Based on the symptoms you describe, I consider it most likely that
your file system is being gradually corrupted. My studies in computer
science and my experience in owning and operating multiple servers with
many hard drives lead me to this conclusion. Gradual data corruption is
rarely caused by software errors, since file systems are among the most
heavily tested and best understood software. There is a chance that some
malicious software is deliberately corrupting your hard disk, although it
is rare for viruses and other malware to delete files in such a sporadic
manner. Nonetheless, it is worth conducting a thorough malware check,
if only to rule out this possibility.
Instead of using one of the online antivirus diagnostics, which are
sharply limited in the extent of their analysis due to security and
bandwidth constraints, I recommend that you download and install a
reputable antivirus package. For example, you can obtain free trial
versions of McAfee AntiSpyware and McAfee VirusScan from the following
McAfee: free trial software
You can also try the combination of ClamWin and Winpooch, a pair of
highly regarded open-source solutions for detecting and eliminating
malware. Install ClamWin first, then install Winpooch on top of it.
Winpooch Watchdog: Download
If your operating system is free of malware, you can assume that your
data corruption is caused by faulty hardware. In particular, gradual
deterioration in the media or mechanism of your hard drive may very
well be causing the file system to lose pointers to your music files,
even if the actual data is still preserved on the disk. There would be
nothing unusual about this.
High-density data storage is a difficult task, and hard drives are
delicate devices that need to be new in order to perform reliably at the
cutting edge of this task. In fact, every hard disk loses a certain amount
of data that is recovered on the fly by error-correction algorithms built
into the disk's firmware. Eventually, the rate of data loss becomes so
high that errors cannot be corrected, and you begin to see damaged or
missing files. In my experience, this is bound to happen after three or
four years with budget-priced high-capacity hard drives.
If your hard drive is indeed failing, you would do best to buy a new
one and transfer all your files. But first, you should diagnose the
problem and try to repair and retrieve the damaged parts of your file
system. The diagnosis and temporary repair can often be carried out
with a disk diagnostic tool distributed by the manufacturer. Find out
the make and model of your hard disk, either by using your operating
system's control panel or by opening the computer case and reading the
label on the disk. Then go to the manufacturer's website and download
their free diagnostic software, which is usually provided in the form
of a floppy image or CD-ROM image. I list below the diagnostic download
pages for three of the biggest hard-drive manufacturers.
Western Digital Service and Support: Data Lifeguard
Maxtor: Software Download: PowerMax
If your manufacturer's diagnostic tool finds and perhaps repairs a
hard-disk problem, you should immediately copy your files to a fresh
disk. Use the faulty disk only for nonessential and frequently backed-up
data, or just throw it out.
If you manage to diagnose hardware failure but are unable to retrieve
the missing files using free software, I recommend that you try Gibson
Research Corporation's SpinRite. Don't be put off by the garish design
of the Gibson website. Rest assured that SpinRite is a rock-solid piece
of software that is authored by a brilliant and honest computer engineer,
namely Steve Gibson, and it can perform marvelous feats of data recovery
on damaged hard disks. The purchase price of $89 is fully refundable
within 30 days if you are unhappy with SpinRite.
Gibson Research: SpinRite 6.0: Overview
I know from personal experience that data loss is deeply unpleasant,
and the insidiously creeping variety is especially unnerving. It can
take a while to accept the fact that computer hardware is imperfect
stuff that quietly but certainly wears out over time.
I wish you all the best with this problem, and I hope for a swift and
satisfying resolution. If you have any concerns about the completeness or
accuracy of my answer, please advise me through a Clarification Request
and give me a chance to fully meet your needs before you assign a rating.
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