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Hard drive failure is one of the most common and frustrating problems for computer users, but it’s also one of the easiest problems to recover from. If you do suspect that your hard drive has failed, your first course of action should always be to turn off your system. Your second should be to get a free consultation from a professional data recovery shop.
Speaking with a professional data recovery technician is absolutely free, and will at least enable you to get an idea of what you’re dealing with, and in this case, knowledge is power.
If, on the other hand, you suspect that your hard drive is failing (as in, the drive hasn’t died just yet), then by all means do your best to back it up now!
Here Are The Most Common Questions Our Customers Ask (click to read the answer):
What causes hard drive failure?
What causes external hard drive failure?
How can S.M.A.R.T. help me if my hard drive is failing?
What are the warning signs of hard drive failure?
Are there specific signs for Macbook hard drive failure?
The Specific Causes Of Hard Drive Failure
Hard disk drives (or HDD) are mechanical. Most are based on a “spindle and platter” system that works much in the way a record player does. The arm reads the data on the platter, and your system uses it for pretty much everything on your computer.
The second type of hard drive, and one that has become extremely popular, is the Solid State Drive or SSD. This type of hard disk uses an electrical cell grid to write data directly to a memory module, exactly like the RAM in your system. These drives read and write data extremely quickly and are a key reason why today’s computers are so fast.
Now, the key cause of failure for either an HDD or an SSD is one thing: mechanical failure.
For HDD drives, this means the spindle and platter system may be wearing out or losing precision due to age or heavy use.
For SSD drives, the “blocks” to which data is written do wear out. They can only be written too a certain number of times, and then, without warning, your drive is dead.
Some other key causes include:
- Excessive heat – Either form of drive will fail if used continually in a very hot environment or improperly cooled computer system
- Water Damage – These are electronics, and one of life’s harshest equations is Water+Electronics=Damage. (Read more about water damaged hard drives)
- Static Electricity – A dry environment can make for high amounts of static electricity.
- Lightning or power surges – A mass shock to your computer system can quickly spell the end of a hard drive.
- High Magnetic Fields – Magnets and hard drives of any kind are a bad mix.
- Impact – The parts inside a hard drive are very sensitive. Dropping a drive or laptop can cause immediate hard drive failure
The Specific Causes Of External Hard Drive Failure
External or portable hard drives are even more susceptible to damage than internal or laptop hard drives. This is essentially because they are small, usually poorly padded within their case, and can be dropped at a moment’s notice.
So essentially, all of the causes of internal hard drive failure are the same for external, with a specific focus on Impact or Environmental Hazard. This means that it can be dropped on the ground. Immersed in water. Burned in a fire. It can more easily be affected by a powerful magnet. They can be thrown across the room by a toddler.
Believe us, we’ve seen it all.
Basically, an external drive is more risky than those in a PC or laptop, so saving as little “critical data” on them as possible is always a great idea. But if you need help recovering an external or portable drive, we can do that, too. Even if you think a recovery might not be possible, trust us: 95% of the time, it is.
How S.M.A.R.T. Helps Warn You
S.M.A.R.T., or Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology, is an early warning system for hard drives that first gained popularity around 2004. SMART does not actually prevent hard disk or SSD failure, but it does warn you of the potential.
When SMART is activated, it will usually warn the user that the hard drive may have issues during the boot sequence. But, the unfortunate fact is that many computer manufacturers do not automatically enable SMART.
A quick web search for your specific model will often tell you if SMART is activated on your computer.
If you have Windows and you want to see your SMART details right now, do this:
First, open a Command Prompt window. (Press the Windows key, type Command Prompt, and press Enter.)
Once you have a Command Prompt window, type the following commands, pressing Enter after each one:
wmic diskdrive get status
If there are no SMART errors, you should see this:
Those 3 OKs mean that yes, you’re OK. Now backup that hard drive!
Warning Signs That Suggest Failure Is Imminent
If you haven’t had the opportunity to check your SMART settings (see above), but suspect that your hard drive may be failing, you may consider the following issues as warnings that a hard drive crash is on its way:
- Computer Crashes Or Blue Screen Of Death – A classic Windows scenario that is all but licked with the newer versions starting at Windows 7 and extending to 8 and now 10. This is why if you do experience a crash, it may be a big deal. Backup that drive!
- Error Messages While Copying Or Moving Files – Believe us, this is not something that happens unless there are disk problems at hand. At the very least, it might be a good time to do a SMART test (as above) or do a disk check by going into Explorer, right clicking on the problematic drive, clicking the Tools tab and clicking the “Check” button.
- Losing Files Without Notice – This can sometimes mean that your drive is having issues. A disk check again may help.
- File Access Takes A Long Time – Today’s hard drives are fast. If your system was made in the past 10 years, you shouldn’t be waiting long periods of time for your file access.
- Noise – Most recently manufactured hard drives are whisper quiet. Any noise at all, particularly a clicking hard drive noise, can mean the drive may be on its last legs. Do your best to backup whatever you can, or shut down the system and call an expert (our number is above 🙂 ).
Macbook Hard Drive Failure Signs
Suspect that your Macbook hard drive is failing? Well, certainly all of the signs noted above for Windows machines do also work for Mac users, so feel free to go through that checklist.
Fortunately, the folks at Apple have built-in what they call the Apple Hardware Test. Within that module is something called the AHT Disk utility, which does help correct errors and solve disk problems.
If you find that your drive is slowing, it may either be fragmented, or it’s possible it may be failing. Again, back it up to another drive. An external hard drive is extremely handy for this.
(Because today’s hard drives are extremely cheap when compared with even five years ago, it is always worth the expense to buy an external USB hard drive for backup purposes. A 2TB portable drive can often be purchased for less than $60. Consider it a very worthy investment.)
What Happens Next If Your Drive Has Failed?
If you call on an expert quickly, and your system isn’t very old, your data is VERY recoverable. Basically, the quicker you discover the drive issue and power down your system, the more effective (and less expensive) your data recovery will be.
Free Hard Drive Failure Consultations
When you call HDRA, a technician will ask you a number of questions to determine the cause of your hard disk failure. This is because in many cases, your drive may be mechanically sound, but has issues with its file system (or Logical Errors) that prevent data from being accessed.
Many people panic and mistake logical drive failures for mechanical failures, which can often lead them to rash actions that can further damage their data.
Each day, HDRA technicians help customers troubleshoot these logical errors over the phone, saving them hundreds of dollars in data recovery costs with one call.
In doubt? Find out for yourself by calling the toll free number above!
It’s Mechanical… What Now?
If you describe a situation that tells us that your drive has experienced a mechanical failure, we will likely request that you ship the drive to our lab. This is to see how badly damaged your drive is, and to find out what the best and least expensive way of recovering the data will be.
For all in-lab recoveries we perform, we give you the option of either copying the recovered data to a brand new hard drive, or compressing the data so that you can download it from a secure location.