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We tend to preach about backups, and some people joke about my multiple backup drives, but the need for those multiple backups became very apparent this past weekend. The external drive that stores backups of my music and video files disappeared from the desktop. Although it was still physically connected, none of my disk utilities could even see it. Rebooting didn't help. Switching from FW to USB connection didn't work either. From the sound coming from the casing, I could tell that the drive wasn't even spinning up.

Somewhere, sometime back, I read about putting a dying drive in the freezer for a while. Nothing to lose, I gave it a try. After 15 minutes of freeze time, I reconnected the drive, and while it was actually running, I could hear the very nasty click of death. Not good. At that point, I reverted back to the thing we did with TV sets when I was a kid and the picture went wonky. I smacked it on the side of the case. (not a word! It almost always worked.) Two very solid smacks and the click disappeared and the drive appeared on the desktop.

At that point, my first thought was to transfer the files to another drive before it died again. It was, at this point, connect with a USB cable. Files would transfer, but the connection would drop after a couple of minutes. I unmounted the drive and then reconnected it with a FW cable. That done, I was able to finish copying all files to another drive without the drive disappearing again. 

Once a drive malfunctions like this, I won't rely on it for regular backup. Time to go shopping for a replacement. I didn't need a super speedy drive for this usage, so I ended up with a nice, small 750 GB Hitachi bus-powered USB 2.0 drive. Bus-powered = one less cable on the desktop. For Time Machine and my cloned backup, I still prefer FW. 

24+ hours later, and the malfunctioning drive is still running. As I write this, it's being cloned to the new drive. The sad part of this is that the dying drive was a factory replacement from a well-known drive company for a drive that died after only 4 or 5 months of use. 

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  • Calvin

    So is the defective drive still under warranty? Will you use it if they provide you another. Nice tricks to get it to work long enough to extract data.

    • Phyllis Evans

      I don’t think it’s still under warranty. Even if it was, it’s only a 500 GB.

  • Patrick

    Have you measured what you’re doing? It sounds from the post you may be spending more time and money creating backups than the value of whatever it was you’re trying to save.

    Just a thought.

    • Phyllis Evans

      With the exception of my clone, all of my backups are done automatically. Drives are cheap, compared to my time in re-ripping CDs & DVDs or redownloading the rest of the data — if I can even find it. I have scans of family photos that go back to the 1880′s. I have audio recordings of my family that go back to the early 1950′s. Those are well worth the time and cost of an extra drive.

  • http://www.itraining.com.au itraining

    I experienced a backup disaster earlier this year and now CrashPlan is the major part of my backup solution (crashplan.com).

    January 2011 the lower level of our house flooded (Brisbane, Australia) in 1.6 metres of water. This destroyed my entire backup history – DVD, CD, zip and floppy. No need to panic. I still had my iMac and external hard drives as additional backup.

    May 2011 thieves broke into our house and stole all of our technology, including my iMac and the external backup drives. Panic!

    Luckily I was using CrashPlan and my really important/personal data was backed up to the CrashPlan servers in the USA. I was able to restore my important data from CrashPlan.

    In addition, when the thieves turned on my iMac, they connected to the Internet and the CrashPlan app connected to the USA servers, capturing the IP address of the computer (modem). The Police were able to use the iP address to identify the ISP and get the address of the thieves. After 3 months I had my original iMac returned. The thieves had deleted my data but I was able to restore most of it using Boomerang.

    Now I have nearly everything (except movies) backed up with CrashPlan. It took over a month to upload everything for the very first time but now that the initial backup is “seeded” I am good to go.