broken external hard drivesLike many electronics, external hard drives come with warranties. Most are for two or three years, but some are for five or even more. Rather than shelling out another two to three hundred dollars if your warrantied hard drive fails, then, you can simply have it replaced by using an RMA. RMA stands for “return material authorization” or “return merchandise authorization,” and it’s a code that tells the stingy warehouse trolls, “I compel you to send me a replacement product.”

When your hard drive fails, turn it upside-down and take a photo of its serial number. Then simply use a search engine to look for “(device manufacturer) RMA process.” Chances are, you’ll either just have to call a phone number, or even simply fill in some blanks online, and an RMA will be issued to you along with an address to which you can send back your broken product.

Print out the RMA, include the printout with the product, and also write the RMA prominently on the outside of the box. After the drive is received by the manufacturer, they’ll get another one to you straightway. If you still need to waste three hundred dollars, please just send it to my Paypal account; I promise I’ll spend it on whiskey and stickers.

External Hard Drives, Part 1: How to Reduce Breakage

Top view of female hand connecting external hard drive to laptop

Human hand not included. See retailer for details.

Many external hard drives fail due to excessive wear on the parts that see the most action: the connection ports. When you need to just check the contents, you plug in the drive, see what it lists in its file menu, then you disconnect it again. As a result, the power cable and the data cable (USB, Firewire, etc) are plugged and unplugged until the contact points break down.

To get the longest life out of a drive that you don’t frequently use, simply connect the drive and make a screen capture of its menu. Now, you have two options:
1. Label the screen capture “Drive 1 Contents” and write a “1” on the outside of the drive so that they correspond. This is a great choice if you aren’t passing the drive along to others, since you’ll have the list on your own computer.
2. Print out the screen capture and tape the printout to the outside of the drive (or the outside of the box in which you keep the drive). This option is best for when drives get passed around from one user to another.

When you actually use the drive and alter its contents, just repeat either of the above to keep your lists up-to-date. Doing so will greatly reduce unnecessary plugging and unplugging, thus extending the lifespan of your drive and its valuable contents.