Noisy Hard Drive? Backup Your Files

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

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Whether you are a computer nerd or someone who just uses a computer to surf the internets, the sounds of a dying hard drive are a sign of terrible things to come.

Here is what to listen for and how to take action.

Buzzing, clicking, and other new noises = bad news

For the most part, you probably do not notice sounds coming from your computer—maybe a cooling fan or a CD drive when in use.

Usually, a dying hard drive makes a new and distinct noise—clicking and loud whirring sounds are the easiest to spot. If you are on the fence, check out this helpful database of the bad sounds made by dying drives (listed by model and manufacturer).

Play it safe and immediately backup your files

The bad news is that unless you take your hard drive to a professional, it can be difficult to tell whether your drive is a month from away from dying or one more reboot away from becoming a doorstop.

To be safe, I recommend immediately backing up everything immediately. Chances are, your hard drive will not die on the next reboot. But the chance of losing your data far outweighs taking that risk—eliminate it altogether.

If you did not already have a backup for your data, the death of your hard drive will hopefully convince you to always have a backup moving forward.

Options for backing up

If you do not use cloud storage, this is an opportune time to jump in and try Dropbox or Wuala. The reason they are attractive is that you can download them immediately and start backing up right away.

You can also use a external drive. If you do not already have one, you can run out and get one for between $50-$100, depending on how much room you need. My only concern with this route is that your current drive could conceivably fry itself during the time it takes to run to Best Buy. That is fairly unlikely, but something to be aware of if you choose this option.

Whatever you do, act fast. Losing your data sucks, but is preventable.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sifter/1597888888)

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  • Since I run a paperless office, this kind of issue was important to me as I planned out my business. I’m using the following methods: MacBook Air with SSD hard drive, an external HD, a Backblaze account, and now a Wuala account. I may have taken redundancy a bit far, but I sleep easier at night too.

    • When it comes to protecting your data, you can never be too safe. How are you liking Wuala?

      • So far, so good. I’ve only had it about a month or two, so I haven’t run it through all its paces. But I think it has good potential.

  • This posting is much appreciated! My HP has been emitting some rather “creepy” sounds. So I just dutifully backed-it-up using my external hard drive. However, I am entering law school in August and I don’t believe it will make it until then.

    Ben – I’ve been thinking about replacing my HP with a Macbook Air 13″ – since you use one, would you recommend it for an incoming law student?

    • Angela,

      Back in the day when I was a 1L (2001) I used an iBook for law school. I think the MacBook Air would be a great choice. I got my Air for the SSD hard drive, so it would be quieter, lighter, and more durable. I think these are all desirable attributes for a law school laptop. I’ve been using Apple products since my dad brought home a Mac SE from work eons ago, so I’m fairly comfortable with the platform/os. If you’re not that familiar with the OS, spend some time with it before making the investment. It’s not for everyone.

      I believe the exam software is now also Mac compatible. It wasn’t when I was in law school. If not, you could still boot into Windows to use it (not a choice for me back then).

      Overall, I think a Macbook Air would be a solid choice for a law school laptop.

      • Thank you for your comment, Ben. I have never owned a Mac before but have certainly enjoyed playing with them in the Apple store. I believe you are correct that most law school exam software is now Mac compatible, so I should run into issues there. However, I have become very acclimated to using Microsoft OneNote for notetaking in undergrad and in my professional work and would really like to continue using OneNote for law school. I hope this will still be an option for me if I do choose to go with a Mac. I have heard the term “paralells” or “bootcamp.” But am worried about taking up extra memory space that may slow my laptop down. Would love to hear your thoughts on this too.

        • Angela,

          I haven’t used OneNote and from what I saw, it’s not available for the Mac. I hear Evernote is a good alternative, but I don’t have any personal experience with it either. If you’re married to OneNote you may have to operate it with Windows via Bootcamp. Otherwise, you may want to look into an alternative program.

          As far as memory goes, max it out if you can. Nobody ever says, “Man, I wish I got a slower computer.” I think you can get 4GB of ram in the new 13″ Air. I would definitely do that. I’ve got the first Gen Air and it only has 2GB of ram (no upgrade option either).

          If you’re looking to save a few bucks, I’d highly recommend looking into getting an Apple refurbished model. My Air was a refurb and saved me a few hundred bucks and it looked brand new (I wish I could say it still looked that way). It’s warrantied the same as a new one by Apple as well.

          • I used a Mac throughout law school (2006-2009) and had no problems. Granted, I’m a huge Mac fanboy, but I would highly suggest switching to a Mac.

            At the same time, many schools require incoming students to purchase a certain brand and model. If you can wait until school starts to get a new computer, that’s probably a good idea.

            In terms of OneNote, Word for Mac has an outline view mode, which is pretty similar to OneNote.

          • Thanks for the tip on refurbs! I found one online (a 13″ with the 256gb 2GB memory) for $350 less than new.

  • Great advice Randall. I’m biased, but still: when I heard that awful click-click-click myself not long ago (a sound that inspires the same panic as the approaching whisper of Jason Voorhees in a Friday the 13th movie), it made me appreciate the cloud even more.