Since Brian’s post about maximizing battery life was interesting to some of you, I thought I would follow with some useful tips to help you get the most out of your laptop’s hard drive.

Hard drive failure is unfortunately one of the most common hardware problems a computer owner can face. A quick look at the inside of a SATA hard drive reveals why this is the case:

Hard drive illustration

On the inside a hard drive resembles an old turntable record player, with multiple platters stacked between several actuator arms. As you may expect, the engineering of these devices has to be pretty precise. It only takes a small disturbance to knock the mechanism out of whack, and render the hard drive inoperable.

Since most laptops are used on the go, it’s no surprise that notebook hard drives fail more often than their desktop counterparts. Dropping your laptop or jostling it firmly while the hard drive is spinning can easily cause serious damage, destroying the drive and rendering your data unrecoverable. Luckily, this type of damage can be avoided.

Here are a few tips to preventing damaging your notebook hard drive.

  • Try to avoid using sleep mode unless the notebook is going to remain stationary. Sleep mode puts the system into a low power state, but can leave your hard drive active. If you were to begin moving it around while your laptop is in sleep mode, it could damage your hard drive, causing hard drive corruption and destroying your data.
  • Use Hibernate as the default method for what happens when you close the notebook lid. Hibernate copies everything you’re working on to a hard drive partition and then turns the machine off. Your hard drive will stop spinning and you can then move the machine around all you want.
  • If you want to be as safe as possible, shut the system down! Saving your data and properly shutting down the notebook is the best way to make sure you get the most out of your hard drive. It should only take about 30 seconds, and will help avoid all kinds of future headaches.
  • Whatever method you choose, make sure to give your computer enough time to fully power off before moving it. Moving notebooks vigorously around while the hard drive platters are spinning is the easiest way to damage it.

Even using the precautions above, hard drive failure can still occur. Be sure that you back up any files you can’t replace, like photos, music, or important documents on an external drive or on DVD/CDs to avoid a costly data recovery bill in the event your hard drive does fail. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”