512 MiB of misery
Back in my university days I couldn't quite afford to replace a slowly dying drive so every few weeks when Windows ME decided it was too corrupt to boot I'd reinstall it.
Now, being a savvy if inexperienced CompSci student I kept a backup of my work on a USB stick, these frequent formats had taught me the value of such very quickly. I tended to leave my backup USB plugged in at all times when I was working at my desk so I could take very very regular backups of my project code while working on a PC with the inherent stability of a US President.
Back then the first step in installing Windows was to format the disk, this is before it checks to tell you if your disk is going to be big enough or not. So away I go, performing the regular chore of reinstalling secure in the knowledge that I'd done this a dozen or so times already and the C drive is always the first on the list. It'll take half an hour or so to do that so off I wander to fetch a cuppa. On returning to my desk 10 mins later I find drive 1 nicely formatted and integrity checked, ready to install Windows, that was quick but oh well I won't complain. Hit next (was it space key or enter, I can't recall), select the freshly formatted drive 1, next again.... insufficient space!? Hmmm, reach for my trusty calculator and convert the huge number of bytes into something comprehensible. 512 MiB, but my C: is 40 GiB, it's my flash drive that's... OH F$@K!!!
In hindsight I suppose it wasn't the platter that was failing but the controller, and when it finally failed completely the disk wasn't even enumerated by the BIOS. Lesson learned: always check that the backup media is disconnected when not in use.