Smile - Your Hard Drive Just Crashed

Education & Training with Tech Training for You!

It just happened again last Friday: the type of support call I hate to get. First came a desperate message from a friend saying that his computer wouldn't boot. He reported the screen had some kind of a message like a "hard drive error."

Has that ever happened to you? Your computer won't boot because of some hardware crash?

It's a dreadful moment.
Your digital life passes before your eyes in a second.

You mind races as ponder all the project files you've been working on lately. Oh no! your important client information, where is that now? Your tax filing information that you had all neatly organized and saved, is it gone?? And then the big bomb hits, your precious photos and videos, precious memories, they can't be gone!!! ARE THEY GONE???

Then you take a deep breath. "Oh wow,"  you say, "I'm so glad I paid attention when I was encouraged do have proper backups of my data!"

And that's when the smile comes. You know that getting your computer repaired or replaced is going to be a bit of a pain, but you are not going to lose your precious files!

Don't Be That Person 

You've been admonished before to have backups of your data. I know you've heard that and probably many times. But what have you done to follow the counsel?  Don't be that person that says, "that's good, I need to do that... then you never get around to it."

If you are on a Mac, there's a fairly good chance you have an external drive plugged in and Time Machine is running. That's terrific! But I have two thoughts on that, have you checked it lately to make sure that it is successfully backing up? Secondly, how old is your time machine drive? If you've been running it for years and years, you may want to invest in a newer external drive. The older the drive the higher the likelihood of failure.

If you are on a PC, you can also use an external drive for backup using the built in system tool called File History. If you want to learn about either of these backup methods, use the links above to watch short explainer videos.

Traditional hard drives (HDDs) are pretty amazing mechanical devices. If you could look inside the sealed case, you'd be reminded of a record player. There's a disc (or several discs) spinning and at the end of a long arm there's a special tip to read (and write data) from the platters. However, unlike your 45 rpm single that you used to play, these discs are spinning at (crazy) high speeds, typically 5400 rpm or even 7200 rpm! I find it so incredible that these devices last as long as they do before failing with that kind of intense and constant activity going on in there!

Meanwhile, SSD (solid state drive) technology has become increasingly more popular in recent years. There are no more spinning platters inside this type of storage drive. There is some equally impressive engineering going on here. Data on these drives is stored electronically on flash memory, leveraging the technology of special transistors. One primary benefit of these drives is that they are significantly faster the traditional HDD drives. Their prices have come down over the years and most new computers have these types of drives now. Arguably, SSD drives can fail less often than HDD drives, but the point to underline is that they still CAN and do occasionally fail. Will you be the one looking at the dreaded boot error message on the screen without your data backed up?

The Cloud Can Be Your Guardian

The solution that I recommend to everybody is to use cloud storage for your data files. When you install a cloud app onto your computer such as OneDrive or Dropbox, you'll have a special base folder that you can then start putting all all your important files into. You will want to create various category subfolders under that base folder as needed to keep everything organized. Everything you put into that base folder and all of its subfolders will be instantly backed up to the cloud for you. Further, any edits you make to files in the future will be instantly backed up. Should your hard drive ever crash, you just have to get the cloud app installed on your repaired (or new) computer, and you are right where you left off!

There are various cloud storage providers, but the one I recommend is Microsoft OneDrive. You can start with 5 GB for free just to give it a try. That's a pretty decent amount of storage to get you started and to see how it works. Noteworthy point: If you are already subscribed to Microsoft for the office apps (e.g. Word/Excel/Powerpoint), then you also have OneDrive already in your bundle! The Microsoft subscription bundle gives you 1 TB of cloud storage.

Microsoft subscription plans are these:

  • a 1-person subscription is $69.99/yr
  • a family subscription (up to 6 people, each person gets all the apps and 1 TB each) is $99.99/yr
  • If you don't need all the apps, you can step up from the free 5 GB to 100 GB for only $19.99/yr

Cloud Storage is More than Just for Backups

Backing up your data by using cloud connected folders is not the only advantage you'll benefit from. Another helpful aspect is that you can have the same files available on multiple devices. The files you are working on can be available to you on your phone and tablet as well. I have a desktop computer at the office and a laptop at the home office. My files are available to me wherever I am at.

Cloud files are also easily shared with others. You can share files and whole folders of files with others. (with the option to also edit those files if you want to give them that privilege if you are collaborating on a project together). 

Hopefully the above benefits have you intrigued. When you are ready to learn more, this video by Kevin Stratvert gives a good demonstration of how to setup and use OneDrive.

Photo (and Video) Backups

When it comes to backing up a photo library on the cloud, Google Photos remains my go to choice in this category. When you install the app on your phone and turn on the backup option for the camera roll, your photos will be uploaded automatically for you. Using Google Photos means that you have easy access to your photos on whatever device you are on (phone, tablet, computer). The editing tools in the app are fantastic. Curating your best shots into albums and sharing with friends and family couldn't be easier. I highly recommend it. You can see my blog post on Google Photos to take a deeper dive. (*note: Google Photos has a free starting tier of 15 GB with your google account. Beyond that, you can ramp up in progressive steps of $19.99/yr to $29.99/yr as your library grows. As important as photos and video memories are, to me this is a small price.)

Two Factor Authentication

The more we come to trust the cloud with our valuable data, the more important security becomes. If some hacker learns your username and password, this is obviously bad news. For any important accounts, and cloud drive files are certainly important, you want additional security. The best thing to do to better secure your data is to add two-factor authentication mode on your account. This means that once you have entered your username and password, your phone will get a code (or pop up message) asking you to verify that it is you attempting the sign in. The hacker (who does not have your phone) would then be blocked from entry (because they don't have means to get the 2nd factor). Here's a short video on that topic to explain a little more.

The Predicament You Don't Want

If you choose to procrastinate having data backup and it turns out you have a hard drive crash, you are put in a very uncomfortable situation. Not too long ago, I had a workmate in this dilemma and came to me to help seek out a recovery service. I called around a bit to various recovery companies, but was not happy with much that I was finding. A fellow IT in my network suggested a well known company out in California and we shipped the drive out there for an analysis and quote. We were shocked at the price tag on the recovery. I knew it wasn't going to be cheap, but this was shockingly expensive.

technician working on a hard drive recoveryIn the meanwhile as we were waiting for that quote to come back, I had been doing some YouTube surfing because my technical mind wanted to know what was involved in a hard drive recovery and specifically a drive head replacement. I came across this terrific video that explained the whole recovery process.  The video instantly elevated the trust factor that I needed with this company. When I called them on the phone, I talked to the owner of the company and we had a down to earth conversation about the drive fail and what the probabilities were of different crash scenarios. He gave me a quote over the phone of the worst case scenario head fail, and though expensive, it was much closer to the amount I expected to hear. I was also quickly gaining confidence that this was a company valuing integrity and if it proved to be a lesser tech issue causing the fail, they would charge only for the services rendered and not price gouge the consumer in a vulnerable situation. The company I discovered is called ACS Data Recovery.

Well the story ends happily. The drive came back to NY from the first company in California and we immediately shipped it out to ACS Recovery in Texas (this drive was earning some serious frequent flier miles!) ACS did their recovery wizardry on the drive and after replacing the heads, they were able to recover the majority of the lost files. A small percentage of the files could not be recovered because the failure was from the read head crashing into the platter causing a portion of it to become unreadable. My colleague was extremely happy to have the vast majority of her photos and videos back again. These were precious memories of her daughter from infancy through toddlerhood that should could not bear to have gone forever.

If you follow through on any of my above suggestions about having backups, you will never need a drive recovery service. And I hope that is your case!! However, you may want to bookmark this post to be able to help out your friends and family with a good referral in case they ever end up with this scenario on their hands. 

A Second Chance

So my friend, the one that I mentioned at the outset, what happened in his case? I'm happy to report we had a successful outcome. The hard drive fail message turned out to be a system hiccup and we got the computer back online for him. But he had the momentary panic that I want none of you to have! We immediately got his important files setup on the OneDrive cloud service. Should his hard drive again give him any trouble, we have our insurance policy in place.

Now it's your turn!


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Craig Daniels
This blog is all about technology and helping you to use it smarter! Your digital footprint is your chance to attract new clients. What kind of impression are you making via your website, blog, and social media? We’ll be talking about that! Are you as productive as you can be? What apps might help you out? Do you know how to use all the best tools inside the apps? I enjoy photography and videography, you can expect to see those topics also on this blog.
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Welcome to Craig’s Classroom!

PS - get ready for some homework… :) 

Comments (19)

Trish Cole
Veterans United Home Loans of Puget Sound NMLS#1907 - Puyallup, WA

Thank you for all the great information.  I did not look at Dropbox as a cloud system.  I have used it for shared files, among different people, only.  I will look into it more.  Have a great day!

Nov 14, 2022 09:51 AM
Craig Daniels

Trish Cole - I like dropbox, I have the free account. If you need more storage and need the subscription paid plan, definitely look into OneDrive since for the same subscription amount you not only get storage but the suite of Microsoft apps as well.

Nov 15, 2022 05:11 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Hello Craig... fortunately, this has not happened to me. Then again, all my files and system are backed up continuously.

Nov 14, 2022 10:06 AM
Craig Daniels

Nina Hollander, Broker that's great to hear. Always check the systems that you think are backing up your files to make sure there are no errors. I have worked with cases where they thought the backup was working but the backup drive was full or the software offline, etc. Just check it often. :)

Nov 15, 2022 05:13 AM
George Souto
George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages - Middletown, CT
Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert

Craig excellent information as always.  When a hard drive dies and files have not been backed up, it is time to find a very tall building to jump off of.

Nov 14, 2022 10:19 AM
Craig Daniels

George Souto - it's a dreadful feeling for sure. I wish that upon no one ;)

Nov 15, 2022 05:14 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Hi Craig - in addition to Acronis backup to the cloud every night I save to one drive and have Google Photos.  It is worth the price.

Nov 14, 2022 11:38 AM
Craig Daniels

Grant Schneider I'm very glad to hear you have backups and even some extra redundancies!

Nov 15, 2022 05:14 AM
Diana Zaccaro Broker Associate
Tropical Beachside brokered by eXp - Cocoa Beach, FL
"The Accidental Blogger" Cocoa Beach, Florida

Craig, thanks for a very timely post. I was on the phone with a tech earlier and while he was remoted in, the laptop gave the "shutting down" message and disconnected him. He thinks it overheated (7-8 years old) and suggested I buy a new computer now as that is not a good sign.

I use DropBox but not OneDrive, have Carbonite and iDrive for backup redundancy but wondering if I would be better off buying additional storage for DB and using OneDrive as a backup to it? Thanks for a very informative post, bookmarked and subscribed!


Nov 14, 2022 07:05 PM
Craig Daniels

Diana Zaccaro Broker Associate - I'm glad that you are backup aware! Seems like you have a lot of backup services in your mix. 7 or 8 years is a pretty good run for a computer and I'd agree it is time to start looking for the next generation computer to take care of you. As you are doing, consider your strategies. You don't want too many services all at once installed on a single computer as that will load the computer down unnecessarily. Having a redundancy can be accomplished and you can feel secure. If you are using the microsoft apps, you may already be paying Microsoft for that and if you are, you should consider onedrive since you are getting it already. But my suggestion would be OneDrive OR dropbox not both. Carbonite or iDrive or Backblaze but pick one so you don't put too much on your computer (nor your pocketbook). hope that helps :)

Nov 15, 2022 05:22 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Craig- I have had many failures so I do have redundant systems in place. I too love Google photos and also use Carbonite. I also have an external harddrive for data backup of certain files. 

Nov 14, 2022 07:49 PM
Craig Daniels

Kathy Streib that's great to hear. I know you are a fellow google fan :) External hard drives are also a reasonable backup solution, but be cautious with those! Because they are portable they get bumped easily (or worse, dropped!) They don't recover well from those and if the files you have on it are the ONLY copy, then you have a problem. (seen that happen with others very often, thus I like to share the caution)

Nov 15, 2022 05:25 AM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Good morning and thank you for the reminder. It took me about 15 minutes between reading this and responding because I went over to update my USB with my most recent files! The amount of data you can put on a little drive is amazing!

Nov 15, 2022 05:09 AM
Craig Daniels

Kat Palmiotti I'm glad you have refreshed your USB backup copy! (just don't keep the usb in your pocket lest it end up in the washing machine). Have you tried OneDrive. Even the free version 5GB is very useful and backs up everything instantly so you don't have to remember the USB step (still good as second copy, but not as urgent)

Nov 15, 2022 05:38 AM
Brian England
Ambrose Realty Management LLC - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

I have never been a big fan of the cloud but I learned my lesson the hard way as well.  Nowadays I keep everything on a portable hard drive, even the files and/or links I need to get a new computer back to what I am used to, haha.  Switching laptops was a breeze the last time I did it, but now I am wanting to give away my old laptop but can't get back in to even format the hard drive before doing so, haha.  I haven't checked in a while but I think the issue was that it wasn't recognizing my password.  I googled for help but nothing seemed to work.  I might need to hire you!

Nov 15, 2022 06:21 AM
Craig Daniels

Brian England That's great to hear that switching laptops went so smoothly! If your older one is a windows laptop, windows in recent years has been asking for security questions in case of forgetting password. Look for "reset password" link on login screen and if you answer your own security question you should be able to get back in. 

Nov 15, 2022 07:25 AM
Brian England

Craig Daniels I cracked it open today to try and figure it out again and was able to successfully get in with my password.  I tried to format and get rid of everything so that I can pass it on to someone else, but I got this error message and it wouldn't do it.

Nov 15, 2022 04:12 PM
Brian England

You are absolutely the BEST Craig Daniels, thank you!!!

Nov 16, 2022 05:31 AM
Craig Daniels

Brian England - I'm glad you got past the password issue. I'll email you something to try for the windows reset

Nov 16, 2022 05:03 AM
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

All these devices in the cloud used a RAID system that has a redundent arrary of disk drives backing up from level 1 through 7. Raid 1 is basically a mirror taht we use as back up. The mechanical recording heads actually flying over magnetic media way less than fraction of an air molecule size without touching the rotation media flown 35-40 miles an hour over. Write operation is often delayed to allow the vibration from keyboard stroke or external jolting to come to a stop.   My experience is the electronics failure is as contributing to hard drive failure although head crash does occassionary occur.

Nov 15, 2022 09:03 AM
Craig Daniels

Sam Shueh - RAID is a great technology. We use that in our servers. If one of the disks in the array goes bad, you can replace it with minimal down time and no data is lost! Leveraging available technology helps prevent disastrous situations! :)

Nov 15, 2022 09:56 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude


Excellent advice and guidance as always. Bookmarked for the future and perhaps helping others.


Nov 15, 2022 09:24 AM
Craig Daniels

Thanks Jeff Dowler, CRS - I think the majority are backup protected in some form or another, but hopefully we'll nudge the remaining fence sitters to pick the right side of this issue. ;)

Nov 15, 2022 09:57 AM
Anna "Banana" Kruchten
HomeSmart Real Estate - Phoenix, AZ

Hi Craig great pointers and reminders!  I don't recall ever going totally down.  Thankfully all was backed up as well as mostly cloud applications such as Dropbox.  I am about ready to get a new computer and luckily I'm not the one who handles all that. If I did it probably wouldn't be so pretty!!  Just saying......not my expertise!

Nov 15, 2022 09:27 AM
Craig Daniels

Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker - great teamwork there in your household to have you covered on the tech issues :) enjoy your new computer!

Nov 15, 2022 09:58 AM
Aura Alex
Seattle, WA
Retired Real Estate Pro

Thank you, Craig, as always, for the lesson. I have had Carbonite and am thinking about stopping using them and just having all my files in OneDrive.

Now I have some homework to do!

Nov 15, 2022 09:37 AM
Aura Alex

Hi, Diana Zaccaro Broker Associate, my Carbonite subscription is good till next April 2023, so I plan not to renew if I will try OneDrive per Craig Daniels'. 

My complaints about Carbonite are that it is getting more expensive, and I often get the message from them that "I was supposed to leave my computer on all night so the update can be done," and when I do, I don't believe ALL files were backed up. Also, when I changed my computer a few years ago, transferring backed-up files to the new computer was a hassle. 

By next April 2023, I will probably need a new computer, so I will use OneDrive and not renew Carbonite. That is my 2-cent!

The best part is that the money I will save from renewing Carbonite could get me a nice steak meal instead of having to settle for a Big Mac, LOL!!

Nov 15, 2022 01:20 PM
Craig Daniels

Aura Alex - Carbonite seems a good choice but good you are exploring options. Especially if you are already paying Microsoft for the suite, you might save a little each month by consolidating.

Nov 15, 2022 09:59 AM
Diana Zaccaro Broker Associate

Aura Alex 

I'm with you on Carbonite. I have had it for years and am looking at the popup for renewal right now, debating what to do. It has gotten more expensive over the years as you know and I sometimes get messages that not all my files could be backed up which concerns me. I started iDrive at an intro price and like it even less so will not renew this year. So I am also considering my other options since I already have DropBox and have the MS apps so may have One Drive but never use it. I also need to think on this.



Nov 15, 2022 01:06 PM
Liz and Bill Spear
Transaction Alliance 513.520.5305 - Mason, OH
Transaction Alliance Cincinnati & Dayton suburbs

Craig, we had a similar issue some years back with Liz's phone.  A hard crash that couldn't be recovered without expert help.  Local businesses wouldn't tough it, or wanted 4 digit paychecks to even attempt the work.  Fortunately we found a company similar to your find with a more reasonable price.  We got a thumb drive back with all the key information, and one more line item for our accountants to expense on our taxes.

Nov 15, 2022 01:22 PM
Craig Daniels

Liz and Bill Spear was it a phone crash or computer? In any case, glad you found the company that could help out of the pickle! Hard lessons learned when you get these invoices! Shockingly expensive stuff

Nov 15, 2022 03:35 PM
Liz and Bill Spear

phone crash.  Samsung S4, so that dates it a bit!

Nov 15, 2022 03:52 PM
Ed Silva, 203-206-0754
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

I have had that dreaded blue screen and a crashed drive. I was fortunate t find someone that could go into the system and retrieve all my files.  Since then I keep all important files backed up on a USB drive

Nov 15, 2022 05:34 PM
Craig Daniels

Ed Silva - Sometimes after your computer won't boot anymore the data on the drive can still be recovered, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Glad you got your files back and have a better plan for having stuff backed up now!

Nov 16, 2022 08:51 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

OMG Craig excellent information as always. I have some homework to do! I have had Carbonite and am thinking about stopping using them and just having all my files in OneDrive.

Nov 16, 2022 07:33 AM
Craig Daniels

Dorie Dillard Austin TX - I'm glad you have Carbonite for now (by the comments I see that is a popular service). The research you do to make adjustments is time well spent. Let me know if you have questions.

Nov 16, 2022 08:52 AM
Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

Happened once, but I was fortunate that I got a local guy to "clone" my hard drive and save everything.  I now backup everything weekly to an external drive.  I'm a conspiracy theorist who doesn't much trust "out there" 

Nov 16, 2022 01:30 PM
Craig Daniels

Tammy Lankford, - Keeping all backups local (non-cloud) is what some people are more comfortable with. You can look in to File History link above (windows) if you want it to happen every day automatically (no manual backup to remember)

Nov 16, 2022 02:21 PM
Tom Bailey
Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. - Oak Island, NC

Thanks for a great post! I need to improve my back up systems for sure. I think I have going merrily along because a lot of stuff is in the cloud! Does the Apple storage I pay for every month cover my phone and everything on it

Nov 16, 2022 06:46 PM
Craig Daniels

Tom Bailey - apple has tiers of backup. When you get to their 9.99/mo level you get 2 TB of backup space. This will cover everything on your phone and then some! You need to make sure in your iphone settings that icloud is turned on (including your photos)

Nov 17, 2022 08:05 AM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

This is why I love AR Craig Daniels you gave us so much useful information to digest. Thank you so much 😊 missed this post so glad it was Featured 

Nov 17, 2022 03:12 PM
Craig Daniels

Thanks Hannah Williams - I'm glad you got to see this post.

Nov 19, 2022 10:26 AM
Charles Ross - eXp Realty LLC
eXp Realty LLC Salina Group - Salina, KS
Love To Help People

Thank you for the Information.  Have a wonderful day and a blessed weekend.

Apr 01, 2023 07:14 AM