Hard Drive Misbehaving


Today’s Question: One of my backup drives would not connect to the computer. I tried to run first aid on the drive, and it said the drive could not be mounted. When I disconnected the drive and reconnected it, it worked fine. Is it OK to trust this drive for backing up my computer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Whenever a hard drive misbehaves, I tend to assume the drive could fail at any moment. Therefore, I might continue using the drive as an “extra” backup drive, but I would not trust it for primary storage or as the only backup for a primary drive.

More Detail: There are a variety of things that could cause a hard drive to fail to mount, meaning that it fails to properly connect to the computer so it can be used. This could be caused by something as simple as a bad data cable, a power source that isn’t working properly, a problem with the hard drive, or even an issue with the computer.

One of the problems with this type of situation is that it can be very difficult to determine exactly what is causing the problem. You might try swapping data cables, for example, and even testing to see if using the same data cable with different drives causes the failure to mount. That would suggest that the data cable is to blame.

However, I prefer to take a rather conservative approach when it comes to the storage and backup of my photos and other important data. If a primary hard drive gives me an indication of any problems that suggest there may be a problem with the drive, I will replace that drive.

If a backup drive gives an indication of a problem, I might continue to use that drive as a backup, but I would never use it as my only backup for a primary hard drive. I personally maintain two local backups for each primary drive, so if one of those showed symptoms of a problem I would replace it with another backup drive, but might continue using it as a third backup drive to provide some small additional degree of redundancy in my overall backup workflow.

Just because a hard drive fails to mount properly once doesn’t automatically mean the drive is on the verge of failure. However, when it comes to my photos and other important data, I’m not keen to trust a drive that has shown any signs of a problem. I therefore recommend doing some testing to see if you can isolate the source of the problem, such as by trying different data cables, different ports on the computer, and different hard drives with the same connections, to see if you can determine which component seems to be problematic. But when in doubt, I would not hesitate to replace a hard drive that you don’t have confidence in.