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Failed Hard Drive

All of your data resides on a hard drive.

All hard drives fail.

Typically, I tell people that the average hard drive of today lasts between 3 and 5 years. A large range, no doubt.

How soon that drive fails depends on a lot of factors including:

  • the amount of time that the drive is spinning / in use: always on = always working
  • how hard you are using your system: massive data in / out = working harder
  • the environment in which the drive is operating: hot & humid = bad
  • stationary desktop vs. mobile laptop: laptops have a higher probability of experiencing a drop or an impact
Why Buy a Good Drive?

When buying a new drive, do not go cheap. Hard drives hold all of your personal and business data and are not to be stinted on.

Buying a good drive ensures:

  • a reliable computing experience
  • significantly lowered chance of data corruption
  • a longer life span of your computer
  • improved return on investment through operational stability and longevity

See our buying guide for more information.

A good Western Digital Caviar Black or Enterprise drive comes with a 5 year warranty and you should expect to see that sort of life span.

The Bad News

However, that’s [probably] not what your computer came with from the factory.

In all likelihood, your computer came with a drive that is manufactured to last exactly the span of the warranty on the computer.

That Toshiba laptop that you were thrilled to get at a discount price of $300 just pooped out on you exactly 1 year and a day after purchase.

You are out of warranty and out of luck.

I dearly hope you’ve followed our advice and backed up your data.

“Hey wait!”, you say. “That’s not true. I have a drive that is 10 years old and going steady.”

Yup, you’re right. That’s because it was manufactured 10 years ago when companies weren’t cutting corners to squeeze every last dime out of the profit margin and hadn’t perfected the art of planned obsolescence.

By and large, the two biggest culprits we see in our repair shop are HP and Toshiba laptops.

Your Toshiba of today typically lasts 2 years.

Your HP, well, if you get to 1.5 years, you’re doing great.

“Hey, no biggie. I’ll just go get a new system. Why would I repair my system when I could just buy a new one for not much more.”

Not a bad argument. Except, you are likely to make the same mistake again, and hunt for the cheapest system you can find. Which will only land you back in the same spot a year from now. Not to comment on the incredibly wasteful environmental implications, there are new ramifications to this practice as it pertains to the new Office 2013, which lives and dies with the system it is installed on.

You may encounter hidden costs that you hadn’t planned on.

How to Tell When Your Hard Drive is Going to Fail

There ARE some warning signs, and if you are astute to the health of your computer you MAY be able to catch a failure before it happens.

I cannot emphasis enough, backup your data. When the day comes that your computer won’t turn on, you can move forward onto Plan B without the added stress of worrying about data recovery costs and / or potentially losing all your data.

Talk to us about how to preemptively replace your hard drive with a new, long life drive, without losing any of your data, your programs, or your settings.

Should you have a failed hard drive and you do not have any backups in place, talk to us about data recovery options.

Here are some helpful articles that essentially say what I was going to write.

Most of the components in your computer are electronic devices. They don’t fail with time like a mechanical device such as a car. But your hard drive is one of the few mechanical devices used in modern computing, and as such, it’s destined to die eventually.

It’s important to learn to recognize the warning signs of an imminent hard drive failure, since you might not have the budget for an extensive back-up system, so you can rescue all that data before it’s lost—sometimes forever, not retrievable at any cost.

— LifeHack

Full article:

In the best of cases, hard drives fail gradually, giving you the chance to react, get a copy of your data, and replace the storage device before facing a fatal failure. There are a host of signs that hint to a gradual failure of your hard drive. If you are unsure how much life is left on your hard drive, read this article to find out what signs may reveal an approaching failure.

— Tina Sieber

Full article:

And of course,

A hard disk drive failure occurs when a hard disk drive malfunctions and the stored information cannot be accessed with a properly configured computer. A disk failure may occur in the course of normal operation, or due to an external factor such as exposure to fire or water or high magnetic waves, or suffering a sharp impact or environmental contamination, which can lead to a head crash.

— Wikipedia

Full article:

Office 2013 & Office 365 – Think Again Before Upgrading

Office 2013 & Office 365 – Think Again Before Upgrading

For those that love to embrace change and jump at the opportunity to install the latest and greatest version of your favorite program, you may want to think again when it comes to Office 2013.

Changes to the user interface aside (which includes on-demand features that do not install until you go to use them), the new licensing rules, the new method of downloading and installing the program (which requires a Microsoft account + way more personal information than we feel comfortable providing), and the manner in which your install lives and dies with the computer it is first activated on, are all reasons enough to approach this latest offering from Microsoft with some measure of caution.

Our own experiences with the new install procedure have been fairly appalling.

1 out of 3 installs that we have performed have been held up because the Microsoft servers have been down for maintenance. We’ve had to schedule return visits just to install Office.

So the customer takes a double penalty by 1) losing productivity by not having an operational Office product and 2) having to pay for twice the amount of technical support. Nice.

And, if you are successful in getting Office 2013 installed, you will have to perpetually deal with this lovely fellow:

Office 2013 Streaming

Are we having fun yet?

This little box appears when you go to do ANYTHING.  Go to insert a graph, wait.  Go to format a table, wait.  Go to change your page layout, wait.

In the meantime, with all of this waiting, I will have been distracted by another intrusion on my digital life and will have completely forgotten what I was going to be inserting, formatting, or changing.

From an office IT perspective, this means that each computer has its own, unique install of Office 2013, which makes troubleshooting Office problems a frickin’ nightmare.

Eventually, of course, your computer will have loaded everything and the program will run smoothly.  But I have NEVER gotten there.  Almost all of the businesses I work with have ditched 2013 and moved back to 2010. Yes, they’ve lost their investment in the software, but they don’t have time to wait for incremental downloads. They have work that needs to be done.

We are giving a strong recommendation that our business customers stay put with Office 2010.

For those that would like a MUCH simpler and MUCH more cost effective solution, why not try OpenOffice?

Apache Open Office


This is a free Office Suite from Apache and works almost exactly like Microsoft Office 2003.

You might be surprised at just how many professional operations have made the switch to OpenOffice.  The only drawback that I really encounter is the lack of an Outlook alternative.  But that can be purchased separately.

Here are some samples of just what’s going on:

Microsoft’s new license terms for retail editions of Office 2013 have received intense scrutiny this week. But those changes are just part of a much larger story. Look closely at Office 2013 and you see Microsoft’s radical new business model in action.

— ZDNet

Full article:

More Office 2013 bait-and-switch revelations. Before upgrading to Office 2013, take a close look — you may lose more than expected

— InfoWorld

Full article:

How Did I Get a Virus?

How Did I Get a Virus?

Your happily surfing the net when suddenly your browser switches you to some strange site, a pop up spawns on your screen and suddenly you are being alerted that your computer is infected.

What happened?

Your system has just been compromised by some malicious software, or malware.

Malware are programs distributed by companies that get downloaded and installed to your computer, usually without your knowledge.

Fake Antivirus

Never a Good Sign

Malware can be attached to other seemingly innocent programs like Weatherbug, screen savers or a simple flash game.

They often bypass your antivirus because:

a) You installed the program and you are an Administrator on your computer;

b) You overrode your antivirus program.  When your antivirus program popped up saying, “are you sure you know what you are doing?  Do you really need this [cute screensaver / greeting card making program / free game]?”  you answered, “you betcha!”;

c) The malware / virus is clever and so new your antivirus program hasn’t got a clue what it is…

They can also be embedded right into the website you’re visiting, so that simply looking at their page infects your computer. If your computer’s problem is that it’s running slow or spawning popups or redirecting you to another website at random, this is most likely the cause.

Although this video is slightly dated, it is still very much relevant and true in today’s world of online computing:


It’s unthinkable that randomly clicking on links would break the very thing that was designed to let you click links. That visiting websites would prevent you from visiting other websites. That playing the wrong game could cripple your computer so badly that it prevents you from being able to play even that game. Everything a person knows about the normal world is turned upside-down on the Internet, and it takes some training and education before you can dive in and start clicking things.

John Cheese

How do you clean your system? That is an article for another day. But you may find some clues in our Basic Computer Maintenance Course Notes.

In the meantime, don’t install unnecessary software, especially freebies of questionable origin, keep your antivirus up-to-date, your OS up-to-date, your Java up-to-date, and use a safe browser like FireFox w/ AdBlock Plus enabled.

Did you get infected? Contact us and we’ll clean your system and get you back up and running.

Repair Your Computer vs. Replace Your Computer

You’ve just been told that your computer’s hard drive has failed and that you need a new one.

In addition, some more RAM may not be a bad idea, as your system was starting to run pretty sluggish.

So, should you repair that computer or replace it with a new one?

With computers being so cheap these days, it may seem like a no brainer to replace your aging system with a new one.  And that may be the right answer.  You get a faster system, newer operating system, and a system that is fully covered under warranty.

However, there are often hidden costs with replacing your system and “upgrading”.

It’s really important that you completely understand the pros and cons of both repairing and replacing your computer before you make a decision.

A Typical Repair Bill

Let’s first look at the costs of a typical repair involving a failed hard drive (HD) which is not covered under an existing warranty:

Item Cost
Assessment / Diagnostic $ 60 – 100
Replacement HD, 5 year warranty $ 100 – 150
Data Recovery* $ 0 – $$$
Windows Re-installation w/ all drivers, Antivirus, Email configuration, and recovered files re-integrated** $ 150
Additional on-site support including configuration of printers & networking etc. $ 60 – 100
RAM upgrade + ? $ ?
Total, assuming a reasonable average $ 350


*let’s pretend you’ve read our article on backing up your computer and all your critical files are safe and sound on a backup drive / cloud service.  If you have not, this could range anywhere from a 1 hr charge to several thousand dollars (depending on the nature of the drive failure).

**don’t forget, you must create your own recovery disks or have your factory restore disks or your original Windows / Mac media which matches your Product Key.  Otherwise, a $20+ charge and several days delay may apply.

A New Computer

If you’ve followed our 2013 Computer Buying Guide then I am HOPING that you’ve avoided buying that $300 bargain basement computer.

If this is for personal consumption then a Dell Vostro @ $500 may work nicely.

If this is for a business application, I would not consider anything less that a Dell OptiPlex or a Precision workstation.

Let’s consider the following scenario:

Item  Cost
Assessment / Diagnostic $ 60 – 100
Dell Vostro 470 $ 650
Data Recovery* $ 0 – $$$
Additional on-site support including configuration of printers & networking etc. $ 60 – 100
Office 2013 or Office 365 (because your old copy of Office is no longer compatible)*** $ 249
New peripherals (because your old ones are no longer compatible with Windows 8) $ ?
Employee Retraining (Microsoft claims users will take 6 weeks to adapt or see here.)**** $ ??
The pure joy of using Windows 8 priceless
Total, assuming a reasonable average $ 1000+


***Don’t forget, that new copy of Office 2013 is ONLY VALID FOR THE ONE COMPUTER YOU’VE ACTIVATED IT ON.  No more transfers to the new system for you!

****I truly don’t know how much Windows 8 is going to cost the average business in lost productivity.  With the massive integration with Twitter, FaceBook, live mail feeds, live news feeds, blinking lights, flashing banners, hidden charms panels, and the plethora of generally distracting and annoying elements I expect to see significant losses in employee productivity and a general increase in time theft.

You should also consider that there is an adjustment period while you re-configure your various preferences and the small nuances that make your computer a personal computer.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it comes down to the economics of the situation and your own personal objectives.

Don’t forget that there are some common line items in your repair vs. replace bill: The Assessment / Diagnostic fee, the data recovery costs, and the setup / reconfiguration of your system usually apply, regardless of whether you are repairing or replacing your computer.

For those on a budget or for those who really like their current system (because, when it was working, it worked nicely and did everything they needed it to do) then repairing might be the way to go.

I like new systems because they have a full warranty and ALL parts are new.

An old computer with a new hard drive has a fresh lease on life and may last for years to come. And a GOOD replacement hard drive usually last longer than the stock one that comes with new [entry level] computers.

But then again, a few months down the road, the power supply could fail. And that new copy of your antivirus needs more RAM to operate nicely. And that website you visit requires Internet Explorer 10, which you can’t install because your Operating System is still Vista (or XP).

And so it goes.

What you must evaluate is if the actual cost (and the associated pain) to replace your computer is preferable to the cost of repairing it. This greatly depends upon your desire to do the work necessary to get your new computer to look and behave like your old computer or to be open to adapting to the new Operating Systems on the market.

As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding your computer or computing solutions.

Do you have any repair horror stories?  Did you replace your system instead of repairing?  Let us know!


Question via Contact Form:

What do you recommend I should do with my printer? It is an Epson Workforce 600 that no longer picks up the paper and the print outs no longer look right.

Answer: If you have a regular inkjet printer (i.e., not a high end production printer) then I would perform the absolute basics when it comes to “fixing” the printer. Run your printer’s maintenance routines and maybe check out Under no circumstances would I call in a repair technician. They will only laugh at you for buying a cheap inkjet printer.

Inkjet printers are a complete scam. The printers are almost given to customers (only $20 with the purchase of a new computer!). Yeah, that’s because they bend you over the barrel when it comes to replacement cartridges or, God forbid, ink refills (see: Doing The Math on Refilling Ink Cartridges or Inkjet Refill Racket for some great insight into refilling ink cartridges).

Save yourself grief and buy a decent laser printer. Brother makes some nice, affordable printers, that I am sure will fit into any home or small business. Toner cartridges are ~$90 but last for years.

And for those that desperately want color prints: send your photos to a print lab like London Drugs or Walmart or your local photo shop. The quality will always be better than whatever you can get on your own. They use proper paper and proper inks, and can run off a thousand prints in less time than it takes you to get halfway through your first print (only to discover that you are out of Cyan – argh!).

And cost-wise, it’s a no-brainer… $0.20 a print? Peanuts.

(Actually, we found a neat hack when using Walmart. We upload our prints and then select “pickup at local store”… and then select the local store closest to whichever relative we are going to send the pictures – free shipping =) ).

And for those that want the odd print for that report cover… send the job to your local copy shop. They have easy upload / email options and charge a nominal fee for a great, laser color print.

Seriously, ditch the ink jet printer and enjoy superior print outs at a fraction of the cost.