How to test old drives

Dell - inspiron 17.3" laptop - 4gb memor...
January 28, 2017 at 08:49:46
Specs: windows 10, 8GB
I have a bunch of old hard drives laying round and I was hoping to put one is a USB caddy for my sister to use as a backup drive. What is the best way to test if the drives still work. I have put two so far into the caddy and both spin up, but in computer management they show as not initialized. When I try to initialize them I get 'drive not ready'. Does the master/slave switch matter in this situation.

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January 28, 2017 at 09:01:34
If they are IDE drives they must be set for master or Master alone. Removing any jumpers usually works.

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January 28, 2017 at 09:19:29
Thanks so much, I got one to work. I am formatting the drive now, and will then try with another drive. I'll get back to you if I have any more questions.

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January 29, 2017 at 03:10:58
Hi BC,
check the formatting results for bad blocks.
If many, do not trust the drive, after all, you have advised they are old.

Memory sticks are cheap now, but for safety always take 2 copies of backup to different devices.

Remember there are two types of drive, those that have failed and those that will fail.

Good Luck - Keep us posted.

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January 29, 2017 at 08:20:42
Mike, IMO those older hard drives are more dependable than the newer ones and more dependable than memory sticks.

If you research how hard drives increased capacity you will come across the term areal density, which refers to how much data can be stored in a given area of the disk platter. As the density has exponentially ramped up the reliability has gone down. This is not surprising because the heads must be more precise and any jarring can move them.

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January 29, 2017 at 09:29:12
Good points by OtheHill. The platter size hasn't changed in many years. The same 3.5" size platter that used to have just 1GB capacity is now used for 1TB capacity. As he stated, the change has been in the density & precision of the heads. To increase capacity, additional platters & heads were added, which adds to the complexity. More parts means more things to potentially fail. I've never found the need for huge capacity drives & have tried to stick with single platter designs. However, my current 1TB is dual platter.

message edited by riider

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January 30, 2017 at 02:03:05

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January 30, 2017 at 05:26:15
Hi OtheHill and Riider, I accept your comments.

However, the main reason for my observation is that often users keep old drives that should really be binned. The number of bad blocks is a good pointer for this action.

Although an HDD can be reformatted removing any bad blocks that are usable, but one needs remember the blocks were marked as failing for whatever reason.
Trusting such an HDD as a backup, could be unwise.

I should have included previously that backups should be tested by reading and/or restoring a few files. Have come across horror stories where this was not done and then when a restore was needed it did not work. Also same with cctv files,

Regards - Mike

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January 30, 2017 at 06:55:16
Mike, I took exception to your flash drive suggestion. I believe flash drives have their place in the computer world. I just don't think it should be as a backup vessel.

Just as laptop have displaced desktops in many cases the user assumes the product will do the job or it wouldn't be on the market. Flash drives serve good purpose. Portability of files that may be needed away from your computer. If you take that premise then why would you possibly need a 512GB flash drive?

I mentioned laptops above. Salespeople are the main reason for the shift from desktop to laptop computers. It is much easier to sell an all in one unit instead of a tower and a monitor. The salesperson will convince the buyer that they are the same. We here know that is not the case. I would venture to guess that almost all laptops never leave home and many never move at all.

The same thing applies to 2.5" external hard drives. They are more prone to problems yet they are more popular.

To sum it up, the market drives the industry, not research.

I still have the FIRST hard drive I ever bought and it still works. Problem is, there isn't much use for a 120MB drive. I might add that I paid about $250 dollars for it 20 some years ago.

My practice is to make lots of backups. I have had a few drive failures over the years. IBM comes to mind. Two within a month of one another.

The article linked above by sluc has a lot of good information in it.

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January 30, 2017 at 11:23:13
Thanks for all the comments guys. I will format the drives and do tests for any bad blocks and keep multiple backups. As I am in IT, I know all too well the comments that was made about testing restores well before you actually need to do one.

In addition the laptop discussion was an interesting one. My 17 inch laptop is like an American Express card. I never leave home without it. Thanks everyone.

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January 30, 2017 at 15:16:00
If you carry your laptop around then you are using it as intended. Many use them like desktops and expect similar performance.

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