On the morning of April 6, I plugged in an external drive to move some files across for work. They were big, so I needed to use a high speed SSD, but when I plugged it in, the drive wouldn’t work. And that’s a problem.

When drives fail, there isn’t much you can actually do, and options depend on the type of drive and how much access you have.

Conventional hard drives with moving parts tend to be the easiest to at least salvage something. We say “easy” with trepidation, because while you can do deep scans of older styles of hard drives, you may find your files in blocks with missing parts.

It’s hard for a file to have a missing part, too, so you see the results best with images, whereby parts of the images are there, but other parts — rows, basically — are replaced with a block of grey or some other colour.

Documents don’t fare well in this way, replaced with text and characters more resembling gibberish because that’s exactly what it is: gibberish text as the file has attempted to be salvaged from a decaying drive, meaning it has probably been cut off unintentionally.

Music is much the same, and video with it, and often these files simply won’t play, or will and will break in the middle with no ability to scrub or fast-forward through the file.

You might even force the file’s hand a little and play it through a “play anything” media player like VLC, which could end up delivering what we describe as “cooked” media, throwing up the audio and visual equivalent of the gibberish from the documents mentioned before, making an otherwise lovely bit of audio sound like trash, or something that could get remixed into a Top 40 techno track if it weren’t for how insulting it was to people’s eardrums.

So when I awoke on an otherwise lovely sunny morning in April to find my drive wouldn’t initialise, it wasn’t just a problem for my inability to move files across from home to work, it was also a problem for the files I had stored on here.


There were movies I had purchased, and high-resolution music, and backup documents for stories and projects I was working on, too.

And in an instant as the solid-state drive refused to switch on, and refused to recognise the ExFAT file system I had bestowed to it almost a year before, all of my files were gone.

Before, we mentioned about conventional hard drives having some way of getting files back. It comes from deep scanning, a file hunt process that basically continues to run diagnostic and search parameter on the hard drive for hours at a time, usually while the drive is struggling to engage drive heads or spin up the way it used to. The more it searches, the more chance you might find a file across the various platters, and then salvage it by copying that file to a more stable drive.

It’s time intensive, sure, but it’s at least something you can do.

Solid-state drives like the one that had failed for this journalist, they’re easy, too, but for a different reason.

When a solid-state drive fails or doesn’t initialise properly, you don’t really have a solution, outside of giving up. It’s an “easy” problem to deal with, because everything is out of your hands.