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10 Signs of Hard Drive Failure and the Way to Save Your Data

Losing all your data due to hard drive failure can be a nightmare. In this article, we will show you the signs of hard drive failure and what to do about it. You will also learn about the five ways a hard drive usually fails, the lifespan of a hard drive, and the difference between HDD and SSD failures. Keep your data safe by reading on.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to spot the signs that your storage device could be failing and tell you what to do about it. The goal should always be to protect your data.

What Is Hard Drive Failure?

Hard disk failure is when your internal or external drive stops working. This could happen for many reasons, but the result is usually permanent data loss. While a professional data recovery service might be able to find your data, the cost of returning it to you could be too expensive.

To help you understand more about the problem, here is a quick summary of the five ways a hard drive normally fails.

  • Mechanical Failures – If you have a hard disk drive with spinning plates, you actually have a technological marvel. The disks spin at a rate 5400 or 7200 RPM and the heads that read the data operate with nanometers of tolerance. These mechanical components are susceptible to physical damage, especially in laptops.
  • Head Failures – If there is a problem with the head, then it can crash into the spinning disk and cause a lot of physical trauma. It can render the platter surfaces unreadable and make any drive recovery service impossible. 
  • Media Failures – Media failures are not very common, but refer to damage to the physical surface of the platters. Once the disks get scratched, the data should be considered gone.
  • Logical Failures – While failures of the electronics or manufacturer’s firmware are relatively easy to fix, they are also not very common. Hard drive failure is usually more than just a small problem.
  • Random Failures – Of course, these mechanical devices can suffer all kinds of damage. Power surges can fry drives. Solid-state drives have fewer parts, but are more vulnerable to an electrical surge. Corrupted files, viruses, and even poor construction are all causes of disk drive failure.
What Is Hard Drive Failure


What about HDD vs SSD? While an SSD has fewer parts, they still fail. You should plan to protect your data, even if you have stored it on an SSD.

There is one crucial thing to know about drive failure symptoms:

Your hard drive can fail without you seeing any warning signs at all. Many people never see drive failure signs because the signs are only identified by high quality monitoring tools.

We’ll come back to this in just a moment and tell you where to get the best hard drive monitoring and repair tool. First, though, let’s look at some of the signs you might see.

About HDD Failure Stats

According to Backblaze’s 2022 HDD Report, which analyzed 230,921 hard drives, the annualized failure rate (AFR) saw a significant increase from 1.01% in 2021 to 1.37% in 2022, following a slight increase from 2020 to 2021.

10 Signs of Hard Drive Failure

While it’s true that hard drives can fail without warning, sometimes people get some signs along the way. Waiting for one of these signs isn’t a great idea, though. They are more like the warning lights on your car. If you see one, there’s already a problem. You would be far better off investing in data protection with a good monitoring tool.

But, on to the list of signs.

Slow computer, blue screen of death, frequent error messages

Many people complain about their computer slowing down. It’s usually just bloated startup items and lots of stuff running in the background. But if you also get random error messages and a very slow response from file explorer, then this could be a sign your hard drive health is tanking.

Really slow file access and folder opening

You shouldn’t have to wait a long time to see your files and folders. If you are trying to find a specific file and the search function takes a long time, it might be a good idea to check in on the health of your hard drive.

Missing files or files you cannot open

If you know you saved that file, but now it’s gone, this is a pretty sure sign your hard disk is already damaged. There could be a host of reasons for missing files, but one of the more common is hard disk failure.

Error messages when you are moving or copying files

Before a drive crashes, there may be parts of the disk that become inoperable. While the computer tries to work around them, this problem can show up as errors when you are trying to move and copy files. If you get this kind of error, it’s time for a thorough drive evaluation.

Error messages when you are moving or copying files


Strange noises coming from the drive

Any unusual noise, repetitive sound, or loud screeches are bad news. This is almost always a sign that the internal components of the hard disk are already damaged. It’s a symptom of mechanical failure.

Hard drive not detected

This is a big one. If your computer seems to occasionally forget it even has a hard drive, that’s a problem. Of course, when this happens, people just power off and start the boot sequence again. But it’s a big sign you should be taking steps to protect your data.

Windows will not launch

If Windows will not start, even if it seems to work after a few tries, this is a bad sign. You might see the blue screen of death, error messages about corrupted files, or other issues. At this point, it’s probably best to leave it off and take the hard drive to someone for a drive evaluation.

Windows will not launch


Programs don’t work anymore

Similarly to the entire Windows operating system, the failure of even a single program to launch should be seen as an issue. While rebooting the computer might solve the occasional issue, a program that completely fails to start may be telling you about a damaged portion of the drive.

Increasing number of bad sectors

Bad sectors are small parts of your hard drive that simply don’t work any longer. They have been damaged and the hardware cannot write or read any data from them. Before a drive crashes, an increase in the number of bad sectors is one of the more reliable drive failure symptoms.

Increasing number of bad sectors


SMART errors or status is getting worse

Most modern hard drives include the Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) to identify drive failure symptoms before they cause a complete breakdown.

However, monitoring your SMART status isn’t straightforward. There are up to 30 SMART indicators and Windows typically uses a simple pass/fail test. To really protect your data, you need more data about the status of your hard drive.

What to do to Protect Your Data

The very first thing to realize is that you really should start now. There are simple steps you can take to protect your data. Let us repeat something we said earlier:

Your hard drive can fail without you seeing any warning signs at all. Many people never see drive failure signs because the signs are only identified by high quality monitoring tools.

So, step one is to get a high quality monitoring tool. This is how to check the health of your hard drive. Don’t wait until you are doing a Google search for a recover specialist or recovery experts from your smartphone because your laptop is now less functional than a boat anchor.

Instead, install Hard Disk Sentinel. Hard Disk Sentinel is a complete hard disk monitoring tool for Windows. You can sign up for a free trial, install the software, and see the health of your hard drive in moments. 

What to do to Protect Your Data


Here are a few things Hard Disk Sentinel shows you:

  • The most clear health score possible – a score out of 100.
  • An easy-to-use temperature graph that will show you if your computer is running too hot.
  • Drive summary, including the total power on time of your drive, its estimated remaining lifespan, and the total amount of data it has processed.

Once you see this information, it’s time to do something about it. The best step is to sign up for Hard Disk Sentinel’s Professional Version. Not only does this give you all the information you need to see the real health of your drive and data, but it also comes with disk testing and backup options so you can really protect your data.

Click here to see more information about Hard Disk Sentinel’s product and pricing.

FAQ

Can a hard drive suddenly fail?

Yes, absolutely. With no noticeable warning, a hard drive could suffer damage to the delicate surfaces of its physical platters and become non-functional. While there may be some common signs of a problem, hard drive failure comes as a shock to most people.

How do I know if my hard drive is damaged?

You might hear strange sounds, see performance issues, or receive error messages before an actual crash. However, these are not always present. The only way to know is to run a proper test using a third party monitoring tool such as Hard Disk Sentinel.

How much does a hard drive repair cost?

Many failed hard drives cannot be restored or repaired. For others, the cost of a repair depends on the volume of data and the amount of damage. There are no easy estimates but the recovery might cost many hundreds of dollars.