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8 Tips to Protect Your Computer Hard Drive

written by: Larry M. Lynch•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/20/2011

Whether you use a desktop computer or a laptop, with integral internal or external hard drives, your hard drive won't last forever. Here are some tips and techniques to help you to extend the life of and protect your computer hard drive.

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    How to Protect Your Computer Hard Drive

    With a growing cadre of digital devices gaining growing importance in our lives, we need to take special care of how our valuable work and irreplaceable data is protected. On your PC or laptop, this data is written and stored on your computer’s hard drive or an external hard drive in some cases. When your computer’s hard drive ultimately fails, as someday it inevitably will, don’t get caught with a crippling data loss.

    Here are some useful tips and techniques to help you protect your computer’s hard drive and extend the life of your laptop or external hard drive as well.

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    1. Avoid moving your PC while drive is running

    One of the quickest ways to damage a computer hard drive while it’s in operation is to move your computer. Tolerances of a hard drive’s moving parts are very precise. Extensive motion of the hard drive unit can shake or move components beyond their operating limits causing immediate damage or a hard drive crash. Desktop computers and laptops should be placed on a study, level surface such as a table, desk, or counter when in use.

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    2. Keep your hard drive cool

    Temperature is a critical factor in the operating parameters of a PC hard drive. As the temperature in the room climbs, so does the temperature of the enclosure which houses the hard drive. Temperatures above 90 degrees can begin to cause erratic operation of your PC hard drive. Remember that the computer temperature can rise well above the ambient room temperature. If you’re uncomfortable in the room due to the temperature, then likely your hard drive is also under duress. Stop and work to cool the both of you off right away. Catch a breeze, use a small, portable fan, move to some heavy shade, or do whatever you need to do for both of you to work comfortably.

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    3. Keep dust out of the PC environment

    Pollution extends from global levels down to the inside of your computer. If there are smokers in your home or office, or if the environment where you work or live is sometimes dusty or smoky or subject to gas, fumes, dust, dirt, or chemical exposure, your PC hard drive is at risk.

    Replaceable dust filters should be present in the computer case and integral to your PC’s cooling fans for improved protection for your motherboard components and hard drive. You should also avoid smoking around or near your computer or laptop and filter the air entering the room where your PC is located. Don't let anyone else smoke around your computer either. If you use a laptop, be aware of the environmental air when operating your computer. Move to a better location if necessary to help to protect your laptop from smoke, fumes, dirt, dust, or chemical damage.

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    4. Keep moisture and humidity at a minimum

    Don’t you ever dare to take a "cavalier" attitude with beverages, hot or cold drinks and liquids around your desktop PC, laptop, or external hard drive. A good rule is never to eat or drink near an operating computer. If you need a drink, get up, take a break, and have your refreshments well away from your work area. Don’t allow others to eat or drink around your computer either. If you absolutely must imbibe coffee, tea, or other drinks regularly while working, use a locked-on type covered container. It will not only help keep your beverage hot or cold, but minimize dangers from accidental spills. When using a computer outdoors or in an open air environment, be sure to take care that a sudden sprinkle or downpour cannot directly reach your computer.

    Rainy days also cause a high-humidity environment and should generally be avoided. Humidity and moisture easily penetrate your PC or laptop ventilation ports and heat dissipation openings, so you need to be cautious in these types of environments. Thoroughly dry your hands after washing, before using your computer too. In the event of a spill, shut down power immediately, dry thoroughly and/or clean the unit ASAP. Also, have a computer maintenance professional check the unit before operating it again, if possible to avoid potential short circuits, electrical or other types of damage to your computer hard drive and operating components.

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    5. Prevent jolts and bumps to your computer’s hard drive

    The "school of hard knocks" (pun intended) will quickly teach you that sudden jolts are bad for your computer’s hard drive and your laptop too. Be sure to work from a flat, stable surface when using your laptop “on the road.” Take precautions that your laptop will not be dropped or fall, especially onto another hard surface. Also make sure that your computer desk is well-located to be secure from accidental knocks and bumps. At home, pets can be a source of unintentional shocks to your computer desk. Try to keep “Marmadukes” and “Garfields” away from your PC work station while your PC is in operation. That wagging tail can be lethal for your PC or laptop.

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    6. Ensure your Computer’s Hard Drive is properly installed and grounded

    Electrical shocks, power surges, brown-outs and sudden power failures all are adversaries of PCs and laptops, especially including the hard drive. Static electricity build-up and discharges can also be a negative factor towards your hard drive at times. Have your PC and internal laptop components properly installed by professional technicians or use proper installation techniques and procedures when installing or replacing components yourself. Always ensure that your PC, laptop and components are properly installed and grounded to avoid damage and injury. Okay, I'm going to ask, "You DO use a properly sized and well grounded power supply or UPS, don't you?" Even a distant storm can send a heavy electrical surge through a variety of conductive media to your computer though "far enough" away, so you think.

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    7. Have your Computer’s Hard Drive Maintained Regularly

    Whether you use a desktop PC or a mobile computer unit, you should be sure to have your computer professionally maintained on a regular basis. Okay, so if you can do it yourself, do you really have the time? Make time or have a pro "pop in" to get it done for your while you sip a cool one or have a hot toddy, whatever the case may be. Wiring and cables, connectors and ports need to be properly maintained for safe, secure operation of your PC or laptop computer and protection of your computer’s hard drive.This goes for external hard drives too.

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    8. Back Up Your Computer’s Hard Drive Data Regularly

    No matter what type of PC or mobile computing that you do, it is essential that you back up all your data regularly to an external data storage device of some type. A USB drive is a convenient way to quickly and easily backup your data while working. You can also back up files each day, week or month by burning it onto a CD or DVD. There are also zip drives and external hard drives which are good methods of regular data backup. Use any data backup method you like, but do use one regularly.

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    Protect Your Computer Hard Drive

    Sooner or later, your computer’s hard drive will start acting erratically, then ultimately fail. With careful attention to the operating conditions of your PC or laptop hard drive, you can greatly extend the working life of your hard drive and protect your essential data from accidental loss. Using these how to tips, protecting your PC or laptop computer’s hard drive can be a simple, easy, routine process that could save you from a sudden, potentially crippling data loss. None of these steps requires an extensive amount of time, effort or cost but can literally save you a substantial quantity of all three. Do it now and protect your computer hard drive and extend it's life.