Still safe to use a hard drive that went unrecognized then reformatted?
September 11, 2016 12:23 AM   Subscribe

Once a portable hard drive went wrong (PC not recognizing) is it still safe to use it after reformatted? Fortunately, I used a software to have my files recovered but I am not sure if I should keep using it or I better look for a new drive?
posted by lanhan to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are a few reasons why it might not have been recognized but would work fine after reformatting. It's quite possible that it was unplugged at just the wrong time while it was still writing data, which could corrupt the filesystem if you're unlucky but will cause no permanent damage to the drive. If this is the case, it's just fine after reformatting, just be careful to "eject" or "safely remove" it before unplugging in the future.

Worst case, the drive has been dropped or is wearing out, in which case it's no longer trustworthy. Using a disk checking utility to scan for bad sectors might alert you to this. Existing bad sectors will already have been marked as such when you reformatted it and so won't be used, but in my experience a drive with bad sectors is prone to developing more of them, sometimes very quickly, so if it has any or if you'll be storing very important data on it, I'd invest in a replacement for peace of mind. Hard drives are pretty cheap these days.
posted by MoTLD at 3:11 AM on September 11, 2016

Check your hard drive diagnostics.

If you're using a windows PC you could do something like this.
posted by srboisvert at 5:28 AM on September 11, 2016

Seconding MoTLD and arboisvert's advice.

If the SMART results indicate a fault, then the path is probably clear. If it doesn't, some additional possible causes of odd failures can be the (1) connectors or cables on portable drives, and (2) the drive electronics.

Regarding 1: since portable drives tend to get connected and disconnected frequently, the physical stress can wiggle and cause damage to either the connector inside the drive or the computer, or something in the cable itself. This can cause a brief loss of connectivity and cause data loss if the computer was writing something to the drive at the time. This can be tested by, well, gently touching or wiggling things; if you get an error of some kind, then you can suspect a connector or cable issue. In that case, you can try a different cable, but if it's a connector issue, it's probably unrepairable. In the latter case, depending on the kind of drive you have and whether the case can be opened, an option can be to get a new enclosure and move the hard disk into it.

Regarding 2: back some years ago, I really liked a certain kind of portable disk, and ended up buying 3 of them. Not long afterwards, one by one, they failed. The problem turned out to be the electronics, and not the physical hard drive inside the enclosure. I moved the physical disks into different enclosures, and was able to keep using them for some time afterward.

You'll have to be the judge of whether it makes economic sense for you to try moving the disk into a different enclosure. (If you can do it yourself, it may, depending on the cost of a new enclosure versus the cost of a whole new portable drive. If you have to pay someone else to do the work, it probably doesn't.) Worth noting here is that most new-ish portable drives can't be opened easily, and even if you manage to open them, you may discover the electronics and drive are almost inseparable. So, this may not be an option.
posted by StrawberryPie at 7:50 AM on September 11, 2016

Good answers upthread. I would add: no storage device is ever "safe to use" in the sense that you can use it to store the only copy of files you care about.

Make backups, or don't care if your files are there tomorrow. There is no option 'C'. Pretending otherwise only leads to substantial cussing.
posted by sourcequench at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing all the great experience and suggestions! Not only that, I just learned how to use SMART to detect hard drives too, thanks a lot!!

Although the test shows healthy result, I am really scared of losing things again so I will start looking for a new drive and use this older one as a minor backup.

I forgot to mention.....I actually have made the drive into 2 partitions (E: and F:) in the beginning. So "fortunately," the error problem happened only to one of the partition. Perhaps, I will need to back up the other side as well, just in case.

I also love the enclosure idea and have got one for an older internal drive. Thanks again!
posted by lanhan at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2016

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