How to Find Out If Your Hard Drive Is Dying and What to Do About It

How to Tell If Your Hard Drive is Failing

Common signs for a failing hard drive include slug

Common signs for a failing hard drive include sluggish performance, unusual noises (clicking or loud component sounds), and an increase number of corrupted files.

These are textbook symptoms for the inevitably of a failing hard drive and action should be taken quickly to save your files from being lost.

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Early Warning Signs of Hard Drive Failure

Blue screen of death

One of the most telling signs of hard drive failure is a notorious stop error known as the “blue screen of death.”

While there are a million different factors that can cause these symptoms, simply coming across one of them should give reason for concern.

In fact, if any of these symptoms persist after you re-install your system or while you’re in Windows Safe Mode, then it is almost certainly related to a hard drive on the brink of failure.

Corrupted Files on your Hard Drive

Corrupted files may also be a sign of gradual hard drive failure. Corrupted files are documents that fail to open or go missing.  You’ll see errors like this:

If you continue to see these errors, or they incre If you continue to see these errors, or they incre

If you continue to see these errors, or they increase in frequency, there’s a good chance you’re about to have a hard drive failure.

Clicking and Loud Hard Drive Noises

Unusual noise emanating from your hard drive, including loud clicking or turning noises (especially when there are few processes being performed by your computer), is a cause for big concern. These unusual noises usually implicate a malfunctioning component in your hard drive which is a sure signal for a failed hard drive in the future.

Listen and compare these sounds to any unusual noises that you may be experiencing from your computer.

Despite all of these indicators, hard drive failure can still occur without warning. As a result, it is vital to create backups of important data on a second hard drive, a thumb drive, or an external hard drive.

The only way to gain certainty is to save data on a variety of disks to keep it safe. Do not wait until the last minute when a software program sounds the alarm. Most people don’t realize the importance of backing up their data until its too late!

How to Get Your Data Off a Failing Drive

So you’ve done some troubleshooting and you’re sure the drive is failing. If the drive is in the process of failing but hasn’t failed completely yet, you’ll want to get any important data you haven’t backed up off it immediately. You may need to, as we mentioned above, boot to a Windows installer disc or live Linux system and attempt to transfer just the important files off your drive. This may allow you to recover some files even if your system can’t boot its operating system and run it from the drive without crashing.

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You can also try pulling the hard drive and connecting it to another computer. If the drive has partially failed, you may be able to copy a few important files off it. You may also be able to use a tool like Piriform’s Recuva, which promises “recovery from damaged disks”. This won’t work if the drive is truly lost beyond repair, though.

Bear in mind that, if the drive is failing, having the drive powered on may cause it to fail faster or become increasingly damaged. If you have truly critical data you’re willing to spend a good amount of money to recover, it’s probably best to stop running the drive and take it to a professional data recovery service.

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Part 2: How to tell if a Hard Drive is failing?

Before a hard drive fails entirely, it gives us certain signs that we should not ignore. Here are some of the major symptoms of hard drive problems that we should take seriously.

Sign 1. Hard drive clicking sound

A lot of times, users complain of a peculiar clicking sound made by the hard drive’s head. It usually happens when there is an inconsistent power supply for the disk or physical damage on one of the plates.

Sign 2. Access Denied

When users try to access the disk or a partition, they often get the access denied prompt. This means that the system can’t locate the hard disk or a particular partition in it. A loose connection or corrupt storage can trigger this event.

Sign 3. Repeated crashing

Sign 3. Repeated crashing

If the computer or the hard drive crashes repeatedly, then consider it as one of the vital symptoms of a bad hard drive. The disk can stop working out of the blue anytime.

Sign 4. Inaccessibility of data

There are times when the data stored in the disk is lost or inaccessible. This is both, a hard drive problem as well as a symptom for further issues.

Sign 5. OS can’t be loaded

While booting the system, you might get a recovery screen stating that the system can’t load/locate certain files. This is directly related to a hard drive malfunction.

Sign 6. Abort, Retry, Fail?

Sign 6. Abort, Retry, Fail?

This is again one of the common hard disk failure symptoms as it occurs when the system can’t locate the entire OS or some crucial files. It means the system has aborted an operation, retried, and failed.

Sign 7. Sector not found

Sign 7. Sector not found

Sometimes, the hard disk can have a bad sector or two. In this case, your computer will inform you the same by displaying a similar warning message. This can be major hard drive problems symptoms that you should not ignore.

5. Other Problems

Various problems, like slowdowns, "blue screen of death", and random crashes, can have multiple different causes. A failing hard drive can be one of them. In order to rule out other possibilities, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure your computer is not infected with malware. If you do not have a good anti virus program, usually a full scan with an updated Windows Defender (if you use Windows) can get the job done.
  2. Clean your system's registry, as multiple corrupted entries can sometimes cause crashes. CCleaner is an excellent tool for this.
  3. Close any suspicious processes using task manager. A good way of making sure malicious tasks don't cause trouble is using msconfig to stop non-Windows services and tasks from running at startup (again, if you're using Windows).
  4. If you're getting a blue screen of death, see what it is trying to tell you. Contact a technician if you can't understand it.

If you computer is still slow, try checking if the computer's cooling fan is working properly, and if any components are overheating. If you're still getting any of these issues, then there's a decent chance your hard drive may be failing and needs to be replaced as soon as possible, as it is usually about to die.

How do I find out when its going to fail before it fails?

That’s not always possible, and sometimes a hard drive will just die—but it’s still important to keep an eye on the symptoms of an imminent hard drive so you have the chance to back-up your data and get professional help.

Hard drives are incredibly sensitive bits of hardware, so don’t try to crack it open and have a look inside unless you know what you’re doing. And most definitely ensure that if you do crack it open, the platters don’t get exposed to the open air—hard drives can only be opened in Class 100 clean rooms or they’re pretty much instantly destroyed by dust.

It’s a lot easier to back-up than to get your data recovered. Once you detect any of the signs of failure you need to ensure that you have a back-up and if not, make one. Then when the drive dies, you can claim your warranty if you still have it, or buy a new drive, and be on your way.

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Recovery can cost thousands and thousands of dollars; it sure is a ridiculous amount to pay, but there’s not much you can do but shop around and find the best price. The cost of transferring a back-up onto a brand new drive is much cheaper than having a recovery specialist do the same for you.

Strange Noises

Sometimes hearing strange grinding and thrashing noises means your drive is beyond repair—for instance, if you’ve had a head crash, it very often is. Or it could just be that the motor has failed or your hard drive is grinding away because of noisy bearings. If you’re hearing strange noises then act very, very quickly—you probably don’t have much time.

Disappearing Data and Disk Errors

Computer won’t let you save a document? Or you’re sure that you had a file on your desktop yesterday that’s nowhere to be seen today? Programs that always worked suddenly stop working, asking where a file it depends on is stored?

These are all potential signs that your hard drive is on its way out. Of course, it could be that your kids moved your files for fun or a virus is eating through them, but disappearing data is never a good sign for your drive if you can rule out those alternative causes.

Your computer stops recognizing your drive

This may seem obvious, but if your computer no longer recognizes your drive chances are there’s a problem with it, not the computer. Test it in a friend’s computer and see if your hard drive is recognized by it.

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Often, this will be a logical failure—unless you can hear strange noises that indicate a severe mechanical or head problem.

Computer Crashes

Does your computer regularly blue-screen or suddenly reboot? Does it crash often, especially when booting your operating system? If your computer is crashing, especially at times when the computers is accessing files (such as during the boot sequence), it may indicate a problem with your drive.

Really Slow Access Times

It shouldn’t take half an hour to open a folder in Windows Explorer, or two hours to empty the trash. I’ve come across this problem plenty of times over the years, and it’s always followed by a failing hard drive within a month or two.

If you have this symptom on your computer and your drive does not fail, please uninstall Vista from your 486.

Sound is a great indicator. As soon as the sound changes from the norm, or you get plenty of clicking and grinding from your hard drive, you need to power it down immediately. Get to know the sound of your hard drive while it’s young and in working order, because you’ll need to be able to hear the slightest differences when it gets older.

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3. Mysteriously Corrupted Files

A whole lot of things can cause corrupted files, such as malware infection, problems that happened when the file got saved, closing your operating system or shutting down your computer incorrectly.

However, if the file saved normally, without giving any error messages, worked perfectly before, and you have checked you computer for viruses using a good antivirus software, and it still got corrupted, it may be a sign that your hard drive already accumulated a lot of serious damage. This means your files are already endangered. There isn't much you can do at this point other then trying to save whatever data you can salvage.

Of course, this can be caused by multiple different things, so if you suspect hard drive problems, always perform a disk check (while also listening to the sounds your hard drive makes). The best advice in any situation is, when in doubt, create a backup.

Example of an older S.M.A.R.T data bad prompt

Symptom 6. S.M.A.R.T. Status Is Not OK

S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) is a monitoring system included in computer hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and eMMC drives, providing each device with a degree of internal status monitoring.

Modern hard drives have S.M.A.R.T. built in, so they can do basic self-monitoring to inform the coming hardware failures. When S.M.A.R.T. data indicates a possible imminent drive failure, software running on the host system will inform users so they can take preventative action beforehand.

Well, how to check S.M.A.R.T. status to view the hard disk health with the S.M.A.R.T monitoring system? You can view a very basic S.M.A.R.T. status from the Windows Command Prompt. Here are detailed steps.

Step 1. Input cmd in the Windows Cortana box and choose the best match to open Command Prompt.

Step 2. Input wmic and press Enter.

Step 3. Input diskdrive get status and press Enter.

Step 4. If the status of your hard disk is fine, you will see a message OK.

If your hard disk status is NOT OK or shows other statuses—such as Bad, Caution, or Unknown, you should keep an eye on your hard drive or consider changing another hard disk. It does not necessarily mean that your hard drive is going to fail immediately, but you need to take measures.

What Should You Do to Protect Hard Drive Failing?

The above are some typical symptoms of hard drive failure. And sometimes hard drive failure can also happen at any time without warning. Even if your hard drive doesn’t die completely, it could corrupt portions of your data. So, what should you do to protect hard drive failing?

The best way is to back up your hard drive or replace it with a healthy hard disk before the actual crash occurs. To backup everything on the hard drive in a time-saving way, it is recommended to use a professional disk cloning software MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition.

Step 1. Download MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition by clicking the following button. Install it on your computer and launch it to get the main interface.

Free Download

Step 2. Then select the faulty hard disk and choose Copy Disk from the left action panel.

Step 3. Choose a disk to copy the source content to and click Next. And click Yes on the pop-up window to continue.

Note: All the data on the target disk will be destroyed, so make sure there is no important file on the disk or you have made backups in advance.

Step 4. Review the changes you are going to make on the target disk. You may also change the partition size by dragging the handle bar or input a specific number directly. Then click Next to continue.

Step 5. In this page, MiniTool Partition Wizard will tell you how to boot from the destination hard drives if you are cloning a system disk. Then click Finish.

Step 6. At last, you need to click Apply to allow the pending operations.

“With this fabulous disk cloning software, I successfully replaced my faulty hard disk with a new one without data loss. Very good-to-use tool! People who want to backup disk or replace disk without data loss may download one.”Click to tweet

Paid-for diagnostic software

If you’re willing to spend a bit of money on your diagnostic software then the first place to go is the Gibson Research Corporation’s website. When you first arrive you might find yourself rather questionable of the aesthetics – the site looks like something out of Geocities in the 1990s – but don’t let this put you off. This is the home of SpinRite, a legendary disk monitoring and data recovery app that plenty of users swear by.

The software has five levels of operation ranging

The software has five levels of operation ranging from a simple scan to restoring sectors, and has been known to often get supposedly dead drives running again. It’s not cheap, but then quality software rarely is. At the moment you can buy SpinRite V6 for around £70, and we think it’s a purchase that’s certainly worth considering.

So there you go, a few tips and tools that can hopefully help you avoid any data tragedies. If you find that your drive is in need of replacing, or you just want to give your system a turbo charge in performance, then also take a look at our guide on How to install an SSD in your PC.

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