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Replace Hard Drive After 3.5 Years?

Discussion in 'Electronic Repair' started by Elle, Mar 20, 2005.

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  1. Elle

    Elle Guest

    I walked away from my computer for a couple of hours, tops, yesterday. I
    came back to it and the display and mouse were frozen.

    It's a 3.5 year old personal computer (Gateway, with a 20 Gigabyte, 5M Ultra
    ATA hard drive). I ended up powering down, when starting up received error
    messages and then a failure to reach the Windows display. I ultimately
    struggled through a Scanddisk from a Dos prompt and was able to recover
    most, but not all, my personal files, copying them to floppy diskettes (3.5
    inch type). I shoulda been backing up at least once a month, but wasn't.
    Anyone else procrastinating: Man, don't do it. Stop now. Back up your files.

    A tech support person at Gateway said hard drives don't usually last beyond
    five years. Some die at three years. I've found support on Usenet for this.

    My computer's running again, but to thwart another massive crash, is it
    worth putting in a new hard drive? I've got $80 to spend, and I figure a
    nice one will run about that.

    I installed a new power supply (that is, transformer) last summer. It's
    power and so heat output aren't that different from the old one. It seems to
    be working out fine. Otherwise, all else is original equipment.

    My last computer was a Hewlett Packard. It "died" irrecoverably after only
    thee years. The shop couldn't fix it, though maybe I took it to a lousy
    shop. So this is very discouraging. Throwing away $800 every three years
    ain't gonna cut it anymore. So I've had it with these big brand names. I'm
    ready to build my own, and think at this point I have enough expertise to do
    so. I'm certainly not going to throw money away on a shop trying to fix my
    computer again. It seems to me much of the expertise involved in a
    successful computer repair involves simply patience and persistence.

    How about the CPU? Should I investigate replacing it, too?

    All suggestions about whether a new hard drive is worth the investment and
    the CPU are welcome.

  2. I had a similar experience recently. My hard drive gronched and I hadn't
    backed up much on it, either. Dumb ol' me. It was about four years old,
    too, and in fact when I checked the warranty date on the drive itself, I
    found that the warranty had expired about six months previously.

    I don't think it's related, but the power supply in my computer failed at
    about the same time. I ended up buying a new hard drive and a new computer
    at the same time.

    I should probably look into upgrading the motherboard and processor soon,
    too, but I'm not asking for the system to do very much in the way of
    graphics, so that's on the back burner.

    Like yourself, I'm slowly teaching myself more about computer hardware and
    software. Some local friends have been very helpful, and so have more
    distant ones on the Usenet groups. There's a lot to learn...
  3. I have several computers around the house, and have had for well over
    fifteen years (not the same ones, of course). In all that time, I have
    had exactly *one* verified hard drive failure -- on a Linux system, BTW;
    the drive actually just stopped spinning.

    Could it be that you are having *software* problems?

    Seriously, I think that Windows does things to disks that makes them
    *appear* to be bad -- clogged up with old files or something. Several of
    the disks I have used successfully came for free, removed from Windows
    systems because they were "dying". I reformatted them, installed them,
    and used them for years without problems.

    I should mention that my "non-failing" disks are all installed on Macs,
    some of which are still working just fine nearly ten years after they
    were manufactured.

  4. Gary J Tait

    Gary J Tait Guest

    If that computer suits your needs, by all means replace the HDD.
    My current computer is a year newer (new HDD last year though,
    previously running on my then 1998 bought drive, which is working fine
    in my other older computer)
  5. Elle

    Elle Guest

    Thanks Matt, Isaac, and Gary for posting your thoughts on this so quickly. I
    have an update (already) below. Dunno if I'll be able to keep posting much
    longer, since I can't say how serious this problem is, or whether it's
    getting worse. Regardless, I feel like I have a better grasp on the problem,
    due to your posts, some googling, and a guzillion hours working on this now.

    Yes. I just experienced another, identical looking crash a few minutes ago.
    This time, I found a quick temporary fix. Namely, I "messed up" last night
    and most of today by not just putting in the 2nd (of 3) "Gateway System
    Restoration Kit" CDs. There are no darn directions that say to put the 2nd
    one in first, for criminy's sake.

    Re the hard drive:
    The Scandisk command yesterday from Dos alleged it was doing all sort of
    repairs. It took hours. Gateway's tech support person said the Scandisk
    feature would ultimately indicate whether the hard drive was fried or not.
    Dunno whether that's so, but it said yesterday it had fixed everything on
    the drive. Still, I had this second crash a little while ago.

    Better An hour ago I simply did a search for some keywords and found
    the last of the personal files I was missing. They seem to be all there. I'm
    feeling a lot better. Some of these were very important documents, and I'd
    been kicking myself since last night about being so casual about them.

    Of course, due to my first incompetent recovery attempt, many of the
    personal files are in Outlook Express's .dbx format. Which means I so far
    can't just slip them back into the Outlook Express directory I re-installed
    earlier today and have them come up as usual. I am experimenting now with
    recovering them in a "clean" way. I googled and see one can purchase
    software to do so, or it seems there may be some freeware about to do the

    There's some file that, on some startups, is said to be missing on the quick
    display that flies past. I'll try to get that file name and post it here.

    I don't think this is a virus, as I have always used a modem. I do scan
    weekly for viruses, too.

    I reckon I'll backup like mad in the next few days or so and then come up
    with a plan. Sure seems like a lot of folks on Usenet over the years report
    that failure at 3-5 years is pretty usual. Are many of us being fooled?
  6. James Sweet

    James Sweet Guest

    Hard drives are second only to optical drives in how often they tend to
    fail. The disk drives being fragile mechanical components are virtually
    always the first thing to go, 3-5 years is typical for one that's been
    heavily used.
  7. Regardless of the equipment, if ya doing something that ya don't want to do
    again, or its data thats not replaceable ya have to back it up a couple of
    times. Keep a copy of site too !
    Just dont be lazy then we wont have to hear yet another "Oh dear I havent
    backed up and now I want to get my data back" messages :)
  8. Ken

    Ken Guest

    I agree. If you have any time at all invested, let alone irreplaceable
    data on a hard drive (and who doesn't?), cloning the HD to spare HD disk
    is the most effective means of restoring from a crash. HDs today can be
    purchased for very few dollars and it is cheap insurance. Getting back
    to where you were can take days if you only have the critical files
    saved to a CD or such. Even an image of the HD takes some time to restore.

    There are even free programs that will copy even an XP hard drive. One
    such program is Discwizard by Seagate.
  9. JazzMan

    JazzMan Guest

    Not really, it's an illusion so to speak. You have to look
    at the number of drive failures in the context of how many
    are in operation. You only see the people who say they have
    drive failures since they're the ones motivated to post that
    they had a failure. The ones that didn't have a failure don't
    post because there's no reason to do so. As a result it seems
    like there's a lot of drive failures when in reality drives
    are very reliable.

    The only drive failure I've ever had was in an old piece of
    junk notebook I had once. I got angry and slammed the lid
    down after the battery started acting up yet again, and
    the drive spun down that instant and never worked again.

    I've never had a drive fail otherwise.

    Please reply to jsavage"at"
    Curse those darned bulk e-mailers!
    "Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of
    supply and demand. It is the privilege of human beings to
    live under the laws of justice and mercy." - Wendell Berry
  10. Roby

    Roby Guest

    Elle wrote:

    Scandisk tries hard to read fading sectors and if successful, relocates the
    saved data to more reliable real estate. It then marks the bad spots as
    such and the operating system ignores them from then on. Actually, the
    hard drive controller is doing this continually, swapping in sectors from a
    reserve the manufacturer set aside for this purpose. Even a brand-new HD
    has bad sectors.

    Seems like your HD is failing faster than the controller can keep up. This
    happens when a bit of dirt gets loose inside ... maybe a head briefly hit
    the disk surface and launched a chunk of coating. In any case, the crud
    sails around and gets under a head now and then to do more damage. The
    process escalates until the drive is totally shot. That may be hours or
    days or weeks away.

    Buy a new hard drive. Back up your valuable data (or everything) regularly.
    Keeping a backup off-site is great protection against a real disaster. At
    least keep a recent backup *away* from the computer. A backup written to
    an internal drive is fast and very convenient, but not very safe.

  11. Andy Cuffe

    Andy Cuffe Guest

    The best way to evaluate a hard drive is to download the diagnostic
    utility from the hard drive manufacturer. This will test the
    electronics and complete disk surface including things like the spare
    sectors that DOS/Windows can't access. Sometimes it can even repair
    problems such as sectors that were incorrectly marked bad, or bad
    sectors that weren't detected by the drive yet. If the drive doesn't
    pass the most thorough test, replace it.
    Andy Cuffe

    <-- Use this address until 12/31/2005

    <-- Use this address after 12/31/2005
  12. Vlad

    Vlad Guest

    When your computer is running well make an image of the complete hard
    drive on an external hard drive (USB) and when things go wrong you
    have the pleasant surprise to be able restore your computer to the
    conditions that existed when you did the cloning. Into the same hard
    drive or a new one.
    A hard drive that isn't running will last a lot longer than 5 years.
    Also install extra fans to keep your drives cooler. Heat is the main
    enemy of electronic equipment failures.
    Cooling your failing drive in the fridge may give you sufficient
    operating time to create a clone or copy the most important files

  13. Elle

    Elle Guest

    Thanks to all of you who have continued to post in response to my query.

    I think I'm going to just buy a new hard drive at this point. I want it to
    fit into my computer casing. Do I have to take special care that it will?

    Is there anything special I should look for when I get to the computer shop?
    I'm not going to someplace like CompUSA but instead one of the many
    independent shops in my area.

    I figure I just specify how many gigabytes I want and maybe access speed (I
    think) and otherwise get what I pay for.

    Any brand names to favor? Ones to avoid?
  14. James Sweet

    James Sweet Guest

    Have a look here to see what the
    latest bargains are if you wanna buy it locally. Looks like if you hurry you
    can get a WD 160GB drive for only $40 from Staples after the silly rebate
    things. I have the same drive in my PC and got it for a similar deal but had
    to wait a few months for the rebates. Sizes are pretty standard, desktop
    PC's almost exclusively use normal 3.5" drives so finding one that fits
    shouldn't be an issue.

    Brands I've personally had good luck with are Seagate and Western Digital
    and I've heard a lot of praise for them from others. Brands I've had lousy
    luck with include Maxtor (avoid them like the plague) and to a lesser
    extent, Quantum, Fujitsu, and the larger IBM drives.

    As far as size, there's usually a "sweet spot" where the price per GB is the
    lowest, don't even worry about access speed, the number can be misleading
    and *any* drive you can buy now should be plenty fast in that respect. Cache
    helps noticeably and drives with 8MB or more will usually be quicker.

    One big gotcha, depending on the age of your computer, the BIOS may not
    properly recognize drives larger than 147GB, you'd have to look up the
    specific computer (in the case of an OEM box like Dell) or motherboard in a
    noname/custom box to see if they have a BIOS update. Another option is to
    simply get a new interface card which plugs into a PCI slot which opens up
    the possibility of using a SATA drive giving you nice tidy wires instead of
    the big wide ribbon cables used by normal IDE drives.
  15. spudnuty

    spudnuty Guest

  16. James Sweet

    James Sweet Guest

    That's the same long obsolete site that was posted a while back...
  17. hemyd

    hemyd Guest


    From a lot of experience as a PC technician I can assure you that although
    undoubtedly there is such a thing as "average life" for hard disks, a hard
    disk can last anything from 5 minutes to 5 years or more. The basic thing to
    realise is that if there is the slightest indication that your hard disk is
    defective (such as reported bad sectors, bad clusters, i/o errors,
    'operating system not found' errors) you cannot trust it with your data and
    you need to think very seriously about replacing the hard disk.

    Unlike a CPU or system board, the hard disk is very easy to replace - simply
    plug in the new one just as the original one was. If the original was the
    only hard disk you had, then you don't even have to worry about master/slave
    jumpers. If the original hard disk is still working, you or a PC savvy
    friend could try to use a program such as Ghost to clone the hard disk onto
    the new one. This way you won't have to reinstall everything.

    I would be hesitant about upgrading the CPU. It is rare to be able to buy
    another CPU and just put it inot the system board slot. You need to do a lot
    of researchning about compatability first. You might find yourself in a
    chain of upgrading the CPU, than having to upgrade the system board, then
    the RAM, etc. Eventually it may cost you more than a complete new system.
    And then you'll have to reinstall the Operating System and find the correct
    drivers for everything.

    My 5 cents worth.

  18. Keith  Jewell

    Keith Jewell Guest

    Since you mention that the machine is 3 years old, be aware that it may
    be subject to one of the size lines being crossed. There was one at
    32gb, and one at 128gb. Drives larger than that may cause the machine
    to not boot, in the easiest case, or lose data when you cross that
    line, in the worst case. Anyway, drives of near that size often have a
    '32gb clip' jumper or something like that. Other than that, the hard
    disk should be a Lego - they're all a standard size, they all have the
    same connectors, there's nothing special.

    Hard disks will often outlive their useful life. In other words, they
    are too small before they break. But they die. All brands. At any time.
    If your data is important, back it up. There's no reason not to put a
    new drive in a 3yo machine for most use. Add some memory at the same
    time and you'll really think the machine boogies.
  19. Elle

    Elle Guest

    Is there an authoritative site on the web that discusses which computers
    have this hard drive memory threshhold problem?

    Some specs:
    Make: Gateway Essential 900C
    CPU: Intel 900 Mhz Celeron
    Original hard drive: 20 Gigabyte 5M Ultra ATA

    I have never gone over 10 Gigabytes of memory. I suppose because I don't do
    any serious graphics work or play video games. I use the computer mostly for
    word processing, spreadsheets, the internet, and faxing.

    This morning after making some calls and checking the internet a bit, I
    settled on a Seagate 80 Gigabyte Ultra ATA/100, 8 Mb cache, 7200 RPM drive,
    for $90 at Best Buy.

    Coulda had a similar Western Digital for about $70, but Seagate seems to get
    better reviews. Also, this Seagate hard drive has a 5-year warranty (whose
    details I have not read yet).

    I can return it easily, should problems like the one you mentioned become

    I won't get to installing it until tomorrow, at the earliest.
  20. James Sweet

    James Sweet Guest

    There's no official database on it, but you have an OEM box so a call/email
    to Gateway or look on their site for a BIOS update. Personally if in doubt I
    would just check to see if there's a PCI slot free then pick up a new
    interface card as they're not expensive. Get the largest drive you can for
    the $, you can always transfer it to a newer faster machine later.

    Also if you keep an eye out for killer deals it's not a bad idea to get two
    drives and use one to backup the other.
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