How to Know If Your Hard Disk Is Failing

As most of us know, hard disks, just like any other electronic devices, have a limited lifespan and could break down after five to ten years of usage. There are a lot of factors that can affect the lifespan of a hard disk like the mechanical stress, temperatures, humidity, working conditions, physical trauma, finite number of write cycles (in case of SSD’s), etc. Luckily, most hard drives do show some symptoms before they die on you. Here are a few common wear and tear signs which can help you back up your precious data when you still have time to do so.

If your files are frequently corrupted, it could be a signal to inform you that your hard disk lifespan is coming to an end soon. Of course, these corrupted files may occur due to several other reasons like overclocking SATA bus, driver issues, sudden power failure, etc., but whenever you encounter this frequently, it is always a good idea to back up your data and diagnose your computer for problem.

Whenever the hard disk is at its limit, its performance also reduces significantly which in turn causes slow response times and transfer rates. The performance drop is so significant that your hard disk may take several minutes to transfer even a small audio file, or it takes too much time to even open a simple program like Windows Explorer. Even though detecting this symptom is kind of easy, deducing it may be a little tricky as the reasons may include several other factors like system load, fragmentation, infections, etc. Slow performance may not indicate immediate failure, but backing up your data as a precaution is never a bad thing.

hard-disk-collection

Accumulated bad sectors and frequent freezing are also a bad sign that your hard disk is at its end. For those of you who don’t know, hard disks store data in tiny clusters. Whenever these clusters got corrupted or damaged, that part of the hard disk is no longer functional and thus called bad sectors. These bad sectors can cause some serious irrecoverable damage to your data. Generally, bad sectors may occur due to logical errors (software) which can be repaired using a specialized software or could be due to physical damage like mishandling of the hard disk. Simply put, accumulated bad sectors are a strong reminder to have a good back up of your data.

Odd noises and extreme heat are yet more major indicators that your hard disk is going to die soon. Mechanical hard drives tend to make some noise while functioning due to several moving parts inside it. But in the event of physical damage or deterioration, your hard disk may produce some odd clicking and grinding noises. There are quite a few reasons for these strange noises like the damaged header, failed motor, etc. No matter what the reason is, if you are hearing strange noises from your hard drive then it just indicates that you don’t have much time to back up your data.

Learning signs to know when your hard disk is going to fail is all good as it allows you to make quick backups to avoid any data loss. However, most modern hard disks support S.M.A.R.T  (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) technology which helps in analyzing the current hard disk state. In fact, most third party hard disk monitoring tools use S.M.A.R.T to predict hard disk failures. So always keep an eye on your hard disk and don’t make excuses to back up your data no matter how good your hard disk is.

Hopefully that helps, and do comment below sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Image Credit: Hard Disk Drive – Wikipedia

16 comments

  1. I love the picture. I remember buying a dinosaur like the one in back.. It was 10M and cost us $3000. On top of that we had to build a power supply for it. We used it on a CPM machine with a Z80 processor.

    A tip I’ve seen about SSDs is do not defragment. They are so fast that fragmenting doesn’t slow you down and defragging uses up the write cycles and shortens the life of the drive.

    Fortunately the only hard drive problem I’ve ever had was from the Micaelangelo virus. We came back from a vacation in early March and I heard the hard drive searching for data on the boot-sector. I later found out that it struck on March 6, Micaelangelo’s birthday.

    • Aahhh, CP/M! I still have my Imsai 8080 that I built myself! I loved loading it in hex through the front panel. Larry, you are a man after my own heart!

  2. “They are so fast that fragmenting doesn’t slow you down”
    It has nothing or very little to do with speed. The way data is stored on an SSD leads to much less fragmentation.

    • I was only repeating what I read about SSD fragmentation. I should have known better than to repeat something without checking it out.

    • “It has nothing or very little to do with speed. The way data is stored on an SSD leads to much less fragmentation.”

      It’s not just how the data is stored, but a combination of how the data is both commited to, and retrieved from said Solid State Hard Drive.

      Also, is not the reason we all defragment our non SSD’s to speed up the read/write speed?
      Technically the way Larry put it is incorrect, but when you work around people like Larry as often as I you tend to know what they mean by what they say regardless of how in/accurate it is.

      #IT

  3. I’d prefer using Seagate Sea tools to diagnose hard disk related issues automatically and see complete results of attributes that clearly signifies weather the hard disk is good or bad.

    Beside this, I’m also using Stellar SMART, helpful in diagnosing bad sectors of hard drive and various other parameters like spin rate, temperature, time to access data etc.

    Helpful post though as I get to know some more parameters that I’ve to look into before disposing my hard drive while assuming that it’ll be dead sooner or later.

  4. On my PC, I went to my C drive properties then tools and set for a disk check and repair on startup about every three months. Last month I did it and when it attempted to start I got a blue screen. I tried everything I could think of but could not get the operating system open. Fortunately, I had back ups and another disk from the same type PC a relative had given me. It took a while but it is operational. I didn’t get a warning it was about to fail. Losing a hard drive can be traumatic. Losing your data is unnecessarily tragic. Back up your files regularly.

  5. The specter of hard drive failure is the reason I recommend using redundant drives in your system. Now some off-the-shelf computers don’t have the room or the motherboard functionality to do this. However if you’re going to “roll your own” system, be sure not to skimp on the added cost of an extra hard drive and invest in a good motherboard that has built-in RAID functionality. I have several systems here in my office that are set up with redundant drives…in fact arrays of redundant drives (~10TB total) and in over 15 years of continuous operation (with several different systems) I have not experienced down time or data loss, even though I’ve had several single drive failures along the way. I prefer full redundancy — full mirroring via RAID 1 with two disks per mirrored set.

    BTW, most motherboard RAID controller chipsets come with canned management software (for example AMD RAIDXpert) that monitors the hard drive condition via SMART…and warns you on the desktop of an impending failure. This type of software also allows you to partition and assign disks to the various arrays in your system…as well as rebuilding a new, replacement after the loss of a disk. If you have valuable data or use your computer for your business, this is the ONLY way to go!

    Remember, the VERY the best way to recover a system is not to have to recover it at all!!

    • Going back to the first PC I built back in the early 1990s, I have never used redundant drives (RAID) nor do I intend to. Like you I have not experienced down time or data loss, even though I’ve had several single drive failures along the way. But that is neither here nor there. Our individual experiences are anecdotal. Neither approach is inherently wrong. The main thing is to backup, backup and then backup some more.

  6. It seem like many of the Windows 7 answers provided by a google search don’t match what my windows 7 machine has. Your article says to set a system restore point. I have a 1T external hard drive that I regularly back up to. Is that the same as setting a restore point? And if not, how do I do that? The google source said “Control Panel>System>System Protection>Create restore point”. Trouble is, I have no option that is “Sysytem Protection”.

    • You can find the link to “System Protection” on the right-hand side of “System” window.
      Once the System Protection window is opened, click on the “Create” button at the bottom of the window to create a system restore point.

    • On my Windows 7 system clicking Control Panel goes to All Control Panel items. System Protection is not listed there, but System is listed in the left column. Clicking on that brings me to the System window, which lists System Protection in the left column. I always use my computer in a limited user account except when I have to use administrative privileges, so I then have to type in my administrator password and click Yes to allow sytem changes to open System Protection. Next the System Properties window opens. This window has an option at the bottom to create a restore point for the drives that have system protection turned on. The box in the middle of the window tells me what drives have protection turned on. Investigating the other tabs at the top of the window, I was surprised to see Allow Remote Assistance turned on. I zapped that one!

  7. As for the life of SSD’S there is a feature of your OS called TRIM and that it is supposed to be enabled automatically when a SSD is being used instead of a plater type hard drive . And that is supposed increase the life of the SSD . Some SSD’S come with that software . Can you go further into detail on that . Since SSDs are dropping in price so more people want them with out knowing that one day it will just not work without giving any of the warnings that you listed in this article about the platter type hard drives .

    • For about a year or so I started experiencing all those listed symptoms on my 256Gb Crucial SSD. I had it for only about one year when speed issues started, followed by overheating of laptop and bad sectors, until it eventually died with a blue screen.

  8. “don’t make excuses to back up your data no matter how good your hard disk is.”???

    I think you meant, “don’t make excuses, back up your data no matter how good your hard disk is,” or think it is which is more like it.

    Great article though.

  9. An easy way to tell if it’s your PC/laptop having issues due to hardware vs. software is to create & boot up a Linux live CD/DVD?USB stick & boot to it.

    It won’t solve anything major, but will at least help to eliminate some variables.

    Cheers

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