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Good Hard Drive Maintenance Tips

Good Vibrations, Hard Drives

The hard drive is probably the weakest component of a computer, and unfortunately it’s also probably the most important. All of your data is stored on the little electronic brain, and you’ve got to treat it right to get a good, long life out of it. Here are a few tips to increase your hard drive’s life and avoid some of the common pitfalls of hard drive ownership.

Defragment your drive regularly. This could conceivably hard drive life. The longer a hard drive is running, the more fragmented files get, causing more physical stress to the internal components as they search back and forth for specific bits of information. Defragmenting the drive moves a file’s sectors into more of an orderly structure, decreasing the time taken to seek out bits of a file and in the process helping you get the best possible performance from your drive. Many experts encourage monthly, if not weekly, defragmentation of your drive. Make a schedule to defrag and make sure you follow it; also, the Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility can help free up some drive space, which is always helpful for your hard drive.

Watch heat and vibration, they’re two of a hard drive’s worst enemies. Many offices don’t consider heat to be that dangerous; after all, computers have fans, right? But the fan in a computer tower is designed for the normal heat of operation, not more extreme temperatures possible when a computer is put in a compartment such as a closed desk. Also, keeping a computer near any source of vibration (such as a large copy machine) is a bad idea; the vibrations can throw off the delicate internal mechanisms of a drive. Humidity is also bad news; ideally, your computer should be kept in a clean, open, dry area at a good room temperature.

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I write about this a lot, but it’s really important to back up data. Professional data recovery can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, and it’s much cheaper to periodically back up your data and check your backups for consistency. For home users, consider investing in an external hard drive. Many come bundled with programs designed to back up your data automatically during low-usage hours (for instance, at 3:00AM when you’re asleep). Businesses may consider investing in a RAID server to handle backups. Whatever the case, remember that your backup is as likely to fail as your original drive; check both of them periodically to make sure your files look right, and follow the same rules of hard drive maintenance on an external drive as you would on an internal drive.

Don’t shut your computer down without doing it properly. Hitting the power button is a huge shock to your computer. For an illustration, picture being knee deep in work at the office, and then suddenly waking up in bed. Confusing, isn’t it?
For a delicately tuned machine like a hard drive, suddenly cutting all power can be disastrous and can fragment files or permanently damage your hard drive. No matter how frustrated you get, always follow the proper procedure when shutting your computer down.

Finally, keep your computer on a regulated power supply. Power surges (even imperceptible ones) can cause your hard drive to break down, and big ones can send the heads crashing into the platters which store the information, in some cases permanently damaging your drive. Go for a decent APC with a battery backup and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

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If you follow some common sense rules, you should get a lot of life from your hard drive, and overall increased performance from your computer. Be sure to read your owner’s manual for more information and tips.