It’s almost impossible not to suffer, at least, one data loss, when you have to deal with computers. Hardware failure, other external factors and, of course, misuse can lead to lose some or all data from a hard drive.
So, what is better? Act before, or after the loss? Both have their pros and cons. Let’s walk through and try to set things in an order.
Data loss factors
A hard disk (HDD) is a magnetic storing device, which is very sensitive to high or low temperatures, as the ideal operating conditions are from 360C/96.80F to 470C/116.60F. It has a read/write head and many platters for storing data.
It is a mechanical device, so it will eventually fail. The everyday hard use does not help at all. When the head touches the platters, also known as “head crash”, is the most popular hard disk failure, which occurs from external impact, or dust that lands on the platter. In this case the head crashes on the platter, because dust is bigger (!) than the gap between them (about 10-20 nm). These will lead to some “bad sectors” and eventually the head will not be able to read or write on the platters.
Next on the list is the power loss upon writing. This could be fatal for the hard disk, but not for the data. In this case the circuits are burned, like a TV will not turn on, ever again.
Another factor, the least common, but the most fatal one, is the demagnetization, which will happen only from external magnetic fields. The data loss is instant, because it’s like when you delete or format your hard disk.
The last and the worst factor is us. We can (and will) delete something by accident at least once! The good thing is that the hard disk is up and running and we can use it until one of the above happens.
There are a lot of free programs that can retrieve data, even if you formatted the HDD. Also, there are a lot of companies that do exactly that; Data recovery.
Data recovery is a time-consuming action that will damage the disk more. On the other hand we will not use it, again, once we retrieve the data, so the price is small. Programs can do that but we won’t retrieve everything. In fact, the recovery rate will be low and depends on the extent of the damage.
When we have an extensive head crash, a burned out HDD or we need everything, we have to let the disk in more experienced hands, with more suitable hardware systems. In that case the recovery rate will be high enough, but so will the cost. In some cases we cannot prevent the disk from reaching a data recovery company.
How about acting before the loss? The well known “backup” is the action, which the user saves his/hers data to another storage device. Of course, more questions are raised; in which device will we store the backups? How often should we backup? What is the correct way?
The answers are not that simple. But based in my experience, backup is the best and only way to have all your data. Let me tell you some tips, because it is not only the HDD that will malfunction. A pc can have many problems and you really need those data.
First of all one backup is not a backup. For safety reason have more than two backups at the same time. And in different storage devices. It is good to have a well thought schedule and many security levels.
Scheduling and security levels
The first security level is the most critical. In this level you have to backup every time you use your pc. You don’t need to backup all of your data, but the most useful, such as documents or progress charts, that you need immediately to work the next day. The security level one may fit in a flash drive, with big capacity (16 or 32Gb), so you can have it with you all the time.
The security level two contains the above plus some other files, which are bigger or you edit them less often. The time between the backups, or “DG” (Data Gap) from now on, could be once per couple weeks. You may backup these in another (better, if external) HDD.
Level three is when you backup big folders of data that cannot be redone, such as pictures, history files (files that show the curse of a task), notes, or files which you want to store, but you will not use them, anymore. In this case consider to make two copies. The DG is two to four months and you can back them up in a CD/DVD-ROM, but beware; ROMs are much more sensitive to physical impact and high temperature, so store them with care. They need dry and cold conditions, but are cheap and you can have many of them.
Level four is when you backup an HDD in total. Every single byte. For that you will need another hard disk with the same capacity and the DG is about six months, or, in the case that the backed up HDD is the Primary Operating System Disk every time that you make a major change, such as a new driver, a new program, etc. Have in mind, though, that if you make an update in anything on your pc, take some time to be sure that everything is OK, before backup.
Some final tips
- It is crucial that you have more than one ‘history’ backup, in every security level. The last and the one (or two) before the last.
- Keep your backup in ideal conditions. Do not have a backup with four months DG in your car.
- Hard disk drives are by far more reliable than the CD/DVD-ROMs
- The less you use a ROM, the better quality you will have.
- Take some time to replace backups in ROMs, which are more than one year old. You can simply copy them to another.
- Backup in a HDD that is not in the PC’s tower. The temperature there is high enough.
- If it’s not possible to backup in an external HDD, disconnect the disk, after the backup, from both power and data transfer cable.
- Make Data Gaps that suit you best.
- Finally, have this in mind; an unused backup has never harmed anyone.
For a couple of days, now, my PC refuses to boot, so I do not have any access on my (three) HDDs or I might have some corrupted data. But I have the security level one, two and three, so I won’t suffer any data loss (I just need a new PC). I have already experienced a data loss from one worn out HDD five years ago I follow the above ever since. Data loss is a bad thing and if you ever have one, I hope that you can fully restore.