Your hard drive is the soul of your PC, the place where all your most important data is stored. While most PC components can be replaced, the invaluable data on your hard drive can’t unless you have a recent backup. For this reason, it’s important to check your hard disk health in Windows 10 and Windows 11. There are various ways to check this – from built-in methods in Windows to your HDD manufacturer’s diagnostic tools. You can use all or just one of the methods we’ve listed below, depending on your preferences.
1. Check Hard Disk Health From the BIOS
As long as you’re using a relatively modern motherboard, you can run hard drive checks in the BIOS, free from any OS-based interference.
Reboot your PC, and after it’s switched off and on again repeatedly, press Delete, F2, F12, or whichever buttons the boot screen tells you will take you to your BIOS. You can also set Windows to boot directly into the BIOS.
Once in the BIOS, the exact instructions will depend on your motherboard manufacturer. For instance, on our old MSI Mortar WiFi B550M in the BIOS, we can go to “Settings -> Advanced -> NVME Self-Test” to test the health of the NVMe drives.
On newer HP laptops, there’s a separate UEFI diagnostic tool that you can access by pressing F2 during boot. Following this, you can go to “Component Tests -> Hard Drive” to run tests on one or more drives on the PC.
The BIOS is also a good place to see whether the hard drive you want to check is actually being detected by your PC/motherboard.
On Dell and HP laptops, you should be able to check hard drive health by going to the BIOS and looking for “Diagnostics.”
2. Optimize and Defrag
Traditional SATA hard drives may have largely made way for much faster solid-state drives, but they’re still very popular and remain an affordable way to store things like pictures, videos and other non-strenuous file types. SSDs work a little differently, and while they never need defragmentation (because fragmentation relates to where the data is physically stored on the drive, which isn’t a factor on SSD), they do sometimes need optimizing.
If you feel like your non-SSD hard drive is slowing down, then you should check to see how fragmented it is. You can do this using the defrag tool built into Windows.
- Open “Search” by pressing on the magnifying mirror icon in the Task Bar and typing “disk defrag.”
- Choose “Defragment and Optimize Drives” from the results.
- Select your drive and click “Optimize” to run a scan for fragmented files and optimize the drive for better performance.
You can also optimize your SSD on the Windows defrag and optimize tool, though the system should be taking care of the process automatically.
Note: we actually found that the free app Defraggler does a better job of detecting and reducing fragmentation, but not everyone wants to install extra apps when the functionality is built right in to the OS.
3. Use the HDD Manufacturer’s Tools
Most major hard drive manufacturers provide free robust tools to monitor your hard drive health and performance. The first step to knowing which one to use is, of course, knowing the make of your hard drive.
If you already know the make of your hard drive, you can skip this part.
- If you don’t, press the Win key, type “device manager,” and click when it appears in the search results.
- In Device Manager, unstack the “Disk drives” option and make a note of the model number of your hard drive.
- Type the model number into Google to bring up results that will show you the make of the hard drive.
- After that, go to the manufacturer’s support page and search for its hard drive utility.
To help you out, the following are links to the relevant download pages of some of the biggest hard drive brands:
Each of these tools functions a little differently, but most importantly, each one has diagnostic features that let you test your hard drive health.
4. Windows CHKDSK Tool
The Windows CHKDSK tool is a built-in Windows tool that will scan your hard disk to find system errors and bad sectors. It also helps check hard disk health by showing you any errors. It’ll both scan and fix problems (if possible) and will let you know if there is a bigger problem that it can’t fix. You can use this tool to both check disk health and fix bad sectors and errors if possible.
- Open “Search” and type
- Choose “Run as administrator” under “Command Prompt.”
chkdskat the prompt and hit Enter. This runs a basic scan.
- You can also use
chkdsk /f /rto fix bad sectors and recover any readable data if possible.
- Another option is
chkdsk /f /r /x, which dismounts the drive first. Microsoft has a full list of parameters to use with
chkdskto check your hard disk health.
5. Use WMIC
WMIC is a command-line interface that lets you perform many administrative tasks, including checking hard disk health. It uses the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) feature of hard disks to see the status and provide a simple conclusion, like “OK,” “Pred Fail,” etc. It is still a very basic command that offers very little information but is a quick built-in feature of Windows.
- To check a hard disk with WMIC, press the Win + R buttons to open the “Run” dialog.
cmdand click “OK” to open the Windows command prompt.
- Type the following and and hit Enter.
- When the WMI interface is ready, type:
diskdrive get status
- Press Enter again. You will see the status of your hard disk after a short delay.
6. Use a Third-Party Hard Disk Health Checking Tool
You can also use a third-party hard disk health checking tool that will offer much more information than just good or bad status. These tools use the same “S.M.A.R.T” feature of hard disks to fetch data, just like WMIC. However, they provide far more detail instead of just showing good or bad statuses.
For this purpose, CrystalDiskInfo is a really simple, yet powerful, tool. It is a free-to-use tool that is extremely light and offers all the required information, such as temperature, health status, hard disk type and features, and other attributes, like read/write error rate, spin-up time, etc.
When you download and extract the files, select the right tool for your Windows version. We recommend using the 64-bit version, “DiskInfo64” in this case. But you can also select “DiskInfo32” if you want to run the tool without installing anything.
Once you launch the tool, nothing will appear to be happening for around 10 seconds until you see a full report.
In the “Function” menu, you can select more advanced options. You can even have it check hard disk health at startup.
There are also other third-party hard disk health-checking tools like Hard Disk Sentinel and HDDScan. These are much more advanced with many extra features, but for an average user, CrystalDiskInfo should work perfectly.
You can use the above-mentioned tools to check hard disk health on Windows. If you don’t need extra details, then the Windows built-in tools should work great.
What Should I Do If My Hard Drive Is Failing?
All of these methods are great to check hard disk health, but they don’t fix the problem. As a computer owner, there is one rule you should follow: always act quickly as if your hard drive could fail tomorrow. Even if the above methods show your hard drive health is fine, something could go wrong the next day, such as physical damage from a drop or a virus.
Of course, if the results of any of the checks above are less than positive, don’t wait until tomorrow – take action immediately. A few things you should do the moment you realize your hard drive is failing include:
- Make a backup of all important files. If your hard drive is already having major issues, start by backing up what’s most important. The drive may not last long enough to do a full disk image.
- Make a list of all installed software and product keys. To make it easier to make the transition easier from an old drive to a new one, create a list of everything you need to install along with any product keys. Belarc Advisor can help with this. If you can create a full disk image, you likely won’t have to worry about this though.
- Save work frequently. If you’re trying to get the last bit of life out of your drive, make sure you’re saving any open files regularly to an external drive or a cloud-based storage service. As someone who lost a week-long project due to a sudden drive failure, keep those important files backed up in real time.
- Have another drive or device ready. You have two options here. You could buy a new hard drive and install it in your current computer, which is ideal if your device is still fairly new, such as one or two years. For older devices, it may be time to consider a new computer.
Another option you may consider is removing the faulty drive and working completely from a USB drive or external hard drive. This allows you to connect to any computer and have the same setup. You could have a similar Windows setup from USB with these top Linux distros.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do hard drives normally last?
A mechanical hard drive usually lasts three to five years but can last longer if you’re careful, so you shouldn’t just toss your laptop around that time. SSDs tend to last around 10 years. Of course, hardware does have glitches sometimes, just like any product, so the drive could fail sooner rather than later.
What are the early signs my hard drive is failing?
Typically, you’ll get some warning before your hard drive health starts to decline. These signs may only appear a few weeks before the drive fails, so act quickly and back up your data regularly. Some of the most common signs include:
- Increasingly longer boot times
- System crashes, especially when they happen often
- Blue Screen of Death appears, especially if it happens frequently
- BIOS errors upon startup
- Missing files (means segments are failing)
- Longer file load times in File Explorer
How does upgrading to Windows 11 affect my hard drive health?
As long as your PC meets the minimum requirements and you have ample free space available, there shouldn’t be an issue. However, it’s important to note that Windows 11 is switching from Master Boot Records (MBR) partitioning to GUID Partition Table (GPT) partitioning, so older drives may need to be converted first.
Is it worth replacing a failing drive, or should I buy a new PC?
This depends on the age of your PC. If your PC’s only a year or two old, it’s much cheaper to buy a new hard drive. For older PCs, take a look at your other hardware. Is it still compatible with most newer apps and Windows 11?
If the answer is no, it’s probably best to upgrade to a new PC if possible. Otherwise, you may end up with a new hard drive while other hardware starts to fail or becomes obsolete.
How can I make my hard drive last longer?
If you’re using an HDD, be careful with it, especially when it’s spinning. Any type of shock, such as dropping your laptop, can destroy your hard drive. Also, ensure your PC is properly vented to prevent overheating, which can cause drives to prematurely fail.
While you can’t prevent any manufacturing defects, treating your PC as if it’s the only one you’ll ever have can help extend your hard drive’s lifespan by a year or more. If you’re already noticing issues, though, it’s too late and time to back up your data and either get a new hard drive or a new PC.
Can I also test the health of my external drives?
Yes. Most of the tools above will let you test external hard drives as well. After all, these fail just like internal drives. Testing these can help ensure you don’t lose your backup drive without warning.
Image credit: Vincent Botta via Unsplash All screenshots by Crystal Crowder
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