Quick tip – save your MacBook’s hard drive

Recently I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails from folks that have had problems with hard drive failures in their MacBooks. While hard drive failures are a fact of life with nearly any computer it can be exacerbated in laptops and portable machines where the risk of drops while the drive is spinning is significantly higher.

One of the features I really love about my MacBooks (both my original MacBook and my MacBook Pro) is how reliable the sleep function is; close the lid and the MacBook’s screen goes dark and you are ready to run off. The reality is that by default the machine does not immediately go into sleep mode but starts the process of writing the contents of your memory to your hard drive.

This means that when you think the machine is inert, the reality is that one of the more sensitive moving parts (hard drive) is writing to disk. Depending on the amount of memory you have in your machine this may take a while to do; in my case with a MacBook Pro and 4GB of RAM it takes a little over 10 seconds.

You can modify your MacBook to simply drop into sleep mode immediately by opening a terminal window and running the following command:

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0

This means your machine will drop into sleep mode nearly instantaneously. Hendrik, a frequent contributor here and the author of Juxtaposer, pointed me to this excellent article by Rob Griffiths in MacWorld from a couple of years ago. A great read if you want more details on this setting.

If you don’t make this change you should keep an eye on your sleep indicator on the outside of your MacBook; don’t move the machine after closing the lid until that light is steadily pulsing.

Got a quick tip to help MacBook and MacBook Pro users to keep their hard drive’s safe? Please drop it into the comments below.