lessons learned from hard drive failure
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
August 25-31, 2009; Issue 1035
High Tech Office column
This past weekend my hard
drive died. Well it didn’t quite die, but I realized it had been on its
last legs for some time, as the system (a not-quite three-year-old
Apple iMac) got slower and slower. It still booted (slowly), ran
applications, loaded and saved files. But everything involved far too
Like lots of other computer-related issues, this
problem could have been software-related. Apple provides a Disk
Utility, which can do something called repairing permissions – a
frequent cause of Mac problems. It claimed to fix a bunch of
permissions, but the problems persisted, as did the permission errors.
It can also check and repair the hard drive – it swore it was OK, but I
Next step: having (hopefully usable) backups, I
erased the hard drive; reinstalling the operating system should take
about an hour. At one point, the installer reported “53 hours
remaining.” I let it run overnight. In the morning, it still wasn’t
done. There was no way this sort of slowness could be due to software
issues since all the software had been cleaned off the drive. That left
hardware – a failing hard drive most likely.
In many systems,
replacing a hard drive is a quick-and-easy do-it-yourself project.
Apple has made some systems where the guts are easily accessed. This
one, however, isn’t one of them. Instead, I took it to Vancouver Apple
dealer Simply Computing to let it do the work.
replacement drive (twice as large as what came with the system): $90.
Labour required: one hour. Optional operating system installation:
one-half-hour labour. (Yes, I could do that myself, but sometimes
paying others is worthwhile.)
I dropped it off around noon; it was ready by late afternoon. Total
cost, about $200. Well done, Simply Computing!
it started up, the first thing it asked was whether I wanted to
transfer data from another computer or backup. It located my backup
drive and found the backup, letting me select the stored user accounts,
applications and settings. Half an hour later, it was ready to go.
• Despite what some claim, Macs have hardware problems just like PCs.
• Check for software and file system problems first. But be prepared to
have hardware problems. Hard disks fail.
• Have backups, and test them to make sure they’ll work when you need
Apple’s models offer attractive design. Too often, though, that comes
at the expense of easy repair and upgrade. However, Apple’s Time
Machine backup software was easy to use, and building the option to
restore into the operating system installation was light years ahead of
anything I’ve seen from “the competition.” (It’s also usable if you’re
replacing one Mac with a newer model.)
• It’s easy to grumble
about technicians. In this case, all the service people I dealt with
were helpful, and the service was effective, quick and efficient and
• If my system had been on an extended
warranty (it wasn’t), the repair would have been covered. On the other
hand, the cost of the warranty was about the same as the cost of the
repair, and I ended up with a larger hard drive than the warranty would
have provided. Is an extended warranty worthwhile? My recommendation:
always buy one for notebooks – at least if you get a relatively
expensive model. I didn’t bother with an extended warranty for my $350
netbook. But desktops tend to be more reliable. I don’t recommend
extended warranties for them.
• Despite what I just said, hard
drives fail – even on desktops. Prepare for computer disaster by having
backups. I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating. •