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Q: My Seagate 250-gigabyte external hard drive, which is less than 20 percent full, cannot be accessed — or at least the contents, mostly jpg files and Word docs, cannot. It had started to get quite slow recently, so I decided to try to defragment it. That was apparently the wrong approach, as now, though I can see the drive, I get a message “The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error.”

When I bring up “Computer” and check the external drive’s properties it shows it is less than 20 percent full. Checking in “Hardware” it says, “This device is working properly.”

So I’m stumped. Is it possible to regain access to the files on the drive?

— Doug Allen

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A: Your problem could result from a number of causes. But before exploring further, make sure you’ve rebooted your computer. Sometimes that by itself will fix things.

If rebooting doesn’t get rid of the problem, the most likely causes are a failing drive or a bad cable connecting the drive to the computer. But before despairing, here are several steps to try.

First, if you have another computer available, try connecting the drive to that computer. If it works, you can focus on the first computer for your troubleshooting.

If it doesn’t work, it’s time to try a different cable. And if the new cable doesn’t work, you can figure the problem is likely a failing or failed drive.

If that’s the case, a repair shop may be able to retrieve data from the drive.

If the problem is with the first computer, the next step is to make sure you’ve got the most recent drivers for the device. Next, try running the Chkdsk utility to see if bad sectors on the drive are causing the problems. To do so, call up Windows Explorer and right-click on the drive and select Properties. In the dialog that pops up, click on the tools tab and then the Check button. From that point on, just follow the instructions you receive.

Q: I frequently use a golf discount website. However, lately when I attempt to connect, my computer can only “cycle/wait to connect.” When I give up and hit my homepage icon, the golf website briefly pops up before moving to my home page.

This tells me that my computer has found the site, but it can’t get out of the waiting-to-connect mode.

This is the only website that I experience this problem with. I would appreciate any suggestions since I really like this vendor.

— Dennis Hoshino

A: When you encounter a problem like this, the most likely cause is a script on that site that isn’t being processed properly.

You might try accessing the site with a different browser. Sometimes website designers neglect to check the compatibility of their pages with all browsers.

In any case, you’ll be doing a favor to the site if you send a message to the webmaster reporting your problem.

Q:On my Microsoft Surface and my two laptops, I have had Microsoft Security Essentials, Webroot Secure Anywhere, Kaspersky and Trend Micro. I have paid for most of these.

No matter, I still seem to get malware and viruses. How to tell what is best and what is worth paying for? Microsoft, Geek Squad and Kaspersky all think theirs is the best.

— Evelyn Williams

A: First, let’s make sure you’re not running more than one anti-virus program at time. They can conflict with each other and cause problems.

Second, anti-virus programs don’t protect against all malware, and they can take a while to catch up to new viruses. For that matter, no anti-malware program protects against all malware. These programs are all aiming at moving targets.

I haven’t done my own testing of anti-virus programs in several years, but many recent comparisons agree that Microsoft Security Essentials is not among the top anti-virus programs. In many comparisons, Kaspersky is rated at the top.

Also, check with your Internet service provider to see if it offers an anti-virus program. Comcast, for example, offers Norton Internet Security free to subscribers.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.