Hard Drive Failing? Here are the Warnings and Solutions You Need to Know

broken-hard-drive-workers

The first hard drive hit the market in 1956; it was a 5-megabyte drive for an IBM mainframe, it weighed more than a ton, and it eventually failed. All hard drives fail, because despite their connection to electronic devices, hard drives are (or were) mechanical in nature: a physical platter spins at thousands of revolutions per minute and a moving arm equipped with magnetic sensors reads magnetic pulses stored on the platter. Today’s solid-state drives (SSDs) do not have any moving parts and so they last longer, but they too eventually wear out. When a hard drive fails, it can be anything from an annoyance to a catastrophe, depending on the backup system that was in place to keep that data safe and secure. Fortunately, there are some warning signs of an impending hard drive failure, and some things that you can do to protect yourself from a drive failure. In this article, I will show you how to prepare for the worst and the warnings you should look out for.

Note that this article is written with a Windows PC in mind, and the software tools I mention will generally be Windows-specific, but the general concepts discussed apply to Mac or Linux computers as well.

Warnings of an impending failure

Most components on a PC that can fail will give some warning of their deteriorating condition before they just stop working altogether, and hard drives are no exception. Here are some warning signs of a developing hard drive problem:

  1. Disappearing files: If a file simply disappears from your system, this can be a sign that the hard drive is developing issues.
  2. Computer freezing: Computer freeze up from time to time, and it’s almost always solved by a quick reboot. However, if you find that you need to reboot more and more frequently, that could be an indication that your hard drive is beginning to fail.
  3. Corrupted data: If files on the drive are suddenly corrupted or unreadable for no apparent reason, it’s possible that your hard drive is experiencing a gradual failure.
  4. Bad sectors: If you start receiving error messages about “bad sectors”, “CRC” or “Cyclic Redundancy Error”, that is a sure sign that your drive is developing problems.
  5. Sounds: If your hard drive is making sounds that you aren’t familiar with, this could also be bad news, particularly if it’s a grinding, clicking or screeching noise.

Diagnosing the problem

hard drive head

Diagnosing hard drive problems is generally a process of elimination. There are multiple points of possible failure, and not all of them are in the hard drive itself.

If your computer still boots to the operating system

The first thing to do is to use Device Manager to check and see whether your controller or motherboard is the source of the problem.

The second thing to do is to run a complete virus and malware check, as malicious software can often cause problems such as freezing or file corruption that you could mistake for problems with your drive. There are many good programs available for this; read this TechJunkie article on the best antivirus programs as well as our article on the best anti-malware programs.

Next, use Windows’ own diagnostic software to see if it can detect any problems. Open My Computer and right-click on the drive, then select “Properties” and navigate to the “Tools” tab. Under “Error Checking” select the “Check” button. Windows will identify any sectors that have gone bad. This diagnostic procedure actually can fix many minor drive problems by detecting which section of the drive has a problem and not using that part of the drive anymore. However, this should be regarded as a temporary fix, and you should back up your data as soon as possible.

If your machine won’t boot from the hard drive

You can try and boot into safe mode, download anti-virus software from there, and check the system. The best way to verify is to use a antivirus boot disc to scan and repair your PC. You can burn the bootable software to a CD or even install it on a USB drive (using a different computer). This will let you load the special antivirus environment to check your PC for any problems outside of the Windows environment.

You can also check to see if there are partitions on the drive at all using DiskPart or another third-party disk utility tool. If it doesn’t see any partitions, it’s likely that there was a partition mess up somewhere along the line. Unfortunately, recovering files from a situation like this isn’t always possible, as you’ll need to repartition the drive.

Check the connections inside the machine to make sure that the hard drive is properly connected to the motherboard. On a modern SATA or SSD this is very simple.

For IDE drives, there are some other things to try. Machines made before 2007 or so will often have an IDE controller rather than a modern SATA controller. Check that the red edge of the drive cable is aligned with Pin 1 of the connector on the drive. Pin 1 is closest to the power plug, typically. IDE machines also use a master/slave assignment for the drives, so check that the jumpers are set correctly. Boot again to the BIOS screen and see if it can auto-detect the drive. This will establish that the drive is properly connected, at least.

Data Recovery Options

You don’t have many options as far as data recovery goes. There are some software solutions, such as a free tool called Recuva from Piriform. The company claims that it can recover lost files from damaged disks or newly formatted drives, but your mileage may vary. It works for some people and doesn’t work for others. Every situation is unique, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

Your last option is hiring a data recovery service. It goes without saying, their services are pricey, no matter what company you go with, and there’s no guarantee that they can recover your data, especially if it was a mechanical failure and not a electronics failure.

A word on SSDs

ssd

It’s worth noting that SSD failure (see our troubleshooting guide here) is essentially a different ball game than HDD failure. SSDs aren’t subject to the same pitfalls of hard disk failure simply because there are no moving parts within the SSD. However, they aren’t immune to failing, as there are a number of things that can still go wrong.

The biggest issue is a pitfall of all types of flash memory. You have a limited number of read/write cycles. But, the good news is that usually only the write portion is affected if you run into a read/write issue. In other words, you’ll be able to recover all of that data still on your SSD and put it somewhere else. While an SSD is less likely to malfunction considering that there are no moving parts, it’s still susceptible to the everyday wear and tear.

A side-by-side comparison of an HDD (left) and SSD (right). Image Credit: Juxova

A side-by-side comparison of an HDD (left) and SSD (right). Image Credit: Juxova

You can generally follow all of the steps above to diagnose the problem, though SSDs generally don’t produce noises when they’re going bad. All of the other steps do apply, though.

The Future

In the future, there’s not much you can do to prevent SSDs or hard drive from going bad. It’s just a fact of life. Just like wear and tear on your car eventually destroys it, wear and tear on your hard drives will eventually destroy them. That goes for almost everything in life, and there’s no getting around it. But there are steps you can take to make the whole situation a lot less stressful when it comes around.

The main thing you can do is create backups often. Once a week is a usual timeframe. If you’re on a Mac, you can do this easily through Time Machine and an external hard drive. On Windows, it’s a little bit different. Your best bet is to use a service like Carbonite that automatically backs up everything on your PC and stores them in the Cloud on an encrypted server.

30 thoughts on “Hard Drive Failing? Here are the Warnings and Solutions You Need to Know”

Avatar abiola babatunde says:
how do i get a post from a dell server on harddisk failure and utilization, in other to prevent loss of data. like a remote alert and logs
Avatar Millie Hue says:
Thanks for helping me understand that a computer that freezes more often than usual might mean that the hard drive is almost failing. With that in mind, I will be seeking the help of a professional to look it up especially that I have also lost some files already. I was looking for a file last year which I will be using as a basis for my project this year, and I can’t seem to find it.
Avatar data recovery dubai says:
Yes, the ribbon should be aligned properly and SSD are more better than the HDD. I also came across many things which I did not know before reading this.
Avatar Fallout 4 Won’t Launch On The PC says:
Hello, Mechanical hard drives are destined to fail because of all the moving parts that can go bad. SSDs can last a lot longer, but they also experience wear and tear that will ultimately require their replacement.
Avatar Canon error b200 says:
The usability where it will be having the best way to have the hard drive failure warnings and the solution will be going to have it in such a way it will manage it.
Avatar dosdoktor says:
HDD failing?? Click of death?? buy an identical HDD (especially if it is old it will go cheap), get the platter from the failing one in the new one and try reading it. Note: Platters must be handled with care, and the surface should be never touched, as you will erase it. To transport it, the best option is to unscrew the platter from the motor, and keep it from the inner ring, without touching the surface. Most recommended is to first change only the logic board, then, only if this didn’t work to do the method above.
Avatar dosdoktor says:
HDD failing?? Click of death?? buy an identical HDD (especially if it is old it will go cheap), get the platter from the failing one in the new one and try reading it. Note: Platters must be handled with care, and the surface should be never touched, as you will erase it. To transport it, the best option is to unscrew the platter from the motor, and keep it from the inner ring, without touching the surface. Most recommended is to first change only the logic board, then, only if this didn’t work to do the method above.
Avatar JuLian says:
Hi, i have a problem. I just opened the browser to download some game patch and suddenly so many malware infected my pc, so i decided to remove it with Malwarebytes. And then, it says the pc should be restarted. So i restarted my pc and it starts really slow and my pc becomes laggy. And when i wanted to open my D:/ Drive it says “D:/ is not accessible”. What should i do?
Avatar JuLian says:
Hi, i have a problem. I just opened the browser to download some game patch and suddenly so many malware infected my pc, so i decided to remove it with Malwarebytes. And then, it says the pc should be restarted. So i restarted my pc and it starts really slow and my pc becomes laggy. And when i wanted to open my D:/ Drive it says “D:/ is not accessible”. What should i do?
Avatar John S says:
I’ve seen some instances of more hard drive failures since Windows 10. I myself had a new HP Pavilion have a hard drive failure after only 6 months of use. Another HP upgraded to Windows 10 also began showing hard drive failure signs so I replaced it. Both cases SMART gave no indication of failure or errors, yet HP’s short and long HD tests both failed and in the case of the new Pavilion the tests finished off the hard drive and wouldn’t even boot anymore. I’ve seen several forums of users experiencing early drive failures and even some litigation against Microsoft for Windows 10 causing some of these failures? I do think the extensive upgrades Windows 10 has with version upgrades, the potential for notebooks with limited cooling to allow drives to get too warm and the fact Windows 10 has a lot of background operations going on could be contributing if not causing some of these failures. Someone else has noted that SSD’s are probably better suited for Windows 10 than spin drives. In my research I have not noticed any significant reliability issues with any hard drives. Many server companies report their failures and none seem to have much more then 1 to 1.5 % failures of any drive brands or models.
Avatar John S says:
I’ve seen some instances of more hard drive failures since Windows 10. I myself had a new HP Pavilion have a hard drive failure after only 6 months of use. Another HP upgraded to Windows 10 also began showing hard drive failure signs so I replaced it. Both cases SMART gave no indication of failure or errors, yet HP’s short and long HD tests both failed and in the case of the new Pavilion the tests finished off the hard drive and wouldn’t even boot anymore. I’ve seen several forums of users experiencing early drive failures and even some litigation against Microsoft for Windows 10 causing some of these failures? I do think the extensive upgrades Windows 10 has with version upgrades, the potential for notebooks with limited cooling to allow drives to get too warm and the fact Windows 10 has a lot of background operations going on could be contributing if not causing some of these failures. Someone else has noted that SSD’s are probably better suited for Windows 10 than spin drives. In my research I have not noticed any significant reliability issues with any hard drives. Many server companies report their failures and none seem to have much more then 1 to 1.5 % failures of any drive brands or models.
Avatar TheMooseGuy says:
Also, with a COMPLETELY dead hard drive, you can take it apart and hang it on the wall. It looks quite nice, really. If you don’t want to do that and it’ s really very dead, DON’T just ‘chuck it in the bin’. Make sure that you break most of it first, because thieves can find these drives and STEAL YOUR DATA from them. Always be wary of the local DataBurglar!
Avatar Adrian says:
I currently run a dell poweredge 2950 G3 rack server that take up 2U of rack space. I also have a RAID5 array running just under 4TB via six 3.5″ 750 GB hot-plug SATA hard drives.

If there is a problem with one of the drives, what should I do?

Avatar James R says:
Back up your data from all of the drives to a backup drive so that you can have a spare copy if one fails. Get a new drive, then transfer the data back. ( I guess so but not sure if that will work on servers???).
Avatar TheMooseGuy says:
Also, with a COMPLETELY dead hard drive, you can take it apart and hang it on the wall. It looks quite nice, really. If you don’t want to do that and it’ s really very dead, DON’T just ‘chuck it in the bin’. Make sure that you break most of it first, because thieves can find these drives and STEAL YOUR DATA from them. Always be wary of the local DataBurglar!
Avatar Adrian says:
I currently run a dell poweredge 2950 G3 rack server that take up 2U of rack space. I also have a RAID5 array running just under 4TB via six 3.5″ 750 GB hot-plug SATA hard drives.

If there is a problem with one of the drives, what should I do?

Avatar James R says:
Back up your data from all of the drives to a backup drive so that you can have a spare copy if one fails. Get a new drive, then transfer the data back. ( I guess so but not sure if that will work on servers???).
Avatar Tom says:
I was looking for why data is not accessible by user. This blog solved the query. Thanks for sharing. Very informative blog.
Avatar Tom says:
I was looking for why data is not accessible by user. This blog solved the query. Thanks for sharing. Very informative blog.
Avatar arran haller says:
Last Sunday I was unable to diagnose my Hard drive. It was due to malware attack. I ran the antivirus and it was detected. Thankfully it didn’t harm my data. Since then I keep back up of each and every piece of document. ?
Avatar arran haller says:
Last Sunday I was unable to diagnose my Hard drive. It was due to malware attack. I ran the antivirus and it was detected. Thankfully it didn’t harm my data. Since then I keep back up of each and every piece of document. ?
Avatar Greg Blaze says:
I went through the case of clicking noise which leads to physical failure of head of the hard drive. It was of 3 TB HD. I had all my important data in it. In my case no other method worked except calling data recovery professional. Stellar hard drive recovery services helped me out recovering the data.
Avatar Greg Blaze says:
I went through the case of clicking noise which leads to physical failure of head of the hard drive. It was of 3 TB HD. I had all my important data in it. In my case no other method worked except calling data recovery professional. Stellar hard drive recovery services helped me out recovering the data.
Avatar vince says:
All my important data, photos etc is backed up on 3 separate 1tb drives. So i have at least 2 copies of everything. Hard drives are so cheap there is no excuse nowadays
Avatar vince says:
All my important data, photos etc is backed up on 3 separate 1tb drives. So i have at least 2 copies of everything. Hard drives are so cheap there is no excuse nowadays
Avatar siva prasad says:
I have a Problem, my pc informs to me.”your pc hard disk failure, backup your data”. so what’s the problem? and tell me the sollution. please..
Avatar siva prasad says:
I have a Problem, my pc informs to me.”your pc hard disk failure, backup your data”. so what’s the problem? and tell me the sollution. please..
Avatar Lee Tracey says:
I have a different problem. I can see the drive in Device Manager but it does not appear in Disk Management so I cannot format it or re-partition it as I cannot find it with any of the PC access tools. My suspicion is that I have managed to remove the small Windows 7 needed partition section and the drive no longer has any partition. I know that in Disk Management I could re-partition but that is not possible as I cannot see the drive to do anything to it. Anybody have a clue as to what to do? The drive is a Samsung 1TB HD105SI, made by Seagate and hardly used. I think I know how I screwed it up: I have a Inatek CLONE machine and I set a 2TB MASTER as the prime and the 1TB Samsing as the slave and tried to clone – it failed. I then remembered that you can only clone to a drive of the same capacity or larger, but I had tried to clone a 2TB down to a 1TB. But now how do I recover an almost new drive? I am not interested in anything on it – just get the drive back in use. Both Samsung and Seagate are useless as supporters of their products as it is impossible to contact them for assistance.
Avatar Lee Tracey says:
I have a different problem. I can see the drive in Device Manager but it does not appear in Disk Management so I cannot format it or re-partition it as I cannot find it with any of the PC access tools. My suspicion is that I have managed to remove the small Windows 7 needed partition section and the drive no longer has any partition. I know that in Disk Management I could re-partition but that is not possible as I cannot see the drive to do anything to it. Anybody have a clue as to what to do? The drive is a Samsung 1TB HD105SI, made by Seagate and hardly used. I think I know how I screwed it up: I have a Inatek CLONE machine and I set a 2TB MASTER as the prime and the 1TB Samsing as the slave and tried to clone – it failed. I then remembered that you can only clone to a drive of the same capacity or larger, but I had tried to clone a 2TB down to a 1TB. But now how do I recover an almost new drive? I am not interested in anything on it – just get the drive back in use. Both Samsung and Seagate are useless as supporters of their products as it is impossible to contact them for assistance.
Avatar ThatSkyrimGuy says:
Hey so I have had a dell inspiron 660 for a couple years now and it has an i5 3330 processor and 8gb ram. Recently I installed a geforce gtx 960 GPU and after installing it, my PC would freeze frequently and then I would get a bsod saying hard drive disk failure while playing my games and such. Like i would be playing a game and skyping with friends for like an hour and all the sudden my pc freezes and i would just blue screen out of no where. Would you guys be able to help me out?
Avatar Mike Stew says:
Dont skype and play video games at the same time. That might be too much for the processors
Avatar ThatSkyrimGuy says:
Hey so I have had a dell inspiron 660 for a couple years now and it has an i5 3330 processor and 8gb ram. Recently I installed a geforce gtx 960 GPU and after installing it, my PC would freeze frequently and then I would get a bsod saying hard drive disk failure while playing my games and such. Like i would be playing a game and skyping with friends for like an hour and all the sudden my pc freezes and i would just blue screen out of no where. Would you guys be able to help me out?
Avatar Mike Stew says:
Dont skype and play video games at the same time. That might be too much for the processors
Avatar jeetkml says:
I purchased my dell laptop inspiron 3542 1st jan 2015, but I got hard drive failure problem after 6 months and dell replace it in warranty but there after 3 months hard drive failure then they replaced but 2 months after still got same problem and this time Dell replace it in warranty . But hard drive sounds like ” metallic noise “. I don’t know how much time it works correctly ?
Avatar jeetkml says:
I purchased my dell laptop inspiron 3542 1st jan 2015, but I got hard drive failure problem after 6 months and dell replace it in warranty but there after 3 months hard drive failure then they replaced but 2 months after still got same problem and this time Dell replace it in warranty . But hard drive sounds like ” metallic noise “. I don’t know how much time it works correctly ?
Avatar Rae Simmons says:
Can’t boot after Microsoft update trys but after Windows logo screen goes black
Avatar Mr. Computer Help says:
The same thing happened to me under different circumstances. For you, it was not the result of the update, but in any case, you’ll need to reinstall Windows.

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