TWT Newsletter, Issue #36 – Contest winners announced, why do hard drives fail? and more
Hello once again from Top Windows Tutorials. It’s the 10th of May and time for the new TWT Newsletter to drop into your inbox. This month we announce the lucky winners of our Oops Backup competition and also look at why the question we set caught so many readers out! We also have our regular tip and free utility of the month and we round off with a look at what to expect in the next version of the popular Windows Live Essentials.
Important! A number of our subscribers have had difficulty receiving our newsletter. At Top-Windows-Tutorials.com we never send out unsolicited e-mails. To make sure your TWT newsletter reaches your inbox, please add TWT_Newsletter@top-windows-tutorials.com to your contacts, buddy list or white list.
In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Announcing our lucky competition winners
3) Why do hard drives fail?
4) Tip of the Month – Master libraries to better organise your data
5) Free Utility of the Month – TrueTransparency
6) Windows Live Wave 4 – The next generation
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
We started April with a look at a superb diagnostic utility, HD Tune. This tool can help you detect faulty hard drives or hard drives that are under-performing in your system. Learn how to use this handy tool to diagnose your hard drive by clicking here.
Next up we brought you five tutorials for the new Acronis True Image 2010. If you’ve read our disk backup software review you’ll know that True Image 2010 passed all of our extensive tests to be crowned number one full disk backup package. Check out our True Image tutorials by clicking here.
Offline Archive 2010 Available now!
For the rest of the month we worked on the new Top-Windows-Tutorials.com Offline Archive. The April 2010 edition of this DVD is available now! The Offline Archive contains a complete copy of our site taken at the end of April 2010. Access all our tutorials at blistering fast speeds, even where no internet connection is available. Visit this link to find out more or to place your order. If you’ve already bought our October 2009 Offline Archive, go to this page for details of a special offer where you can upgrade to the new version for half price.
Announcing our lucky competition winners
A big thank you to everyone who entered our Oops Backup competition. We were surprised that question two caught so many of you out. The correct answers to the questions were as follows:-
Which of the following best describes Oops Backup? – File level backup.
What Percentage of hard drives that remain in use will fail? – 100%.
The second question tripped up the most people. Yes it is true, hard drives do have a 100% failure rate. Most hard drives are guaranteed to work for a maximum of five years. However, it is almost impossible to predict when a failure will occur. Manufacturing defects or just plain old bad luck can see a brand new hard drive fail within a couple of months. You should regard any data that you don’t have backed up as temporary!
Hats off to the following individuals who got both questions right and will receive a free Oops Backup license in their e-mail:-
John (United States)
ian.mcquaid (United Kingdom)
Roy Dawtry (United Kingdom)
Peter (United Kingdom)
Leonard (United States)
Dawn (New Zealand)
Paul (United Kingdom)
Laura (United States)
Don Maclean (New Zealand)
RON (United States)
Winners should receive their license keys today (10th May 2010). If your name was on the winners list and you did not receive your key within three days of this date, please double check your spam folder and if you still cannot find your e-mail, contact us immediately.
Since we didn’t receive enough correct entries, we’ll be running the competition again until all the licenses are given away. If you didn’t win or just didn’t get around to entering, visit this page for another chance and good luck!
Why do hard drives fail?
When we ran the Oops Backup competition, we were surprised to find that people thought hard drives would last forever. The fact is that hard drives are complex mechanical devices and are the most likely component in your computer to fail. What makes a hard drive tick? Inside a hard drive there are several magnetic disc shaped objects called platters. These magnetic discs are spun around and data is encoded onto them using a device called a read-write head.
In order to move the platters around and recover your data, a motor is required. This lets the read-write heads move to different places on the platters. The slowest hard drives rotate at 5,400 revolutions per minute.
Hard drives are precision engineered instruments and contain complex moving parts. The platters, the parts of the drive that contain the data, are around 3000 times thinner than a typical piece of paper! Modern hard drives always have several platters, a single speck of dust is bigger than the gap between one platter and the other, if even a tiny amount of dust or debris could get inside your hard drive, it would likely have catastrophic effects. This is why a computers hard drive is a sealed unit, it also explains why hard drive repair is such an expensive business.
What causes hard drives to fail?
Just like any other mechanical device or machine, hard drives will eventually fail. There are lots of ways that a drive can fail, some of the more common ones include:-
Head crash – As stated above, the heads on a drive hover just above the recording surface (platters). The heads are only a tiny tiny fraction above, and if for any reason the head should actually contact the platter, catastrophic damage will occur as the head digs into the tiny thin recording surface, scraping away all the data as it goes. Debris from the collision will also fall into other parts of the drive, potentially resulting in more data loss. In this situation, you will lose some or all of the data on the drive and will probably have to pay for data recovery.
Air filters – Although drives are sealed units, some air does need to escape for cooling. A faulty air filter which allows in dusty air from the room outside will cause damage to the platters. In this case you will lose most or all of the data stored on the drive.
Controller – More uncommonly, the electronics which control the motors and heads in the drive will fail. In this instance you will not usually be able to access the drive at all, but you may be able to send the drive to a data recovery laboratory.
Wear and tear – No mechanical parts can last forever and most hard drive failures are due to motors wearing out or other components simply reaching the end of their life.
Because hard drives are precision instruments, data recovery can be difficult and hence expensive. In some instances data can be recovered using specialist software. If the drive needs to be opened, for example to replace the controller or to recover the platters, expect to pay a four figure sum and even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll get any of the precious data back.
New drives still need backing up!
Users often assume that because their computer and/or hard drive is new, that they won’t need to bother with backup for the first few months or years. Of course, this usually means that they never get around to backing anything up at all, but more than that, it is also a misconception. In actual fact a new hard drive is more likely to fail than one that is a year old. A high rate of failures amongst very new hard drives is due to manufacturing defects which, while rare, are inevitable with such a high precision process. In a nutshell, you need to backup NOW if you have not done so already!
Are other types of media secure?
After what we just told you, you might think that storing or backing up data to other types of storage was more prudent. However, hard drives are still usually the best bet for storing data. Here’s a run-down of other kinds of storage and how they can fail:-
CD/DVD ROM and Recordable – Once thought almost indestructible because of their advanced error correction routines, factory pressed CD and DVD discs can degrade with age. Particularly with earlier pressed CDs before the manufacturing process was perfected, a phenomenon called “CD Rot” can creep in and cause damage to the surface of the disc.
The kinds of CD and DVD you record yourself are much less robust. Recording dye can often fail over time and quality varies widely from batch to batch. If you use CD or DVD recordable discs to store important data, record at least two copies of anything important, and make a fresh copy at least every couple of years.
Flash drives – From memory cards in cameras to pen drives on your keyring, all the way up to solid state hard drives. Flash certainly has the potential to replace hard drives in some or even all applications in the future, but for now it isn’t a viable alternative for most backup tasks.
Flash memory wears out slowly as data is written to it, but reading data usually causes no wear. Flash storage may also degrade slightly if it is left powered off for a long period of time (see this link for more technical information). Cheap consumer level Flash storage that is typically found on most USB Flash drives is often prone to controller failure. Usually this results in the device becoming completely inaccessible and total loss of data. In the future, more robust Flash devices will probably start to appear that are more suitable for archiving data. Presently however, flash based hard drives are prohibitively expensive but are coveted by enthusiasts due to their high performance.
Tip of the Month – Master libraries to better organise your data
If you dived head-first into Windows 7 from previously using Windows XP or Vista you might be confused when browsing your documents folder. Windows 7 introduced a new feature called “Libraries”. This feature allows you to get an aggregate or combined view of several folders. What this means is you can see and search pictures, music and document files from several folders on your computer all in one handy location. Ideal especially if you have more than one hard drive.
If the libraries view has been confusing you in Windows Explorer, then take the time to view our tutorial on using libraries. This should clear up any confusion.
Free Utility of the Month – TrueTransparency
This month’s utility is one for Windows XP and Windows Vista users. If you ever wished you could have Aero Snap and Aero Peek style features added to your operating system, now you can thanks to the magic of this superb little utility. What’s more, Windows XP users will get full, Vista style transparent windows on their desktop!
TrueTransparency is easy to use and works without patching any Windows system files. You can check out our TrueTransparency tutorials by clicking here.
Getting ready for Windows Live Wave 4
Do you use Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger or any of the Windows Live Essentials software bundle? If so we have some exciting news for you from Microsoft themselves. Windows live essentials “Wave 4” is now in the hands of several private testers. As with most exciting new software in the modern, internet age, several juicy details have already leaked out as to what Microsoft are bringing us in the latest update.
For users of the very popular Windows Live Messenger, Microsoft are promising better social networking features in the new version. You’ll be able to set your Facebook, Twitter and Windows live status from the messenger, as well as see status updates for your friends. For those of you who like to chat to several friends at once, multiple conversations will now open in tabs, rather than in their own window, saving valuable desktop space.
Kids and teens will be delighted to hear that there’s a whole new set of Emoticons too. Emoticons are icons that appear when certain characters are typed, for example 😛 usually produces a face sticking out its tongue.
Of course, Windows Live Messenger isn’t the only application that’s getting an overhaul. Windows Live Mail gets an integrated calendar as well as the “Ribbon” interface that Microsoft first introduced with Office 2007. Windows Live Mail is closer in functionality to Microsoft’s Outlook now. When you consider Outlook is an expensive commercial application, Windows Live Mail could prove to be an attractive alternative to Outlook and other free e-mail clients such as Thunderbird.
Windows Live Writer, Live Movie Maker and Live Photo gallery also get the ribbon treatment. The other changes to Movie Maker and Photo Gallery are more subtle, hopefully there will be more transitions in the latest Movie Maker, along with support for high definition 1080p videos.
Finally, Windows Live Family Safety is also due an overhaul, though the details of what exactly will change are still unknown.
We’re always excited to find out about new updates to popular software, Windows Live Messenger is used by lots of our readers for keeping in touch and our Windows Live Family Safety tutorials have proven popular with parents who want to safeguard their children’s activities. We’ll be bringing you updated tutorials when the new Windows Live Wave 4 is available to the public. The only bad news is that unfortunately Windows XP will not be supported in the new version of Windows Live. This has angered a lot of users who point out that Windows XP is still extremely popular, but Microsoft’s claim they do not want to limit the possible features of the new Windows Live by making it run on the older operating system.
If you want to learn more about the new wave of Windows Live applications, visit the Windows Live Blog here.
That rounds off our newsletter for May. As always, we’d like to send a big thank you to all our readers for your support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th June 2010 to bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy and enter our competition! Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!