Crash and Burn (Bonus Material)

Let''s assume that your drive has failed or, if you are fortunate, that you have detected the early warning signs and shut your drive down. Unfortunately, this tragedy occurred before you were able to back up the day''s work. You will need to replace the drive, but what about your data?
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Let''s assume that your drive has failed or, if you are fortunate, that you have detected the early warning signs and shut your drive down. Unfortunately, this tragedy occurred before you were able to back up the day''s work. You will need to replace the drive, but what about your data?
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Let''s assume that your drive has failed or, if you are fortunate, that you have detected the early warning signs and shut your drive down. Unfortunately, this tragedy occurred before you were able to back up the day''s work. You will need to replace the drive, but what about your data?

If the drive has completely failed, then you can''t recover the data yourself. Only a data-recovery professional has the specialized tools, environment, and skills to do the job. There is one possible exception to this, but it''s a long shot (see the section “Chill Out”).

If the drive still operates but is clearly about to fail, you can either try to recover the data yourself or turn to a data-recovery company. It''s time to contemplate the importance of your endangered data.

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FIG. A: Data-recovery companies employ highly skilled technicians who work on hard drives in contaminant-free clean rooms.


If you were to lose your work completely, would it cause you great emotional pain, financial loss, or damage to your studio business? If so, you need to take your drive to a professional to recover your data. It''s going to cost you—the tab for data recovery can easily be $1,000 or more—but it''s your best hope. A data-recovery engineer will open your wounded drive in a special dust-free environment called a clean room and try to temporarily revive the drive just long enough to recover the data (see Fig. A).

The drive won''t be stable; you can''t put it back in service. The data-recovery pro could have one shot at recovering the data before the repair fails. But a pro is far more likely to recover your critical data than you are, and if you attempt it and are unsuccessful, you will probably further damage the drive, making it less likely that a data-recovery company can help. Attempting to recover the data yourself is a high-risk game.


If you want to salvage the data but don''t want it badly enough to pay for a data-recovery service, then you can try to recover it yourself. Again, that''s assuming the drive is functioning. Your data-recovery software (see the sidebar “Your Utility Belt”) might get only one brief opportunity before the drive fails completely.

Above all, do not—I repeat, do not—attempt to open the drive case. The drive is sealed to keep all dust and other environmental contaminants out, and dirt, dust, scratches, or moisture will put an end to any chance of recovery. Hard-drive mechanisms must be repaired in a clean-room environment.

Having put down your screwdriver, install your data-recovery software on a separate drive. If the damaged drive was your boot drive, boot your computer from another drive or install the problem drive and the recovery software on a different computer. You will also need a drive with sufficient capacity to store the recovered data.

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FIG. B: Data-recovery programs such as Nucleus Kernel for Macintosh can help you recover lost files—that is, if the drive remains stable long enough.

With drives mounted, launch and run the data-recovery software (see Fig. B). Note that data-recovery software often makes the already damaged drive work hard, so you might not have much time before the drive dies. Do not scan the drive for problems; scanning is hard on the drive, and you''ve already decided that you can''t fix it. Launch the data-recovery routine as soon as you get the drive running, and if you recover your data, back up immediately. If it works, be very thankful.


If the drive has failed and you want to try to recover the data yourself, there is one trick you can try. It is risky and works in only a few situations. You can freeze your drive. Yes, that''s right—put it in the freezer! I haven''t tried this, and most experts recommend against it, but some admit that it might work. If you are attempting to recover data from an older drive that has had a head crash or a spindle failure and you''re desperate, it could be worth trying.

Here''s how it works, in theory. If the actuator arm has fallen out of position but has not yet touched and ruined the platter(s), cooling can cause the metal to shrink enough to bend the arm back into place temporarily. The chilled platter(s) and spindle also shrink, unsticking the platter(s) and pulling the surfaces away from the heads, thus restoring the gap between heads and platter(s). Another situation in which freezing might help is if the spindle bearings are damaged. In theory, freezing the spindle makes the bearings'' sleeve more viscous, and the extra resistance helps the whole assembly stay centered and reduces vibration.

If freezing gets your drive working, it won''t work for long. Freezing is far more likely to cause further data loss and damage to the drive. But if your drive is dead and you''d like to save your data but aren''t willing to pay a data-recovery company, it''s your last-ditch option.


Defragmentation moves file fragments and free space to contiguous blocks so that the read head doesn''t have to jump around to read the files. Optimization goes a step beyond defragmentation by organizing all of the defragmented files in a particular order calculated to maximize performance.

Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Vista automatically defragment to some extent, but they do it in different ways and the results are not always thorough. Therefore, it pays to check your disk periodically and defragment it when needed. Mac users will need third-party software to do this; Windows comes with a defragmenter, but some third-party utilities offer more options and do a more thorough job.


According to Apple, you don''t need to defragment with Mac OS X. In a nutshell, Apple''s key arguments are that because modern drive capacity is large, fragmentation is less of an urgent issue. The Mac OS HFS Plus formatting avoids using space from deleted files. With faster drives and RAM caches, many applications rewrite an entire file rather than continually appending data to existing files, thus reducing fragmentation. Caching also helps the system get around minor fragmentation problems.

In addition, OS X 10.3 (Panther) and later can automatically defragment files using a technology called Hot-File-Adaptive-Clustering. However, Hot-File-Adaptive-Clustering affects only those files that are less than 20 MB in size, which means most audio and video files are not defragmented. Some types of read-only files are not moved by this technology, whereas some third-party programmers can move these files. The bottom line is that drives still can get fragmented under OS X, and it''s wise to check them periodically with a disk utility that supports defragmentation.

Incidentally, OS X can detect which files you use most and move them to an area on the disk called the Hot Zone in order to improve access time. It''s not exactly optimization, but it''s a step in that direction. (For a full explanation, see the document “About disk optimization with Mac OS X” at Note that this refers to defragmentation, not true optimization.)


XP and Vista have a form of automatic defragmentation and optimization, which works differently than in Mac OS X. If it detects fragmentation, Windows defragments and moves the files every three days, placing the most frequently used files together in a contiguous section toward the outer edge of the disk, therefore reducing seek time.

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FIG. C: The Windows XP Disk Defragmenter shows the fragmentation of a drive before and after defragmentation.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft thinks users should still periodically defragment their drives. Therefore, Windows XP and Vista come with Disk Defragmenter (see Fig. C), a stripped-down version of Diskeeper Corporation''s Diskeeper. Windows XP''s Disk Defragmenter can be launched by using Start->All Programs->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Defragmenter. Disk Defragmenter moves all the directory information to one spot in the center of the data, reducing read/write head travel. It moves infrequently used files farther from the directory area, and it follows a user-provided table of file descriptions to emphasize or ignore. Finally, it makes the files contiguous.

The Windows Vista version of Disk Defragmenter can run automatically at scheduled times by using Task Scheduler, and it can continue to defragment in the background when the computer is in use. You can''t choose which drives to defragment unless you install Windows Vista Service Pack 1. If the fragments of a file are more than 64 MB in size, the file is not defragmented (Microsoft says doing so wouldn''t noticeably improve performance). On the other hand, Disk Defragmenter can defragment a volume without requiring a lot of free space. (Full defragmentation, including large files, requires at least 15 percent of free space on the volume.)

XP and Vista also include a command-line Defrag.exe utility. The Windows Vista version of Defrag.exe doesn''t require administrative rights and offers more control than Disk Defragmenter. It can defragment user-selected volumes or just analyze volumes like the Windows XP version.

Both Disk Defragmenter and Defrag.exe have limitations that inexpensive third-party defragmentation and optimization utilities can address, so it''s worth checking out the alternatives.


Before you defragment your drive, you should keep a few things in mind. First, defragmentation does carry some risks, so back up your data if you haven''t already done so. Of particular importance to musicians is that defragmenting sometimes wipes out disk-based software authorization. So if your music software uses this sort of copy protection, make sure that you have serial numbers and original program disks or downloadable installers handy just in case. Dongle-based copy protection should not be affected.

Mac OS X only: before defragmenting, use Apple''s Disk Utility to repair permissions. Then use a specialized utility such as MacJanitor to run OS X maintenance tasks. (For more on this, read “Mac OS X: How to force background maintenance tasks” at

Regardless of your OS, run your disk utility to check and repair the disk directories and general disk structure before you defragment. Then use your disk utility of choice to defragment or optimize. Afterward, run your disk utility again to ensure that there are no more problems. Mac OS X users should also run Repair Permissions one more time.


You already know your drive is going to fail sooner or later, so back up your data often. If you can''t afford to lose the file, back it up absolutely as soon as possible—say, while the band is getting ready for the next song. If you would be sad but not distraught to lose the file, back it up daily. If you don''t back up daily, be prepared to lose work.

Doing a simple backup is fine for most data files. You''ll probably need to back up session files to a large-capacity hard drive or tape drive because those files are so big. You might be able to archive small projects on a few DVD-Rs or Blu-ray discs. But what about the drive containing your applications and application-specific libraries? Sure, you can reinstall applications, Reason ReFills, GarageBand Jam Packs, and so on—but you will want them organized in a specific way (including, for example, application preferences). And trying to replicate that after your main drive crashes can be a nightmare.

One solution is to get a second drive (internal or external) with the same capacity as your working drive and create a mirror image, or clone, of your working drive on it. If you are backing up a boot drive, your clone can be made to be a bootable volume. After creating a clone, continue to synchronize your drives with incremental backup software. (With incremental backup, only files that have changed are copied.) When one drive fails, you can switch to the other and keep working. You probably will still have to reinstall software that has disk-based copy protection, but for the most part, this is a great way to go.

A wide assortment of cloning and backup utilities is available for Mac OS X and Windows, and I''ve listed just a few. A clone is an exact copy of a volume, including invisible files, permissions, metadata, and other data. If you clone your boot drive, you get a bootable copy. The Finder and some backup programs can''t copy all file types (invisible files, for example), but cloning software can. Not all backup utilities can create bootable volumes, so check before you buy.

OS X 10.5.x (Leopard) includes Time Machine, which backs up your files every hour but doesn''t create bootable volumes. If you want to use Time Machine, check out Time Software TimeMachineEditor 1.3.1 (free) at This program lets you schedule Time Machine backups in case hourly backup is overkill.

You''ll find Windows XP''s Backup utility and Vista''s Backup Status and Configuration program in Accessories->System Tools. Backup is installed by default on XP Pro, but XP Home users must manually install it from the install CD. Backup is a basic backup program and, like its Vista counterpart, can''t make a bootable clone.

For more about backup, including links to software and services, see “Better Safe Than Sorry” in the May 2006 issue.


Mike Bombich Carbon Copy Cloner 3.1.1 (donation requested)

Econ Technologies ChronoSync 3.3.5 ($30)

EMC Retrospect 7.5 Professional for Mac ($129)

Free Ride Coding SmartBackup 2.2.5 ($23)

Shirt Pocket SuperDuper ($27.95)

Skorpiostech Changes 1.0.4 ($40)


Acronis True Image 11 Home ($49.99)

Drive Snapshot 1.3 ($62.89)

EASEUS Disk Copy 2.0 (free)

EMC Retrospect 7.5 Professional for Windows ($129)

Macrium Reflect 4.2 (partial edition, free; full edition, $39.99)

PC Inspector Clone Maxx (free)

Spotmau WinCare Clone Genius ($39.95)

Symantec Ghost 14.0 ($69.99)

TeraByte Unlimited Image for Windows 2.15 ($38.94)


Batman has a utility belt, and you could use one, too. Here''s a small sampling of third-party disk utility software for hard-drive care and maintenance. (You can easily find many more disk utility programs of all sorts by doing a Web search.) And Windows and Mac OS X come with some utility programs, which are discussed in the main article.

The third-party programs listed here offer a variety of features. Several use SMART to monitor hard-drive performance—including data-transfer rate, access time, error checking, and temperature—and to predict possible drive failure. Some programs handle formatting, defragmentation, and optimization and can do a variety of repairs. Others are focused entirely on data recovery. A few more general-purpose utilities go far beyond drive maintenance.


Alsoft Disk Warrior 4 ($99.95)

Atomic Bird Macaroni 2.1.1 ($9.99)

Coriolis Systems iDefrag 1.6.4 ($34.95)

Brian R. Hill MacJanitor 1.3 (free)

Micromat Tech Tool Pro 4.6.2 ($98); version 5 might be available by the time you read this

Nucleus Kernel for Macintosh ($145)

Stellar Phoenix Macintosh Data Recovery Software 1.0 (download, $129; CD, $149)


Ariolic Software ActiveSMART 2.51 ($29.95)

Diskeeper Corp. Diskeeper 2008 (home version, $29.95; professional version, $49.95)

EFD Software HD Tune (v. 2.55, freeware; HD Tune Pro 3.1, $34.95)

Flobo Recovery Hard Disk Repair 1.0 ($39)

Get Data Recover My Files 3.9.4 ($59.95)

Gibson Research SpinRite 6.0 ($89)

Nucleus Kernel Recovery FAT‑NTFS ($69)

Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery 3.0 (download, $99; CD, $119)

URL Toy Software Personal SmartCheck 3.1 ($19.95)


A RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) combines two or more hard drives to produce a device that your computer sees as a single volume. RAIDs are more reliable and offer better read/write performance than most individual drives. A true RAID is an integrated hardware device with a controller that handles the demanding task of distributing the data among the component disks. A software RAID pairs independent drives into a RAID array, and your CPU has to distribute the data.

There are several types of RAIDs, but the two most often used in less expensive consumer drives are RAID 0 and RAID 1. The interest here is in data safety, and that''s the purpose of a RAID 1, in which pairs of mirrored disks redundantly store duplicate data. If one disk fails, you can access the data from the other. More important, because the same data is written simultaneously to both disks, the system can do advanced error checking, better ensuring the data''s integrity. Although a RAID 1 does supply a sort of emergency safety backup, it does not obviate the need for regular routine backup, because something could happen to the entire array. And with two drives, the chances increase that one will fail.

A RAID 0 stripes the data across several disks, producing superior speed and full capacity, which is valuable for multitrack recording. However, this type of RAID does not provide the data safety of a RAID 1; you don''t get the advanced error checking, and if one disk in a RAID 0 fails, all data is lost.

If you need and can afford the best of both worlds, check out RAID 5 and the less common RAID 6, which use more disks to provide both data safety and speed. For more on this subject, see the article at