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Neil Barrett

Timmy Tiptoes

Making sense of computer storage ...

Posted on: 29/10/2012   By: Neil Barrett

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes is really a tale about storing things and the difficulty in retrieving them. In computers the hard drive is probably the most important part as that is where all your data is stored. Lots of things went wrong for Timmy and if you are not careful things can go wrong with your hard drive too ...

choose your storage wisely

choose your storage wisely

Timmy Tiptoes found himself the perfect place to store his nuts - in a tree trunk through a woodpecker's hole. For computers, there are currently two types of hard drives available on the market; Hard disk drives (or HDDs) - these drives have spinning platters to store your information and use magnetism to save your data, and Solid-state drives (or SSDs) - these drives have no moving parts and are therefore (in theory) more reliable.

Generally solid-state drives have much smaller capacities than hard disk drives and are much more expensive in comparison. The traditional spinning hard disk drives are much cheaper and offer more space (currently up to 4 Terabytes or 4096 Gigabytes).

Timmy Tiptoes had several problems with his chosen storage. He and his wife were not sure of being able to get the nuts out and once he had been stuffed in by some of the other squirrels he wasn't able to get out again. He was stuck inside his tree for a fortnight until a storm hit and broke the tree in half.

Hard drives are made so well these days you almost never realise how critical they are until they break. This can happen for various reasons but it's either a gradual or an immediate failure. If you're lucky your hard drive will fail gradually, usually you will see the signs coming and that will give you a chance to replace the drive and save all your data before it stops completely. The gradual drive failure is caused by the wearing down of the moving parts or the degradation of the material that holds your data.

The signs of a gradual failure are a slowdown in computer performance, the dreaded clicking sound emanates from within the computer and corrupted files. You may not experience all of the symptoms at once and indeed corrupted files and a slowdown in performance can be caused by other things as well. But keep in mind that a red flag should go up when these things happen as they are typically the tell tale signs that you should change to a new drive as soon as possible.

If you are unlucky, you will experience immediate drive failure and this is where your backups are so important. Having a hard drive failure is a nuisance but it might be catastrophic if you don't take regular backups.

So how can you extend the life of your hard drive? Hard disk drives have a lifespan of about five years but this varies depending on the drives working conditions. For example a hard drive in a laptop being jostled around and moved a lot probably won't last as long as the same drive in a desktop computer that may be moved only now and then. This movement is not usually enough to hurt a hard drive but just like anything else, abuse and repetition are definitely not going to help extend your drives lifespan. The next and probably the biggest factor in hard drives life expectancy is heat. Heat can cause many problems, it causes the parts to expand or become loose and it can greatly increase the wear on those parts.

So here are five tips to give your hard drive a long and healthy life:

  1. Try not to jostle or drop your computer

  2. Try and keep the computer cool

  3. With external hard drives, if they're not in use just turn off!

  4. Listen for unusual sounds coming from inside the computer

  5. Seek advice if you hear anything out of the ordinary

  6. Make sure you take regular backups so that if the worst does happen it won't be a disaster

For more advice on looking after your computer contact me on +44 (0) 1327 300311 and next month we will talk more about recovering after a hard disk failure.

Until next time ...


More about Neil Barrett ...


I have always worked in the IT industry both for in-house IT departments and outsourcing companies. My first position was for a large managed services provider in Coventry, based full-time on a customer site in Northamptonshire. It was during this assignment I was exposed for the first time to the UNIX & Linux operating systems which I still enjoy looking after today. By the time I left there I was running the Department and went on to head up the IT department of the distribution arm of a manufacturing company on the Warwickshire / Northamptonshire border.

Although the position was well paid and had great benefits, it wasnt particularly challenging and that's when I set up my own business. Keba was born. It was about nine months later in the summer of 2002 that that I decided to do it full-time and never looked back.


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