One of my friends contacted me recently about a failed hard drive in his 2009 iMac. Soon after an update the computer was failing to complete its normal boot sequence and it got stuck in a reboot-loop.
When I asked him if there was anything on the drive he needed to keep, he said yes. It turns out that he has over 40,000 photos of his kid and his family that is priceless.
Then I asked the question that I always hate to ask.
My question: “Do you have a backup?”
My friend’s answer: “No.”
I hate to ask this question because 99% of the time the answer is “no” and no one feels good after I ask it.
My friend ended up taking the computer to the Apple Store. There the genius was able to see that the computer and the hard drive were communicating but he could not see the partition that was once there that had the family photos. The genius recommended an authorized Apple repair shop in the area that specializes in hard drive recovery.
My friend is going to have to pay several hundred up to maybe multiple thousands of dollars recover the files from this failed hard drive – with no guarantee that the files can even be recovered!
Please don’t let this happen to you.
Backup your system to another hard drive – frequently and definitely before any major system updates. Hard drives are (relative to disk data recovery) very cheap.
A new 1 terabyte (TB) drive costs around $50. Sending a broken drive to a data recovery specialist can cost (depending on the failure mode) between $750 and $3,000 (or more!!!) to recover the data and put it on a new disk.
This is definitely one of those things that is way cheaper to pay now vs. pay later.
Note: The recommended action items below assume that you are using some kind of encryption. Without encryption, any backups you make – to a physical drive or cloud backup service – will be viewable by other people.
Action Items: Today
- Determine what files on your computer you cannot live without (family photos, tax returns, business files, home videos of kids, etc.)
- Buy two hard drives that are bigger than your installed hard drive
- Buy two USB 3.0 hard drive enclosures (there are some really nice ones from Amazon that don’t even need tools)
- Clone your existing hard drive onto each of these new hard drives
- Test your clones to make sure they work
- Keep one clone nearby and take the other clone somewhere safe – outside of your house
- Every month (or more often) re-clone your hard drive and swap the on-hand clone with your remote clone – that way you’ll always have a one-month-old clone if your hard drive fails …if you’re super-savvy you can make incremental backups instead of clones (saves a ton of time)
IMPORTANT: Once you put something online it will be there forever. Consider that before you embark on an unencrypted upload to an online service
- Get an account with an online backup service (check Consumer Reports for the best one)
- Start backing up your computer to this service
Action Items: Future
Before doing an upgrade (i.e. Windows 10 –> Windows 12 or MacOS 10.12 –> 10.13):
- Buy a new hard drive – yes, in addition to everything you already have
- Clone (exact copy) your existing hard drive to the new hard drive
- Test the clone to make sure it works
- Perform the system upgrade on the existing hard drive
- Test it to make sure the upgrade worked
- Take the clone that you made in Step 2 and take it somewhere safe outside your home
- Don’t touch this clone until it is time to upgrade to the next version of your operating system
Now you have a perfect clone that you can use if something breaks. Plus you still have your periodic backups that you were making from the Action Items: Today list above.