Bits & P.C.s: Hard drive backup

I have mentioned many times the importance of backing up your data. It is very easy to have your hard drive destroyed by a virus or Trojan, but it is even easier to have your hard drive fail.

The hard drive is similar in construction to a record player. Inside the case is one or more platters made of aluminum or glass that are coated with a ferrous material. These platters are spun by a motor at 5,400 RPM or faster. Floating above these spinning platters is a magnetic head that moves back and forth reading and writing to the platter. The head never comes into direct contact with the platter; if it does, it will rip the coating off the platter, causing the hard drive to “crash.” When this occurs, any data in that area of the drive is lost.

Another cause of hard drive failure is to have the controller card fail. When this occurs, your computer will usually report that it cannot locate the hard drive. If the motor that spins the platters or the one that moves the head back and forth fails, you will not be able to access your data.

There are programs available that will attempt to recover your data if the drive fails. Unfortunately, these programs all require that the drive can at least “spin-up,” which usually isn’t the case. There are companies that can recover the data from a dead drive, but you are talking more than $1,000 for the service. They will disassemble the drive and place the platters into a machine that will enable them to recover your data. They claim a better than 90 percent success rate.

So what can you do to minimize your data loss? The easiest way is to backup tour data on a regular basis. Programs such as Quickbooks have a backup feature built in; most of the data will fit onto one or two floppy disks.

If you have a large database, you can copy your data files over to a CD. Many computers sold over the past year or so have a CD writer built in. Blank disks can be purchased for around 20 cents each and will hold 650MB of data.

If your computer doesn’t have a CD writer, you may want to purchase a DVD writer. The price on these drives has fallen over the past year so that they are selling for less than $150. A blank DVD disk will cost about $1 and will hold 4.7GB of data. The DVD writer will also function as a CD writer.

Another method of backing up your data is by using a “mirror raid array.” By placing a RAID controller card in your computer along with a second hard drive, the data is stored on both drives at the same time. The drives appear as only a single hard drive to the system. The idea behind this method is that the chances of both drives failing at the same time are fairly remote. Since the drives are identical, you can replace a bad drive without losing your data.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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