Plan Ahead: The 5 Programs That Will Save You When Your Hard Drive Dies

Ben Stegner 26-03-2014

Sooner or later your computer’s hard drive will sing its swan song. You may be lucky and pick up on some signs that your hard drive is on its way out 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More , or it may happen in a split second without warning. Even with a solid backup plan The Windows Backup and Restore Guide Disasters happen. Unless you're willing to lose your data, you need a good Windows backup routine. We'll show you how to prepare backups and restore them. Read More to protect your data, your backed-up files will be inaccessible until the hard drive is replaced.


Even a day without your computer can cause problems, such as not being able to print important documents or submit project results. The following websites and tools provide ways for you to retrieve your data, no matter the state of your hard drive.


Available on: Windows, OS X, Linux; Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Kindle Fire

CrashPlan is a fantastic backup solution How To Back Up PCs To Each Other Via The Internet Using Crash Plan Personal Backing up the data on your computer is vital. Yet not everyone does something about it. Why? Because backing up a computer remains a bit of a pain. If you own more than one computer,... Read More  and you can access your files in many different ways. If you have a CrashPlan+ or Unlimited subscription – which allows backup to CrashPlan’s servers – access to your files via CrashPlan’s mobile app is included in your plan.

The app is available for a variety of mobile platforms, giving you access to any of the files you have backed up into the cloud. You browse the file hierarchy just as you would in Windows Explorer or Finder; any file can be selected and viewed, opened, or shared. You can even download a file for offline storage, so a connection won’t be required to view it.

CrashPlan Mobile


This feature can be a life saver. For instance, if an urgent document had been completed, backed up, but not submitted, you could simply access it via CrashPlan’s app and email it to the intended recipient right from your phone. Or, a project rubric could be fetched to review the specifications. Having a tool that immediately backs up your files is great to have, even when your computer is working perfectly.

Office Online

Available on: Windows, OS X, Linux; Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Microsoft OneNote is Microsoft’s note-taking Office program, and it’s a great tool for taking notes 5 Ways to Take Advantage of Microsoft OneNote Read More in class and elsewhere. If you prefer taking notes on a computer rather than on paper, you’ll wind up lamenting if your hard drive dies. To alleviate this, Microsoft provides free ways to access your notes, even when you can’t use the desktop version of OneNote.

If you can use another computer, Office Online is a fully-functional version of OneNote on the web. It doesn’t have all the cool features of the full version, but it will certainly hold you over while your hard drive is replaced. Additionally, since it all takes place in your browser it will work regardless of platform.


Office Online

Alternatively, Microsoft has a OneNote app for mobile devices. These apps are free and provide the same basic functionality of the web app. If you don’t mind taking notes for a few days on your phone or tablet, it will get you through. Plus, your changes in OneNote sync, so once you get your computer up and running your new notes will be there waiting for you.


Available on: Windows, OS X, Linux; Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Kindle Fire

It’s no secret that we at MakeUseOf are big fans of Dropbox, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic program with a variety of uses Top 10 Creative Uses For Dropbox Or Other Cloud Storage The agility, flexibility, and low-cost scale ups turn cloud storage options into more than an online vault to back up your documents and files. But cloud storage is more than these important but mundane uses.... Read More that you should certainly check out. It can also serve the vital function of making sure that your most important files are always in close reach.


For starters, you can use its free mobile app on nearly every mobile platform in existence. Keeping your most important files, like papers, spreadsheets, pictures and downloads in Dropbox means that you’ll be able to view and save them on your device easily.

Dropbox Mobile

Dropbox allows you to share folders with other users; you could set up a folder and allow access among friends or people you collaborate on a project Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Read More  with. If something happened to your computer, your peers would have easy access to your files. This boils down to the backup maxim of having data in as many places as possible. As long as one computer is active, everyone can access their data.


Available on: Windows, OS X


CCleaner is a great tool for cleaning up junk and optimizing your system Optimize Your System To Run At Its Best With CCleaner Over the last two years, CCleaner has changed quite a bit in terms of version numbers...up now to version 3.10 at the time of this writing. While visually the program actually hasn't changed much (it's... Read More , but it packs some lesser-known features. Note that when downloading, use the “Slim” option on CCleaner’s Builds page – it doesn’t try to push a junk toolbar like the “Standard” option does.

One feature that will help soften the blow of a hard drive failure is the option to save a list of installed programs as a text file. Since you can’t back up programs in Windows, this is your next best option. It’s slightly hidden in CCleaner’s menus, but it’s not too far of a trek. From CCleaner’s main interface, head to the “Tools” tab, and under “Uninstall” you’ll see a button near the bottom to save the list as a .txt file.

CCleaner Installed Programs

Name it something descriptive, perhaps including the date, and save it somewhere safe. (Bonus points if you save it to Dropbox or back it up to CrashPlan!) Remember to do this every so often and you won’t be caught wondering which programs you need to reinstall after getting a new hard drive. This is especially important if you’re a tinkerer who experiments with various programs, or if you’ve been using your current computer for a long time and don’t remember everything you installed.

Ninite (Windows, Linux)

Ninite (our review Ninite - Easily Install All Your Favorite Free Apps In One Go Read More ) is a great tool for installing many programs at once. The last thing you want to do when you finally bring your computer back to life is having to sit though dozens of install prompts, each asking you to click “Next” multiple times. Worse, you might even install toolbars or other junk along the way. Let Ninite take care of the program installations for you when you get a new hard drive; you’ve had enough stress from the incident as it is. Ninite does not offer an option for Mac OS X, but Get Mac Apps is a viable alternative.



With these tools, a hard drive crash doesn’t have to be a catastrophic event. Hopefully, you’ll never have to worry about this situation, but it’s a good idea to plan for the worst. No matter which desktop or mobile platforms you use, you have options to utilize. Keep this list around and take some time now to set up Dropbox, CrashPlan, and a list of installed programs with CCleaner, and you’ll save hours when your hard drive croaks.

Do you have any hard drive horror stories? Do you use these tools, or are there better options? I’m looking forward to discussing in the comments!

Related topics: Cloud Storage, Data Backup, Hard Drive.

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  1. Bruce E
    April 2, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    It is also worth noting that Microsoft OneNote 2013 is now free on all non-*nix platforms from the OneNote website. I just downloaded it last week for a Windows machine. I'll also experiment to see if it will run under Wine.

  2. Mirket
    April 2, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I use two ways to protect and save my important files:

    1. Encrypted drive with TrueCrypt (
    2. Backup to NAS and to remote FTP space with Iperius (

    I think it's enough ;-)

  3. Stormy Clouds
    March 30, 2014 at 12:50 am

    What about non-cloud based backup solutions for the post-NSA post-PRISM era?

    I use SyncBack with a portable hard drive and a TrueCrypt partition to backup my data off site. The hard drive sits in my bag - which I take everywhere with me and store outside the house when I'm at home.

  4. Niall M
    March 28, 2014 at 8:17 am

    What about Backblaze! $5 per month (and cheaper per year) for genuine unlimited storage is the best value proposition for backups that I've ever seen.

    • Ben S
      March 28, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      I've certainly heard good things about Backblaze. I use CrashPlan myself, but I'm sure Backblaze is just as good. If that's your preference, go for it! I paid $60 for a year of CrashPlan Unlimited which works out to $5 a month, so the rates are competitive.

      However, it would have been redundant to include Backblaze in this article. Having BB and CrashPlan both on your computer backing up is overkill. Also, it looks like BB only supports iOS for its mobile app, while CrashPlan supports iOS, Android, Kindle, and Windows Phone. So if you don't use iOS and need mobile access, CP may be the better choice for you.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Don Gateley
    March 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    You should mention PCMover. It allows you to move apps along with their data and registry entries from another machine rather than re-installing them.

    • Ben S
      March 28, 2014 at 4:35 pm


      This looks like a decent program. I've never used it before, and it is fairly expensive. I feel that it would be more useful if you were planning to upgrade, rather than having to deal with an unexpected crash. But I'm sure it would save some time! Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Don Gateley
      March 28, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      I have quite a number of systems I've accumulated through upgrade and special purpose purchases and use the program a lot. The beauty of it is that it carries over the program's configuration and data which can save a lot of time. But, it is true that it requires you have the apps running on something else and is intended mostly for upgrade. I just found it extremely useful recently when Windows Update irreparably corrupted one of my machines so that .net couldn't be installed and I had to do a factory reset. Now I'm looking at another system that Update screwed so that it can't install security updates. Doncha love MS? :-)

  6. B ob Markowitz
    March 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    You don't specify if Ninite gives the option to opt out of all the bloatware most programs try to force on you.

    • Ben S
      March 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm


      I apologize for this. I thought that I mentioned that Ninite is toolbar-free, but now I notice that I did not specify that.

      No, Ninite does not allow for any of that garbage. It automatically says "no" to junk - so there's no surprises once everything gets installed. This is one of the things they highlight on their website, and I've never had an issue with it.

      Thanks for your comment, and I hope Ninite is useful for you!