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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.


Windows Users: Install and run Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware

Everyone knows that you should have an anti-virus program on your Windows computer. Many computers even come with a trial version of some commercial product, although I always recommend using one of the three free anti-virus products: AVG (my personal choice), Avast or Avira.

But, it turns out that these anti-virus programs don’t catch all the different “gremlins” that might be in your system, causing things to slow down, freeze, prevent web access, etc. For this reason, I always install the free version Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware software.

In fact, if you are using a computer running Windows right now, I’d recommend downloading it now and running it. A quick scan followed by a full scan, if the quick scan found anything. If you’ve been using your computer for more than 3 months, I’m willing to bet that you’ll find *something* on your system that warrants a closer look and/or removal.

While anti-virus software runs in the background all the time, this (free) software only runs on demand. I recommend scanning your computer about once a month, just in case.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about it or you’re uneasy about downloading or running it yourself.

Mac Users: Please, please, please….use Time Machine

Whenever I meet a client or a friend or really anyone who uses a Mac computer, almost the first question I ask them is “Do you use Time Machine?” often followed by a short pause as I gauge their reaction and then “Do you know about Time Machine?”

If you don’t know, Time Machine is a backup solution provided by Apple in the operating system on your Mac. It was introduced in 2007 with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and continued with Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and certainly Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

The best thing about Time Machine, besides being free, is how easy it is. All you do is attach a hard disk to your Apple desktop or laptop and your Mac will ask you “Shall I use this disk to backup your system?” So, all you need to do is buy a hard disk of sufficient size, plug it in and when prompted, respond “Yes.” That’s it. Really.

But, it’s not really it, is it?

Well, actually it is, but there’s more to say. More that’s worth reading to the end.

If you have only a Mac desktop, then the above is a great solution. Plug in the hard disk, never take it out, and forget it. Your system will take care of everything.

However, if you have only a laptop, or if you have more than one Mac computer in the same household, you really want a wireless backup option. Why?

Well, if you have only a laptop, the idea is to be mobile. So you take your laptop to a meeting, interview, to the pub or cafe, to a friend’s house, etc. When you get home with your laptop, you have a dozen things on your mind: kids, dinner, going to the gym, report due tomorrow, friend coming over, etc. The last thing on your mind, probably, is “Oh, I have to plug in my hard disk to let Time Machine do its thing.” So, inevitably, people will forget to plug it in. Maybe one day. Maybe one day becomes two days. or a week.

However, during this time of not plugging in the hard disk, you probably will use the computer. To check email, print out the travel documents, check movie times, look up a recipe, etc.

Apple realized this situation and came out with the cleverly titled Time Capsule to work with Time Machine. It’s basically a wireless router with a huge disk built-in. It comes in two capacities: 2 TB and 3 TB. It takes about 10 minutes to setup. Once it is, you tell your laptop to use the hard disk on the Time Capsule as its backup device. Now, anytime you use the computer, it will be backing things up. Wirelessly.

Another great thing about the Time Capsule is that it can back up multiple computers at once. So, if you have an iMac for the kids, and Mom and Dad each have a laptop, they can all back up to the same Time Capsule. Security and peace of mind.

Like car insurance or health insurance.

So, if you use a Mac, please, please, please, please…..use Time Machine. And, depending on which Macs or how many, you may want to consider using the Apple Time Capsule.