The Symptoms of Hard Disk Drive Failure

The hard disk drive (aka HDD) is a storage device that features one of the essential parts of the majority of computer systems. It’s intended to work as a storage medium that allows users to keep their personal data within it for permanently, or more accurately, for a very long period of time, until it fails. There are two sizes predominantly – the 3½” size for desktop computers and the 2½” size for notebook computers. For the average user, a new hard drive is expensive at around 10% of the total cost of the computer.

Much like your car, a hard disk is a mechanical device. Most of your computer’s other components are purely electronic and can only be damaged by electronic means (such as a power surge). However, hard disks are subject to both electronic and mechanical stresses, which can each cause hard disk problems.

damaged hard disk driveAs a computer user you must take account of the fact that a hard drive has a limited life span. It is very likely that one day your hard drive will stop working without warning. If this is due to mechanical or electronic failure of the hard drive, you will lose all the information on it unless you have made a back-up.

It’s important to learn to recognize the warning signs of an imminent hard drive failure, since you might not have the budget for an extensive back-up system, so you can rescue all that data before it’s lost—sometimes forever, not retrievable at any cost.

Why are hard drives vulnerable to failure?

Because hard disks are mechanical devices, they are subject to wearing out, even if you treat them better than your own children. Around 60% of hard drive failures occur through predictable mechanical failure, with the remaining 40% of failures occurring through misuse.

Unfortunately hard disk drives have a limited life span. Somewhere between 3-5 years is the normal life span of a hard drive, although a regular hard drive can last over than 8 to 10 years without a single failure, just like my old functioning-still hard drive, as it’s all depending on how much work it does on a day to day basis. Environmental conditions also play a significant part in determining the life duration of the hard drive.

The primary reasons for hard drive failure

So, what are the reasons for HDD failure? Actually there are several reasons why hard drives can fail, each with unique contributing factors. Here are the most common, along with warning signs that could be indicative of impending drive failure.

Physical Damage

Water, heat and shock all pose serious threats to internal and external hard drives. Both heat and water can cause significant physical damage to hard drives’ electronic parts, which are not built to withstand either element. Hard disks are not shock resistant either, so a jarring drop or other physical impact can damage the drive’s mechanical components. Hard disk shock most often results in a head crash, which occurs when the read-write head of the drive touches the magnetic platter, scratching the platter’s surface and thus causing sometimes-irreparable data loss.

Warning Signs: Inadequate ventilation can lead to overheating and eventually cause drive damage. Make sure that your computer’s fan (usually located on the bottom or rear of the machine) isn’t blocked so that it can provide adequate ventilation; your computer should never be too hot to touch. Water and shock damage can be difficult to avoid. It typically happens quickly and without warning. Taking conscientious care of your computer is the best way to combat these risks.

Logical Failure

This refers to non-physical failure, or in other words, when damage occurs in a hard drive’s file structure or software rather than the actual hardware. Many factors can contribute to logical failure, including malware infections, human error and corrupted files. Sometimes the failure can be extensive enough that the system will not boot up. In most cases of logical failure, a hard drive recovery service can successfully restore data because there is no damage to the drive’s hardware.

Logical failures occur when the electronics of the hard drive failure or the software (firmware) has a problem. This kind of failure is usually the cheapest and easiest to have fixed. Unfortunately, it’s also an uncommon failure.

Warning Signs: Disappearing data, disk errors and a sluggish system are all signs of impending logical hard drive failure. Other symptoms can include computer crashes and the ominous “blue screen of death.” When you start to experience these symptoms, the best thing to do is back up your data if you have not done so already. If you cannot access your data, a hard disk recovery service may be able to restore it.

Suggest Workarounds: When this type of failure happens, imaging or cloning the computer will do no good. Do not try to reinstall Windows or run the useless operating system tools like CHKDSK because those tools can just make matters worse. You will need a software data recovery solution from Stellar or Disk Doctor to retrieve your data.

Just because you cannot access your data on a crashed hard drive does not mean that it is not still present on the drive. What you do from here depends on the importance of the data that is stored on your computer. If you are like most people in this technological age, part of your life is stored on your computer and that data is important. I hope that if you have a hard drive crash you can retrieve your precious data. Hard drives do crash and the best way to protect your data is with a proactive approach that is to backup, image and backup some more.

Mechanical Failure

While most components of a computer are electrical, the hard disk is one of the few mechanical parts. Thus, it will inevitably fail at some point. This type of failure occurs when the read-write head or other components become faulty as a result of normal wear and tear.

Mechanical failures probably make up the bulk of hard drive failures. The motor burns out, the drive overheats, bearings get stuck—the kind of thing you’d expect to find when a car fails. These can be nasty but if the failure didn’t affect the platters, you might have a chance of recovery, but at a cost.

Warning Signs: Strange noises such as grinding, clicking or screeching likely mean that mechanical failure is imminent. Similar to logical hard drive failure, computer crashes and frequent freezing can also be symptoms.

Suggest Workarounds: If you can still boot the computer but the drive is making a lot of noise, you could still get an image of the drive or clone it to a new hard drive but that is risky. Do not try to start the computer and copy the files to an external drive because that may be too much stress on the failing hardware. The best bet is to remove the hard drive and put it into a different system to retrieve the important data from the drive with a Data Recovery Solution.

If you can retrieve the data, great – problem solved right? Now all you have to do is buy a new hard drive and reinstall your operating system and all of the applications. That is not a fun task. If you were able to retrieve the data, you may still be able to take an image or clone of the drive and transfer the image to a new drive using Acronis True Image 2016. It is worth a try unless you like reloading Windows.

It is true that today’s hard drives are much more reliable than they were 25 years ago when the personal computers hit the market, hard drives are still one of the weakest components in your system compared with other long-lasting components. [Check our top-picks of internal hard drives]

If the physical hard drive crash is so bad that the computer will not boot or another system cannot see the hard drive, then you may need to send the drive out to a data recovery solution company.

What to do if signs of hard drive failure occur?

what to do when the hard drive failsThe very best thing you can do if you think there are signs of hard disk failure is to create a full image of your hard drive. There are two ways of doing this but you will likely need an experienced computer fixer to carry out the following.

Method 1: You can install software such as Acronis True Image on the computer to create the full image of the hard drive and then attach an external hard drive on which the image is stored.

Method 2: Take the hard drive out of the computer and attach it to another computer that has Acronis True Image installed already by using a hard drive docking bay. Then use the image creation software to create and store the image either on the second computer or an external hard drive atttached to it.

You need to create this full image while your operating system still boots up. If you can do this, you have survived. You can purchase a new hard drive to which the image can then be transferred.

If your computer no longer boots up but the hard drive appears to be still working, then repairs to the operating can be attempted before creating an image. If the repairs to the operating system are successful then create the image as soon as you can.

If the hard drive appears to be working but repairs to the operating system fail, then the best strategy is to copy the user files to a new location as quickly as possible before the hard drive stops working completely. When you purchase a new hard drive you will need to start from scratch and reinstall the operating system and all the software you previously had on the old hard disk. Then put back all your user files which you saved from old hard drive.

If the hard drive appears to be no longer working i.e. it makes clicks or other funny noises, then basically you have lost your data. While it is possible to take the disks (platters) out an put them in another identical hard disk, this procedure requires a dustless environment, special tools, lots of knowledge and a steady hand. In reality, this is not something that computer fixers do, and the cost could be in the 1000’s if you can find the appropriate experts.

Using S.M.A.R.T.

If your hard disk is equipped with S.M.A.R.T. technology (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology), there will be log files that can be checked to predict the probability of failure in the near future. S.M.A.R.T. technology monitors a wide range of hard disk symptoms and logs the condition of the disk. It aims to provide a predictable failure date for the disk.

Can data be restored from a failed hard drive?

Usually it can be. Unfortunately, though, recovering from a failed hard drive isn’t as simple as some other computer issues that can be fixed with the help of Google and forums telling you how to speed up your computer. Professional help is definitely recommended.

In order to prevent massive data loss in the case of hard drive failure, install a program that creates a disk image quickly and easily. Use this backup system at least weekly or more often if you’re a heavy or business computer user. If you don’t take these preventative steps and need data recovery services, there are professionals that specialize in retrieving your potentially lost data.

Last Words

Eventually you can avoid most causes of hard disk failure with common sense and a little planning. Furthermore, recognizing the warning signs of impending failure can help minimize the potential for concurrent catastrophic data loss.