A failing hard drive is one of the most common problems that any computer has. Unfortunately, without third-party software your computer will not tell you when your drive is failing. You only find out when the computer starts getting slow and then eventually stops working. By then it’s often too late. I provide a diagnostic tool to my clients that will alert me the moment a hard drive begins to fail. If we catch it early there is a great chance of recovery.

What do I do as soon as I find out?

  1. Check your backup. If you have Time Machine enabled and backups are happening regularly, you don’t have much to worry about. To see your current backup status click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar next to the WiFi and clock, or click the Apple menu > System Preferences > Time Machine.
  2. If you must use your computer until you can have it repaired make sure to leave your backup drive plugged in as much as possible, so that your work is saved.
  3. Make an appointment to replace the hard drive. If you are still under warranty you will want to get your drive replaced by Apple at support.apple.com. If your warranty has expired and if your computer has a mechanical hard drive I recommend using a third party such as myself, because a hard drive failure is the perfect opportunity to consider a larger or faster drive, such as an upgrade to an SSD. Apple will only replace the drive with the same part you already had. If your computer came with an SSD already the only parts I can recommend are authentic Apple parts.
  4. As much as possible, leave your computer off until the drive is replaced. Especially if you hear grinding and scraping noises or if you have no backups. Using the drive can cause the drive to damage itself further, reducing the chances of recovering data.

How do I get my data again?

There are a few ways you can get your data again.

  • If you have a current Time Machine backup it is easy to just plug in your drive and put all of your programs, files, and settings right back where they were.
  • If you have an online backup such as Backblaze or Carbonite I can set your computer up again, configure a new user account, reinstall your software, download your documents and put them back where they used to be, and then you can customize your configuration again. It’s more tedious but it works.
  • If you do not have a backup and the content of the drive is invaluable, you may wish to send your drive off to a lab where they disassemble it in a clean room and replace the failing parts. It’s an extremely intense process with an extremely intense price (usually $800 to $2,000), but there is little that one of these places can’t recover. Unfortunately, what you get back is rarely an intact filesystem that you would recognize. It’ usually just a pile of files sans folders, and you have to put them back where they belong.
  • If you do not have a backup but you are on a budget or the files are not that valuable, I can try a recovery of your data, which may take several days. Be aware that this method could possibly force the drive to damage itself further, making a lab recovery more difficult and more costly.

Why do drives fail?

Drives don’t really fail because of age or because they have been overworked. That has a small affect but not by a significant amount. Mostly it’s just bad luck. All drives have minor imperfections. That’s unavoidable. But usually these imperfections fall within a certain level of tolerance. When an imperfection somehow causes the drive to not be able to switch between a 1 and a 0 anymore, the drive begins to fail.

But my computer is brand new. It won’t fail.

Don’t let a new computer give you a false sense of security. Electronics have something called a “bathtub curve”, which is the inverse of a bell curve. New computers and old computers are the most likely to fail. The advantage when it’s new is that you’ll have a warranty to help you out. And of course there is always the risk of theft or loss. So always back up. Always.

Next steps

If you need me to replace the drive the amount of time we need depends on the circumstances. If you have a lot of data to recover it can take several hours to transfer, so it might be easier to contact me to arrange a time to drop the computer and backup off. Typically I can have the computer back to you within a day or two, depending on my workload.

If you just need me to change out the drive but don’t need help recovering your data, you can simply book a one hour appointment on my website.