while the pricing point is higher, ExpressVPN’s biggest selling point is the number of countries that their connection covers. Depending on where you are in the world, this may be the only option you have. They have fewer servers — 160, to be precise — but they make up for the low server count by covering 94 countries.[3]

Cost-wise, your best bet is to go with the yearly plan where they charge $8.32 a month. They also have one- and six-month plans.

Buy this VPN.

3. Surf Shark

With regards to Surf Shark, you can connect multiple devices to its servers, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is also available on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and FireTV.

Furthermore, Surf Shark can whitelist apps and sites, letting them bypass the VPN. This, along with the lines of split-tunneling, is another feature that many VPNs offer. The difference is that Surf Shark allows you to whitelist specific apps or any website, while most VPNs will whitelist all sites or none at all.

The other consideration for this app is the price. While lower-tier plans are more expensive compared to others, Surf Shark’s 24-month plan is priced at $2.69 a month, so it’s cheaper than even NordVPN’s equivalent plan!

Buy this VPN.

4. CyberGhost

Another top-reviewed VPN is CyberGhost. They’ve been around for 15 years and have fine-tuned their offers and features to stay competitive. They provide the standard package of browsing the web and logging into accounts safely and give you access to regionally blocked content.

The network also maintains security from hackers, malware, and phishing. Aside from that, you can connect multiple devices, and it’s compatible with all kinds of platforms.

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What separates CyberGhost from the others is their extensive coverage. They have multiple servers, and the pricing point is still very low. It covers over 88 countries and has roughly 6200 servers for you to choose from, all while charging $2.75 for their 18-month plan.

Buy this VPN.

5. IPVanish

IPVanish’s prime purpose is to give users online freedom by providing fast speeds and private connections. It’s clear that they can meet that promise as they provide many of the features that have been listed previously from their competitors.

IPVanish is a part of SugarSync now. What is that, you may ask? It’s a cloud-based service that syncs files across devices and computers for sharing, backup, and many more. What this means is that other devices can access various files and videos so long as they are connected to your specific VPN. Furthermore, it can serve as a backup plan if you get hacked or lose your device for some reason.

Buy this VPN.

6. Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a remarkably generous company in many ways. Aside from the obvious features, they offer great incentives and discounts for people to try out their products. They claim to be the most trustworthy and reliable VPN around, and we believe that.

One notable thing is that PIA offers a free two-month trial. Compared to other VPNs to this point, none have provided free trials (though all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee). On top of that, small businesses can avail of their VPN at a discounted rate. There is also the fact that their pricing plans go as low as $2.69 a month for two years, and they let you pay with gift cards.

In terms of specs, PIA has over 2695 servers that cover 47 countries right now.

These particular aspects make PIA unique and one of the best VPNs to consider.

Buy this VPN.

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7. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is all about offering protection while you’re browsing the internet or using streaming services like Netflix. The encryption is military-grade, and its speed is ultra-fast. In truth, it is even marketed as one of the fastest VPNs.

Hotspot Shield offers a plan that only costs  $7.99 a month; however, it’s one of the few in this list to provide its services for free. Like other Freemium apps, the free version comes with limited features. That said, it gives you a much better feel for the VPN.

Also, take note that the encryption feature is still there, though the limitations in the free plan include connecting to one location in the US and having limited streaming options and speed.

Buy this VPN.

8. TunnelBear

As unusual as a name choice for an online security protection service can be, TunnelBear is nothing short of incredible. It makes our list of the best VPNs for various reasons.

The biggest one is that the company goes through a yearly security audit. This is notable because many VPNs don’t bother about independent audits to ensure their systems are secure and safe from any issues. This is critical as VPNs have gotten some bad reputation over the years, as TunnelBear has noted in their post about their security audit.[4] The fact that they are doing this annually ensures that nothing is being compromised.

Furthermore, TunnelBear offers limited services for free, but even their paid plans are pretty cheap. For individuals, you’re merely paying $3.33 per month. The only catch is that you can connect five devices regardless of which paid plan you pick.

Buy this VPN.

9. Norton

Norton has been on the security scene for some time, and it’s actually one of the founders of the internet security industry. It started with virus and malware protection in 1991 and has since branched off to other sectors as the industry has shifted.

As you might expect from a company that’s been around for a long time, Norton provides excellent services, and a few of their other services have gone into the VPN package. In reality, Norton is the only one thus far to offer a password manager with their VPN services. They provide 50GB of cloud storage as well.

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Norton has one of the cheapest VPNs, considering you can get their deluxe plan at $49.99 per year. That comes up to roughly $4.17 a month. It might be slightly higher than other equivalent plans, but you get a lot of extra value that makes it worth the price.

Buy this VPN.

10. StrongVPN

The final VPN we want to cover is StrongVPN. Like many others, it’s great at blocking unnecessary web traffic and providing a fast and simple solution to navigating the internet without any hindrance.

StrongVPN has over 900 servers. It is available in more than 30 countries and compatible with all devices. Beyond that, the only notable selling point it has compared to others is that it also offers Sugarsync services and 250GB of storage, irrespective of your chosen plan.

As for the pricing, their year-long plan costs $5.83 a month, while their month-long one is $10.

Buy this VPN.

Bottom Line

Getting online protection is important these days, and companies recognize this.

With more hacks and breaches occurring every single day, the best VPNs can provide an excellent haven for many people who value their security and privacy.

We hope that by putting together this list, you’ll be able to find the best VPN that you can trust and enjoy using. As you can see, there are several great options with no real wrong one out there. Pick the VPN that’s best for you.

Featured photo credit: Petter Lagson via unsplash.com

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