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The unthinkable has happened: my MacBook’s hard drive gave up and croaked. This means lost data, unrecoverable memories, and tears of pain. It’s been less than 30 days since I purchased the Macbook, so at least Apple is replacing the drive. But until it gets fixed, updates from me might be sporadic for the next few days. The lesson? Beware of refurbished MacBooks from Apple or anyone else.

It’s the third time this year I’ve had a hard drive failure. Earlier, both my PowerBook drive AND my external backup failed. Having lost gigs of data, I’m now looking for a backup process that doesn’t depend solely on having an external drive.

Apple’s upcoming Time Machine, looks interesting, since it can backup to a networked drive. Sadly, it won’t be out until next year. I’m also considering Box.net as a backup solution, but is it worth a 100 bucks?

What automated, redundant, and reliable backup solutions have you tried? I’d love to know!

48 Comments

  • j

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    6:32 pm

    burn important files to dvd

  • Vicky

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    7:18 pm

    http://geeksaresexy.blogspot.com/2006/01/freeze-your-hard-drive-to-recover-data.html

    I tried this with two hard drives I had die, and I recovered everything from one of them. Sadly, nothing from the other.

  • Kirk

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    7:50 pm

    I’ve been using a Mirra for about 6 months now and love it. Highly recommended.

    http://www.seagate.com/products/retail/mirra/index.html

  • Jorge

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    8:05 pm

    .mac has an application that allows you to back up on DVDs. If you need more space than will fit on one CD or DVD, Backup automatically breaks up the backup file to fit on multiple discs.

    Also, Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is cheaper than box.net. Box .net give you 5 gigs for $5 a month. Amazon you pay only for what you use. There is no minimum fee, and no start-up cost. * $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used. * $0.20 per GB of data transferred.

    -jorge

  • jif

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    8:16 pm

    I use chronosync to sync selected directories between my powerbook and my G5 and my G5 and my departmental network. This is done daily to ensure that system files and active projects are secure. I also use superduper to duplicate my laptop HD whenever I travel.

  • Digital501

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    8:59 pm

    I love my mac, but I can’t really afford to be without it when it needs sent in for repair (Dell always sent someone to my house to fix my laptop). I wrote an article about how I backup my hard drive so I can continue to work if my laptop is ever in the shop. I use an external hard drive, but the method should work over a network connection if you use a disk image. Check it out here: http://www.digital501.com/2006021110/mac-backup-osx/

  • Shane

    gravatarSep 12, 2006
    11:09 pm

    You probably already know for sure but… if the drive is still spinning then it might not really be dead and the data might be recoverable with something like Data Rescue II (my favorite app). In my IT office I pop the 2.5 laptop drive into a 2.5 to 3.5 converter, hook it up to a firewire port on another mac, run DR II, rescue any data I can, and then reformat the drive.

    Or possibly… can your MacBook start up in target disk mode? If it could then you’ve got your external firewire drive to fix it in right there.

    I’m guessing though that when you say it dead that you know it has stopped spinning. Truthfully though, in a department of over 40 Macs (w/ 10 notebooks) over 4 years – I still haven’t seen a hard drive truly die yet.

  • Torley Linden

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    12:24 am

    ARGHHH Chanpory, sucks this happened to you. :( Must be so frustrating. When I’ve lost data, it’s always been tense. Such emotion over 1’s and 0’s arranged into… important info I needed! shakes fists

    Emotionalism aside, Box.net looks pretty sweet–the site design is very clean, but… I’ve been reading some sketchy things about them like the following:

    http://marcchung.com/2006/08/15/a-boxnet-review/

    I haven’t tried them for myself so I can’t cast judgment.

    Time Machine sounds kickass, and with the dropping price of external hard drives too… wowee. I wonder if Time Machine can back up to more than one medium at a time, automatically? ‘Cuz that’d definitely be redundant in a good way. :D

  • Layne

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    12:28 am

    I had a similar experience with all my personal files (ironically as I was trying to back them up to an external drive). I tried Disk Utility, Norton Unerase, Data Rescue X, and probably a few other things I can’t remember now with limited success. Finally, I tried FileSalvage from SubRosaSoft. It was able to find almost everything on the drive. Filenames were lost, but all the metadata in my photos was intact, so at least my photos still had dates in them when I reimported them into iPhoto.

    Going through six year’s worth of digital photos and renaming and tagging them all again was not fun, but it beat the alternative. Now I use ChronoSync to sync my photo and music folders over to the kitchen iMac nightly.

  • wolftag

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    1:24 am

    There are a few options for automating backups, the big question is backing up to what. You’ve already experienced having an external drive fail. I have two suggestions:

    1. For the really important stuff like photo collections, definately burn to DVD. Give a copy of the DVD to a friend or family member. This will protect you in case of something really terrible, like a fire.

    2. Buy something like http://www.buffalotech.com/products/product-detail.php?productid=97

    For about $700, you get a box with 4 drives. It can be configured in various RAID configurations, providing redundancy if one drive fails. You can put it on your home network and share it. You can mount the drive from various computers, access files via ftp, via a web browser (on and off the LAN). You can even plug another USB drive into a USB port and have it served on your network as well.

    It may seem like overkill, but it will give you peace of mind and a LOT of cool features.

  • BH

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    2:09 am

    Did your Macbook suffer from random shutdowns? Mine did. As a result of chronic random shutdown syndrome (RSS), the HD failed within 3 weeks.

  • Art

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    3:44 am

    This might be the obvious, but have you tried booting from a live CD like Ubuntu? That might help confirm that it’s the drive and not the OS.

    And you might consider iBackup — free, like beer.

  • Mike

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    5:27 am

    You might want to look at Strongspace. I’m a happy customer.

  • Liz

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    9:13 am

    So sorry for your loss. It’s too late for you, alas, but for anyone else reading this, the key word in a comment above is redundancy.

    A safe backup is TWO copies of your data, preferably in different media/different locations, because as soon as your hard drive fails/laptop is stolen/house is hit by lightening, then your “backup” is now your only copy, and yes, a backup could fail in the process of restoring your data.

    I keep two clones, on separate hard drives, in different locations. (I use SuperDuper). No, they’re not always completely up to date, but that means I’d lose a week or two of data, not ten years.

    When I’m working on a tedious and critical project, I make interim backups “frequently” on yet another external drive and/or a flash drive.

    Then, for irreplaceable data, and everyone knows what that is (for me, its the documentation of my artwork) I ALSO have photo CDs, backups of the photo CDs, hard copies (slides) . . . you get the idea. This is also where server solutions, DVDs, .Mac, etc can be wonderful.

    And the two copies don’t always have to be digital. Don’t discount paper copies (for example, for financial records).

    Hard drives fail. There’s just a statistical risk, and that risk is unavoidable. The unknown isn’t if, but when, so plan for that failure.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    9:46 am

    Thank you everyone for all the support and recommendations! I’m coming to terms with the data loss, and it looks like there are some good solutions on both the hardware and software fronts. An automated RAID backup system seems the most hardcore, but also the most secure‖something I will definitely consider investing in. The various software programs like Chronosync, SuperDuper, and Apple’s Backup is also something I need to check out. Sadly, I can’t do that until the MacBook comes back!

  • Rene

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    10:06 am

    I decided to go on “tape” backup route. Check out DV Backup (http://www.coolatoola.com/)

    Up to 17 GB….it’s far reliable than ext. hard drives. I have three ext. hard drives failing in the past. I’m just fed up with the so called reliability of hard drives.

  • Arthur Goranga

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    2:11 pm

    Nero Rules!

  • Rogério Rocha

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    7:26 pm

    Dead already? Pretty soon for a computer that is less than a year old.

    Same thing happened to my PowerBook a couple of months ago. I had e-mail messages from 2002 in that HD! I almost had a heart attack.

    I was able to still use the computer by installing MacOS X in an external Firewire drive. This way, I could try to run some disk utilities on the dead drive to try and recover the data. The biggest problem was that none of the utilities I had (Apple’s Disk Utility, basically) were able to work in an unmountable drive.

    Thankfully Alsoft’s DiskWarrior (http://www.alsoft.com/DiskWarrior/index.html) can. Bought it via download, and immediately ran it. One click later, my disk (as well as all my files) came back to life.

    I used Apple’s Migration Assistant to move my Home folder to the external drive, while I looked for a internal disk replacement.

    Now, I use .Mac’s Backup to remind me to burn my Home folder to a DVD monthly.

    Good luck.

  • frank

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    8:20 pm

    Umm.. I don’t know if it’s too late. I used Data Rescue II when my drive went tits up. I had to use my wife’s ibook as the master and an external drive to dump the data to, but i got EVERYTHING back (60gb of music and 30gb of work files). When i started calling data retrieval experts, they were quoting upwards of $1600.. DRII was $99. It took about 36 hours of just letting the two computers sit there and talk to each other, but i really did get everything back… so i wish you luck

    Check it out here http://www.prosofteng.com/

  • Billifer

    gravatarSep 13, 2006
    9:53 pm

    I use a double backup system: First, I use SuperDuper! (fantastic software) to make an exact, bootable copy on an external firewire drive. A few times a month (if I remember to), I actually boot from it, just to make sure it works, and then I reboot from my internal HD again.

    Secondly, i use a free (for personal use) app called iBackup (that I cannot recommend enough!). It works somewhat similarly to .mac’s Quickpicks, allowing you to select exactly what settings, apps, etc., to backup. That can be set to backup over Appleshare, WebDAV, CIFS/Windows Share, to an external drive, or any other path that appears in the finder.

    As others have suggested burning to CD or DVD, iBackup allows you to (a) create incremental backups; and (b) create burn folders. Applescript support is also included, if somewhat rudimentary, so firing off a script could run a backup, burn a DVD from the folder it creates, eject the DVD, trash the burn folder, then empty the trash. Just a thought.

  • Mark

    gravatarSep 14, 2006
    10:43 am

    .mac account / 4GB = $99

  • Donnie

    gravatarSep 14, 2006
    6:42 pm

    Luv’ed your ‘How to dress like a Mac’! Heres’a good article on Mac backup:

    http://www.macgeekery.com/tips/backupstrategyforthelazyandinept

    Personally, after reading this article and others, I’m now using ‘psync’ launched hourly by ‘periodic’ using ‘launchd’ (to incremental backup my User directories to firewire) and daily (to incremental backup the entire HD-Intel iMac to firewire).

  • excitedVulcan

    gravatarSep 14, 2006
    8:06 pm

    sorry ’bout yer drive (data, actually) i just lost a drive on my AlBook, as well as on my quicksilver (at the same time, kin ya believe?) pb was backed up with SuperDuper from shirtpocket software http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html It truly rocks! I happen to back up to an external fw drive, but be careful about getting one you can boot from (non bootable works, but not fantastic because, well, you can’t boot from it).

  • Oliver Nielsen

    gravatarSep 15, 2006
    7:38 am

    I feel ur pain man. My girlfriends macbook also died 2 weeks ago. Same thing, the drive simply died. I wonder what the fuck Apple has done lately. Have they totally skipped the quality testing stage before a product leaves the factory? And their customer support is getting worse every time I have to talk to them. All their crap about the product being more than 3 months old, them trying to sell me support, or even AppleCare. I just want it fixed asap. The reason I’m so pissed is because I’ve had that kind of issues with my iMac G5, my iPod, and now the MacBook. All three of them has had hard drive failures. A few years back I never experienced that kind of trouble with my Apple products.

    Apple has grown too big to love. Let’s hope they take themselves and their customers serious and realize that they have to get their act together NOW, or people will not just don’t love them, but not even like them. OK, I want a mac computer, but I can actually skip their iPods, and therefore also their iTunes Music Store.

    Sad I have to say this about a company that used to have me as a religious customer. I’m still a customer, but not a happy one.

  • Joel

    gravatarSep 29, 2006
    5:06 am

    No backups? At all? What were you thinking? I’m sorry, but this bears repeating? What WERE you thinking??

    As for the question of “Is it worth 100 bucks?” You’re damn right it is. How much time and grief would that $100 have saved you three weeks ago?

    Anyone who works with a computer should know that they always need a backup solution. Always. I can’t count how many times over the years where I’ve run across people who had not considered backups… except for AFTER their hard drive decided to take a one-way trip into la la land.

    ANYTHING is better than nothing. Hard drives die, sooner or later, so get an external drive and copy your stuff to it. You don’t need fancy software or anything like that. Just a having your stuff in two places will be better than nothing and will cover you when (not if) something happens.

    Here’s a summary of how buying a computer should be:

    1. Buy computer
    2. Set up backup routine

    You’d think that computer vendors and CompUSAMicroBestCenterBuy would be hawking their backup wares along with their computers. “Buying a new laptop, sir? Can I interest you a external backup drive? Protect your important data.”

  • Karen

    gravatarJul 5, 2007
    11:39 am

    I don’t think it is just refurbed MacBooks – my hard drive just died 8 days after the warranty expired. I purchased it from the Apple Store brand new.

    Fortunately, before it totally died it started acting weird which prompted me to do a backup so I only lost about a week and a half of work and e-mails.

  • Leo Venezuela

    gravatarJul 15, 2007
    6:27 pm

    I had the same experience with my MacBook. In less than a year my 80GB hard disk died. It couldn’t be recognized at all; didn’t show up on Apple System Profiler.

    Over the weekend, I got a 200GB hard disk replacement and an external hard disk enclosure.

    On a hunch, I installed the dead 80GB on the enclosure and attached it to my MacBook via the included USB cable. The hard disk mounted! All the data were there. It was even recognized as a startup disk in System Preferences/Startup Disk.

    Basing it solely on my experience, your data isn’t lost so don’t throw away or reformat that seemingly dead drive; it just needs to be transferred to an external enclosure for it to work again.

    The next thing I need to do is put it back as my MacBook’s internal drive and see what happens. If it works of course I no longer would put it back since the 200GB is already inside but it’ll be more to see if simply physically removing and reinstalling the hard disk would bring it back to life.

    Hope that this has been helpful.

  • Mikael

    gravatarAug 11, 2007
    12:47 pm

    My Macbook hard drive just died also. Although I’m extremely disappointed, I’m not really surprised, having experienced 5 hard drive failures on 2 macbook pros within 1 year…

    Never had had any quality issues with Apple during the last 18 years I’ve been using macs, but now I can’t help having the feeling that something has gone awfully wrong during the last few years.

  • Devzero

    gravatarAug 12, 2007
    12:20 am

    I’ve you’ve had 5 drives fail in a year, you are the problem :)

  • Voila Viola

    gravatarAug 12, 2007
    9:04 am

    i’m on my 3rd harddrive, 2nd powercord, 2nd battery for my macbook… i give it to apple. they got smart avoiding the lemon policy by making most problems fixable DIY

  • Edward Yu

    gravatarAug 22, 2007
    12:21 pm

    my macbook just died on me last night. i’ve located the problem to being a hard drive issue. it tries to startup but then stops. on some occassions, i can even make out some clicking noises.

    in the end, i popped the os x disc in and ran disk utility. the app can’t even locate my hard disk at all any more.

    I then attempted to remove the HDD, pop it into an enclosure and try to connect it to another macbook as a USB drive. ran outta luck there too. so Leo Venezuala how did u manage to locate your drive from the USB bay?

    I hope someone can help me out because I wasn’t able to back up my most recent files which are primarily photos because conveniently, my external was full and I needed to burn some things onto dvd.

    Does anyone have any more suggestions? I’m so close to trying to throw it into the freezer and hope for the best.

    email me if you got any advice please: edward.hw.yu@gmail.com

  • Carolina Centeno

    gravatarDec 11, 2007
    8:25 pm

    My macbook hard disk also died a month ago, after a year and 5 months working normally. I understand all of you who have lost lots of info and cried about it. The hard drive burned and nothing was recovered. I had apple care so the hard drive was replaced by a new one. I hope it works ok from now on.

  • Allen Shechtman

    gravatarMar 11, 2008
    6:18 pm

    My son’s macbook started acting weirdly a few months ago. Then the hard drive died and all that showed on the screen was the flashing question mark. I tried a variety of things related to my PC experience – nothing worked. I booted it with the leopard disc and it reinstalled leopard, and everything was there. Two weeks later it died again, now the boot installer won’t see the hd to reinstall it to. I pulled the hd and have attempted to read in with external systems, my pc, etc, there is nothing there except apparently 2 folders with nothing in them. The mac expert said there is a btree error. is there any recovery or disc read software that actuallu works? I’ve tried stellar phoenix, file salvage, das boot, filesalvage II, most of them seem to want to take literally 10 days to read an 80gb drive, I;m now attempting Norton as a las resort before I take the hd apart and use the platters for mini-frisbees. Any suggestions_ please email me at ashechtm@martinross.ca Tnx

  • Matt

    gravatarMar 26, 2008
    7:42 pm

    OK well let me join the list of people that have had their macbook hdd die! … i was in bootcamp (xp) and it froze, alt-ctrl-del wouldnt work so I had to power-off button. When I went to start up the next time it went a bit strange at startup, i got into xp and then after about 10 mins it froze up again, and had to do the same power-off! .. this happened once more and now if i power on i get to grey screen & it just hangs.. a strange clicking noise and a kind of ‘beep’ from the hard disk spinning it sounds like! … There’s a fair amount of stuff on there I havent backed upso im really hoping that i’m able to recover at least some data!!

  • Sarah

    gravatarApr 16, 2008
    3:28 pm

    My Macbook hard drive died after only 6 months (bought new in October. No warnings, no cautionary beeps or screeches like a PC laptop would make, just went belly up one day in the middle of ordinary computing. I’m disgusted. This is my first Mac, and it will definitely be my last. What a POS!

  • Eddie

    gravatarJul 3, 2008
    9:42 pm

    Apple blows! Macbook HD just died with no warning what so ever. Even my 8 year old VAIO gave a warning and I was able to recover my improtant files. It was a 60GB Seagate crap drive and I will never buy seagate products again. It would be wise!

  • debbie

    gravatarSep 4, 2008
    9:57 pm

    We are on an island for a day. Brought laptop to do online class just starting. I guess the he crashed a’s it is flashing a folder with question mark, we have our iPhones but the MacBook is staring us down. why do they just crash??? Of is under 1 Tr. What should we do???? Debbie. Sharpei@comcast.net

  • Sim

    gravatarOct 5, 2008
    1:18 pm

    I have a black Macbook running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger from August 2006 and haven’t had any problems with it until recently when trying to open Safari and MSN Messenger it froze. I couldn’t Force Quit so I did a manual shut down and restarted it. It showed a flashing folder icon with question mark and a strange clicking noise.

    Worst thing is I only recently decided to buy a 500GB WD MyBook but hadn’t had time to do a complete HDD back up. If I’ve lost my data I would devastated. I should really have backed up as soon as the drive came through the door.

    Contact me at simzangel@hotmail.co.uk

  • Kathy

    gravatarOct 20, 2008
    3:42 pm

    I was using husband’s macbook and it just died. nothing, nada. took battery out, unplugged cord. tried resetting the SMC. nothing. no problem before, no warning at all. and i dont know when he backed it up. not the first time, actually crashed 10 days after receiving it-so not much lost. but this is only less than year old. he will be devastated as it is his only mac and he’s been a mac guy since 91. what can i do? I thought from previous crashes you could try connecting the laptop to another mac etc. but the help at apple is so bad now they don’t even bother except to say, bring it in. well, i live 21/2 hours from an apple store. any ideas? (ps love the back up ideas on this thread, thank you).

  • Liz

    gravatarNov 8, 2008
    11:37 am

    This appears to be an epidemic on my campus right now. Mine seems to be in the process of failing according to the signs you all seemed to have and the ones my neighbor and friend had before their Macbooks (2 months out of warranty) had hard drives die. I’ve been backing mine up compulsively since then and I’m praying my hard drive is just playing a cruel joke on me.

  • k

    gravatarNov 10, 2008
    6:44 pm

    Macbook hd died last night. No warning. Click click click then ? folder.

    Brought to mac store and they agreed to replace hd (i’ve had it for 1 year + 4 months).

    Lost data, though.

    Can anyone recommend a data recovery company that won’t cost $1,000s?

  • the dub

    gravatarDec 3, 2008
    11:02 pm

    My hdd died a few nights ago on my Macbook Pro, right before finals as a graphic design student while I was backing up my files. I just bought it in October. I love my computer but i can’t handle having to replace a HDD every 1.5 months. I payed 2000 dollars to have it fail on me in less than 2 months? Not my impression of a pro computer at all, but it is when it’s working! Holy moses!

  • Joe McHenry

    gravatarDec 13, 2008
    8:52 pm

    My Macbook hard drive died after 9 months. I am now backing important info via onto CDs.

  • Tisha

    gravatarJul 5, 2009
    12:19 pm

    This seems to be a very common problem. I have a MacBook from 3 years ago and recently it died while using FireFox. The night before it died, I couldn’t turn my wifi on, coincidence? Now I have a new MBP, I’d like to know what the issue is so I can prevent it from happening to my MBP; especially after warranty. Everywhere I look, there are a lot of complaints, haven’t seen any in 09′. Have they fixed the problem? The real question is why aren’t there any solutions?

  • je

    gravatarDec 13, 2009
    2:16 pm

    If you have a desktop system or its an external drive, try this first.

    There is an good chance the drive is OK and the controller is dead.

    In a desktop system remove the drive from it’s “bay” and connect it in the other bay if your computer has one. If this doesn’t work, do the next step.

    If you have an external drive (or a computer with one bay) take the actual hard drive out of the case and either find a new hard drive case enclosure (take apart an old drive or you can get one via the web for $20-25.) or try putting it into a friends computer.

    Luckily, right before throwing my drive away I looked in a box of old cables and found an old USB drive. I took my drive out of its Firewire enclosure and boom, it worked fine.

  • JohnnyBoyClub

    gravatarJun 11, 2010
    3:24 am

    You should try with any bootable disk to see if you can get to recovery console or anything that will help you enter a console to try “chkdsk c:” and see if is that working. If you get into your HDD you should backup ur data and from now on use backup softwares to keep your data safe. I can say you to use http://www.dmailer.com/dmailer-backup.html is the one i use and is free and you will be able to store the backup online.

    If you wont be able to enter that means you must send it to them , i guess your warranty is still on.

  • Becky Blanton

    gravatarJul 4, 2010
    3:25 pm

    I went through three hard drives on my MacBook too.. AND three power cords AND about 40 trips to the “genius bar.” MacBooks SUCK. I burn everything to an exterior hard drive and upload important documents and files every day. It’s the only way to protect myself from the MacBook.

    I’ll NEVER buy another one. They only look pretty while they’re failing you. If Bill Gates made better looking machines he’d kick Jobs to the curb in a month.

    Apple = here’s what a computer looks like on drugs.

  • ana alonso

    gravatarJul 27, 2010
    7:40 pm

    well I think I am one of the lucky ones, my mac book’s hd ‘died’ after 4 years, still, I am sooo disapointed!! I am also a mac ultra fan since ’91. aside from the tears and the lost data, I would really like to know WHY does this happen? how does a hd dies? what makes it stop running? I also had problems with safari and msn page, but apple won’t explain clearly what the relation is. any one knows? thanks!