A couple of days ago, I had a serious problem with the laptop computer I use every day (the one I’m using now). After a Windows update, the system refused to restart. It would display “Preparing Automatic Repair” for a few minutes and then end up on a blank, black screen. I wanted to blame it on Windows 10 but it merely showed me an existing problem with the hard disk. I had to do a hard disk repair operation on my laptop computer and it involved reaching back into some brain cells I hadn’t used in years.
Most hard disks will last longer than the computers they’re being used with. The MTBF (maximum time before failure) is usually around five years. Of course, that MTBF number is based on a real-world usage scenario. People who use their computers constantly shouldn’t expect it to last that long.
After spending hours trying to figure out why Windows refused to restart, I ran a system tool (and I can’t remember where it came from) and the hard disk self-test kept failing. Once I realized the problem was with the hard disk and not the operating system, starting a hard disk repair operation was a no-brainer. Luckily, I had just the thing.
If you’ve never heard of SpinRite, that’s okay. The first time I used it was back in 1991, doing a hard disk repair while I was sitting in a tent in the Sahara Desert. I used a newer version (from 2004) yesterday.
If there was nothing wrong with the hard disk, the basic operation would have taken about three hours – it said so on the screen. Unfortunately, several bad spots were found and it took a lot longer.
When I was finally able to reboot the computer, Windows 10 started without a hitch. The last step in the hard disk repair process was a file integrity check. From Windows PowerShell, I ran “sfc /verifyonly”, which took about an hour. Luckily, no system files failed the integrity check.
I’ve had an enough experience with hard disks to know that when they start behaving badly (bad sectors and such), complete failure is imminent. It could last another year or die within a month. Fortunately, hard disks aren’t expensive anymore (we can thank the competition from solid state drives for that).
The first thing I thought about was replacing the hard disk. The problem was that I wasn’t sure if there were any data files on it that I didn’t have backups for. I’ve spent the last few hours checking to make sure I have backups.
I want to replace the hard disk and I know I won’t be using Windows at all after that, so I have to be ready. Most data files are small enough that they can be stored somewhere other than my hard disk (even if copies are kept on the hard disk). The basic (free) services from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and others have ample space for most people.