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What should you do when your external hard drive stops working?

Guest post by Jesse Jones, Case Manager, Seagate Recovery Services

“Back up a minute (no pun intended)! You mean my external hard drive may fail?”

Hard drives are a phenomenally fast, efficient way to easily access huge amounts of data, and although they’re very reliable compared with many household devices, hard drives can and do fail eventually. You want to ensure if and when yours does, you have all of your data properly backed up.

“Wait, my backup is the backup!”

The actual definition of a proper backup is ensuring you have your data mirrored in at least 2 locations. It’s a common misconception that it’s enough to just data dump to one large external hard drive and then format your primary computer. That puts all your eggs (data) in one basket (hard drive). If your hard drive fails, manufacturers will honor the hardware warranty, but the data on the drive is yours to protect; retrieving lost data is typically not covered.

First step is always to exhaust all of your options with the Manufacturer’s Technical Support. They have teams prepared to help assist you.

What symptoms is your hard drive experiencing?

Recognized with no unusual noises – Try a Software recovery to recover your data to an alternate hard drive. Ensure your master hard drive has enough space to place your recovered files onto.  Talk with the hard drive manufacturer.  Bad sectors in specific areas can cause a drive to disappear.  They usually have tools to help repair these bad sectors and restore functionality of the drive.  If they help you determine the drive has failed and the drive is still under warranty, contact the warranty department to begin a Return Materials Authorization (RMA) to get a replacement drive facilitated.

Drive is making a grinding/clicking noise – Recognized or not, send it in to a professional hard drive data recovery company for an in lab recovery attempt. Further attempts to power cycle through the drive can cause further damage and render the data potentially unrecoverable.

Not recognized, no weird noises – Contact the manufacturer and discuss options based on the situation.  Opening the enclosure may void the warranty, so be sure to speak to the drive manufacturer first. If they give you a green light on opening the enclosure, you can try hooking the drive up using an IDE/SATA-USB cable. There are circumstances where the enclosure may be the issue, not the drive itself. This will assist you in isolating the incident to either the enclosure or the hard drive.

My recommendation is to always ensure you have your data in two or more locations. It can be stored on two identical backup hard drives, or to the cloud using a backup service. This will allow for one failure without complete loss of your data. Replace the failed hard drive immediately and begin rebuilding the backup. It’s an initial investment of time and resources, but will ensure you don’t have to deal with costly recoveries, or worst, potential loss of invaluable data in the future.

More from Jesse

What to do when the unthinkable happens…to your hard drive

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