Archive | January 2014

Hard Disks (in Apple Computers)

Disks Will (Likely) Fail…Eventually

I’ve been repairing and upgrading computers for years now and one thing I do a lot is replace the internal hard disk. It could be for any number of reasons: the laptop was dropped and the disk is damaged, the disk is getting full, the disk is simply old (4+ years) and showing signs of deterioration.

Deterioration of older disks is not uncommon. It might happen after 2-3 years. It might not happen for 5-6 years. But, with a high degree of probability, it will happen. The reason is because a hard disk is a mechanical device, with a metal platter (or platters) that spin at least 5400 rpm. Whenever the computer is on and actively being used, the disk is spinning, spinning, spinning. Over time, it will take its toll.

After I’d done this for a few years, I had a stack of old hard disks, so I decided to group them by brand. There are roughly six manufacturers of hard disks: Hitachi/IBM, Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital. And, while not at all scientific, what I found was pretty interesting.

Brands: Good, Worse, Worst

By a factor of 4 or 5, I had replaced significantly more Hitachi and Fujitsu disks than any other brand. Toshiba disks were also a significantly sized group, but only 2-3 times more than the other three brands. I had far fewer Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital disks that I had replaced.

Now, when I visit a client I always check the brand of the disk and I tell them what I’ve experienced and, especially if their computer’s disk is made by Fujuitsu, Hitachi or Toshiba, I make sure they are backing up their computer’s data regularly, preferably with something like Apple’s Time Machine.

Disks in Apple Computers

But, the most surprising thing about my little study was that many of the bad disks came from Apple computers. As much as I like Apple computers, as much as I think they are excellent computers (hardware and software), I’m quite disappointed that they use inferior hard disks. What’s worse, I’ve had several cases of clients with Apple computers who took their computer to the Apple store to deal with disk issues and they always replace a bad disk with a refurbished one by the same brand. Invariably, these don’t last very long.

What Do I Have?

There are numerous ways to find out what brand hard disk you have.

With Mac OS X, use Disk Utility. When you select a disk, you’ll see the Disk Description near the bottom of the screen.

With Windows, you can use programs such as Speccy, or Disk Management (Start > Run… > diskmgmt.msc > select a disk > Right-click > Properties).

Once you have information for the disk displayed, you need to look at the Disk Description or Disk ID. You’ll see letters and numbers, but usually the first few letters will be the brand.

WDC is Western Digital. HTS is Hitachi. ST is Seagate. Fujitsu, Samsung and Toshiba appear to use their full name.

The Good News

Replacing a hard disk is not terribly expensive, if your computer is relatively modern. You see, hard disks have what’s called an interface, which is how it is connected to the computer itself. For the last decade (?), SATA has been the common interface. This was preceded by IDE.

SATA is still quite common and is readily available in computer stores; IDE is being phased out of stores, but can still be found online at places like Amazon or NewEgg.


If your computer is taking forever to startup or to launch programs, or you get spinning wheels of death, or you dropped the laptop and it won’t start, or if your disk is just getting full – consider replacing your internal hard disk. Chances are excellent that you can replace it with a bigger one (laptops go to 1 TB now, desktops can have 3 TB) to have more room for your photos, music, videos, downloads, etc.


All my vacation photos are gone! (Or, ever heard of ExFAT?)

Recently, a client of mine called me because he had just come back from a 3-week vacation during which he had taken many, many pictures with his point-and-shoot camera and could not see, much less download, any of the pictures. Yikes! I arrived with extra cables, extra media readers, and my own Apple laptop (he was using Windows XP).

I verified that the pictures were indeed on the media card by viewing them on the camera. I connected the camera with the appropriate cable to his computer. No good. I tried a different cable. No good. I tried a media reader. No good. So, then I tried connecting his camera to my computer. Success! I tried all variations with my computer and they all worked. Interesting.

A short time later, I discovered that the media card was formatted using the ExFAT file system. Mac OS X (10.6.5 and above) and Windows (Vista Service Pack 1 and above) support it natively. Luckily for him, all we had to do is download the Windows XP ExFAT driver and we were golden.

So, what is a file system? Why did the camera manufacturer format the media card as ExFAT and not something else?

A file system is a system for formatting disks so that data can be saved (written) and retrieved (read). Essentially, a file system tells a blank disk how/where to put files on the disk and how to find them later on.

The most common file systems these days are FAT (from the old DOS days), NTFS (standard on Windows since XP), and HFS+ (standard on Mac OS X).

Natively, Mac OS X can read files from Windows NTFS disks, Windows cannot read Mac HFS disks, but both operating systems can both read and write FAT disks. This is why USB flash drives are often (always?) formatted using the FAT file system – both Windows and Mac OS X can user them. But, there’s a problem. It can only support files up to a certain size. If you take a video on a camera with a media card, it might stop all by itself not because it runs out of space, but because the video file can only be so big.

ExFAT solves this problem. The maximum file size is much, much, MUCH bigger than with FAT, and both Windows and Mac can fully use the disks.


iOS Complaint: Add to Existing Contact


Chances are, when you add someone to your Contact List, you don’t have all their contact details. Besides their (first) name, you may only have a phone number or only an email address. But, while texting or emailing that person, you might get more contact details over time.

Well, this is what happens to me, at least. A client calls me, I speak to them and then when the conversation is over, I save the new number to my Contacts. At this point, I usually only know a first name and the phone number.

Later, I’ll get a text message with their email address. Great! Let’s just add that to an existing contact. Let’s see, how do I do that?

1. Hold down the email address link until the pop-up menu appears and select “Add to Contacts”.

2. Now I have two options: “Create New Contact” – nope, not that one – and “Add to Existing Contact.” I click that.

3. Now, find an existing contact…..WHAT!?!

But, but, but….. I want to add it to *this* existing contact, not some *other* existing contact. I mean, in my experience, over 90% of the time, I get contact details directly from the contact, not via a third-person.

This behavior has been present on the iPhone as long as I can remember, but I wish it weren’t so.

Am I missing something?