Hard Drive Failure: Warnings and Solutions

Sooner or later, all hard drives crash. It is only a matter of when. When it happens, the degree of sweat and tears you experience is directly related to how prepared you were for it to begin with. Backing up your data is important. I even have two computers which are set up almost identically so that if the drive on one of my machines dies, I don’t lose any worktime or data. Preparation is the best medicine, but this stuff happens anyway.

Warning Signs

In some cases, you start to see signs of a problem before the drive up and dies on you. Early warning signs include:

  1. Computer freezes often. When it happens, the mouse cursor is unmovable and keyboard input is ignored. Nothing works and a restart is required to recover the computer.
  2. Files Mysterious disappearing.
  3. Frequent lock-up during booting. I say “frequent” because all computers will freeze every now and then and it doesn’t necessarily mean the drive is failing. You’re looking for a pattern here.
  4. File access mysteriously slows to a turtle’s pace. Saving files or open files simply takes forever.

These are typical warning signs of a pending drive failure. When you start to see a noticeable increase in these patterns, backing up your data needs to take top priority. Otherwise you really are playing Russian roulette with your hard drive.

Signs of Real Failure

When the drive actually fails, it is a mechanical failure. Many times you will actually hear the drive making strange metallic noises. This is the read/write head thrashing around aimlessly and indicates failure. When your system has a crashed hard drive, it will not be able to boot. You may even get a blue screen of death.

Hard drive failure is a black and white thing. If the drive is working at all, you have a drive which is about to fail and is exhibiting the above warning signs in varying degrees. Once actual failure occurs, it just doesn’t work.

Diagnostics

The first thing to do is run through some inspection of the computer to see if this is indeed a drive failure. Here is a basic checklist. Now, if the PC was working fine and then just stopped working, chances are these items are not the case.

  1. Check to ensure the power cable is properly connected to the drive.
  2. Check to be sure the data cable is properly connected to the drive.
  3. If it is an IDE drive, ensure the ribbon cable is aligned properly. Red edge of the cable is aligned with Pin 1 of the connector on the drive. Pin 1 is closest to the power plug, typically.
  4. Master/slave assignment is correctly set if this is an IDE drive.

Once the physical connections have been verified, it’s good to see if the computer can even see the drive at all. If this is an IDE drive, go into the computer’s BIOS and have it auto-detect the drive. If it can detect it, then we know we have a solid connection. It doesn’t mean the drive is good, just that the BIOS can see it.

Using a bootable diskette for your anti-virus program, reboot and run a scan on the drive. It will scan the drive, including the boot partition, for viruses. If it finds anything, let it do it’s job. If it is able to successfully scan the drive at all, the drive is at least still working.

Use a third-party disk management program or simply FDISK to view the partitions on the drive. If no active partitions are found, then you know the partitions are screwed up. Unfortunately, that would be bad news. You can try a data recovery utility (see below) to recover the data. Otherwise, you will need to re-partition the drive and lose your data in the process.

You may want to run a ScanDisk or Check Disk on the drive. This is best if the drive is functioning partially. If you have a full mechanical failure, nothing will work. If some data is retrievable but others are not, then we have a partial failure. Try running Scandisk or Check Disk to scan the drive. Allow it to perform a full scan and fix anything it finds.

Yep, It’s Gone. Now What?

Well, first off, my heart goes out to you. If you didn’t use backups, you just lost a bunch of data. If you did, you are minimally looking at the annoying experience of having to set up the entire computer again.

Either way, you will need a new hard drive. Once installed, you set up the new hard drive as usual and re-install all your software. You then restore all your backups and you (hopefully) are good to go. Just trash the old drive. The data is not retrievable in most cases which means that throwing it away with your data on it is not really a risk.

Data Recovery

Too commonly people lose a hard drive that had data on it that was not backed up. These are the people who are then scrambling for ways to recover the data from a crashed hard drive. In some cases, this can be done. You should know up front, though, that it is going to cost you some money. Perhaps a lot of money. As of now, a quick Google search shows typical price ranges between $300 and $400. It isn’t cheap and you need to weigh out the cost of the service versus the cost of losing the data.

The art of data recovery depends solely on the nature of the drive failure. For example, if the electronics of the drive died but the mechanics are OK, then replacing the electronic board can revive the drive. Also, if the read/write head died but the platters still spin and are intact, then the data is still there. A new read/write head is needed to get the data.

The first thing would be to have your drive evaluated by a data recovery service. Since data recovery is very custom to the nature of the failure, prices vary.

Software Options

And since I know people will ask, no, there is no software utility out there that can recover data from a crashed hard drive. If the drive is not really crashed, then perhaps a disk utility can help you recover something. But, a true crash is a problem with the drive itself, and no software can overcome that one.

The data recovery software one finds when searching for it is designed to recover from accidental deletes or corrupted file structure. If these thing happen, there is a chance you can recover it on your own. Once the drive actually dies, though, your only option is to use a data recovery service.

Comments

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,

    Our company offering Remapping, Bad Sector repair and Storage helth inspector acknowledge used Hard disk Condition.

    These features work in hand with RAID proctection (Redundancy) to maximize proetction to valuable storage.

    HighPoint delivers these features to all levels of RAID HBA regardless of desktop and Enterprise levels. We do believes everybody has valuable data or media throughout thier lives.

    Regards,
    May

    • a few pointers, run disk doctor, you may have to defrag first. Defragging isnt persay a must on xp/vista but for data security it is on any os and it will increase hd speed as ur index files will get smaller, and identical file parts will be closer to each other both things limiting access time and search time. This MAY solve your problem so try it. if it doesnt then copy any important files and reformat the hdd.

      • Backup FIRST, Then disk doctor, and THEN defrag. You dont want to stress the drive if it is about to give up – If it is already about to fail, every little access counts. However, in 95% of the cases, it is fragmentation that slows users down. The prob is the remaining 5% will hurt if you dont backup ASAP.

  2. Jasper Johnson says:

    There is another failure that at least is common on a western digital drive that can cause the drive not to work at all and not to be readable, and the problem is not repairable but at least it allows possible recovery. What happens is the board on the drive malfunctions, possibly because of heat, and this can be tested by does the drive fail right away from a cold start or if its been on for a while. This drive might be recoverable if you throw it in a freezer for about 2hrs (but try protecting it from condensation) throw it back in the pc right away, and if your lucky you can atleast boot from a cd and back up all files before the drive fails again and usually the next time it fails it wont recover again.

    Then there are failures that cause bad sectors that isnt a problem with physical damage, but just the magnetic fields for the 0 and 1 being weak, this is rare today but i have seen it you usually got two options, reformat with a full wipe as this clears every bit out as a 0 and then you can reinstall the data again, but there is another option if there is important data on the bad sectors, SPINRITE 6 i have used it and it worked everytime, this program reads the bad sector over and over trying to figure out if its a 0 or a 1 by seeing how strong the signal is and by reading that part over and over it sees if it can get a stronger signal, in most cases it can recover the sector if it was just a week signal and not actualy physical damage. WARNING SPINRITE 6 on a 10GB drive can take 8hrs on a Pentium 3 (havent needed it on a new system so i cant tell you if it would be faster on a bigger/newer drive).

    But no matter what always have a backup!!!

    • Dear, Would you please let me know that how can I use this software while my hard drive is not being detected????
      It’s displaying an error message of primary disk failure on start-up and upon pressing the F1 key the computer restarts and the same happens again and again.
      My data is enormously important, and I’m worried a lot about its recovery. :(
      Can anyone hep me out???

  3. Andrew Harward says:

    Before trashing your broken drive, it’s a good idea to check whether it’s still under warranty, as most manufacturers provide at least a 3 year warranty. This can usually be done by visiting the manufacturer’s website, looking up the returns/warranty section, and entering the serial number of the drive.

  4. I just built a new AMD system running Windows XP SP2. AMD Athlon 64X2 6000+
    I have 2 gigs of Corsar Ram (YES,in the right slot.)
    4 SATA hard drives (hooked into the MB in their numbered slots.
    Nvidia 8800GTS Card

    I keep getting Blue Screens of Death ever since I built it.

    They happen 1 to 3 times a day when I’m using the PC for many different things. Video editing, Surfing, Games, etc.

    There are 3 different BSOD errors I keep getting.

    I have tried EVERYTHING.
    -Swapped out the Motherboard for a New one.
    -New Ram (using suggested ram from the MB maker.)
    -New PSP upgraded to 850 Watts.
    -Defragged Drives
    -Cleaned Reg

    Short of reinstalling Windows and or replacing the system drive NOTHING has worked.

    Any suggestions???

  5. If you post what the BSODs say, like the stop codes, we’ll be able to help you more.

  6. atgraphics says:

    to “on”

    if it happens when your comp cpu (processor) has very intensive work to do (online games etc.) then maybe it’s overheating. But – with such a new supercomputer this rarely is the reason… so just a idea to think about. Is your comp’s cpu cooling fine?

  7. rahul kamble says:

    Hi, I lost ly hard disk today, very painfull, your webpage is very informative.Thank you

  8. I have two computers whose hard drives are going crazy. The first computer is a Gateway 831 with 2 hard drives but it has a virsus that I can’t get rid of. How do I clean my hard-drive where the main system programs are located without losing too much data?

  9. Joslyn: You could try Housecall (housecall.trendmicro.com) but it can’t always get rid of all viruses. Sometimes you need to put the disk in a non-infected PC to clean them.

    Do you have a PC which is *not* virus infected? If so, first make sure you have some up to date antivirus software on it, then pull both disks from the Gateway, and connect them in the uninfected PC. Recover what data you need to (viruses won’t get through because of the antivirus software). Then I would reformat both drives and install windows from scratch. You *could* try scanning the disks for viruses rather than formatting, but if I’ve had a virus I’d rather start from scratch.

  10. Just lost my first hard drive ever. I usually upgrade my entore system ervery 2 years. THis time I;ve had the same hard driveds for over 3 years. Things were getting slow and I just order a backup system that would arrive Monday. Well hourse later on friday – my main data drive failed taking everything with it. When that backup external arrives on Monday … oh the salt in the wound.

    Hard drive is in the freezeer.

    • Well if you can shove that old drive in the freezer (try putting it in a container and hope you get little condisation, then shove it into you pc, see if it works and back the heck up as fast as you can, if the drive itself wont spin up smack it hard on the side while applying power to try and free the motor/heads, if that dont work cry.

  11. Bad luck…

    There’s always gotta be a first time to teach you to back up!

  12. Maggie Clarke says:

    My external drive tries to spin up, clicks twice, and shuts down, then does it all over again repeatedly till I shut the drive off.. Is this repairable? What might be wrong?

    • Must have been a Western Digital.

      Be Smart!

      Never Ever under any circumstance purchase a Western Digital “My Book” external Drive.

      They simply will fail guaranteed! I have multiple external drives and ONLY the Western Digitals have failed. I have lost irreplaceable family photos and more!

      Please learn from my mistake and backup your Western Digital Drives with anything else before it is too late.

      I should have learned the first time!

      • Maggie Clarke says:

        Actually, this dead hard drive was an Iomega Ion external 300 gb. Since then I have lost another drive, unfortunately, my C drive, a Seagate that was a little over a year old. Because of having seen this article above, when I was experiencing freezes frequently starting in November, I finally bought a couple of Seagate 1 TB external backup drives and started backing up every few days just a week before the C drive died. Whew.

        Question is, with the Iomega, where it spins up a bit, clicks twice and spins down, starting the cycle again and again until I shut it off, is there a way to get the disc to track properly or remove the housing or something long enough to read the data and Then discard the drive?

        • And since I wrote the above comment, one of the brand new two 1 TB seagate external backup drives failed! Can you imagine? 3 hard drive fails in a period of 3 months? I was wondering if it was my computer (which is about a year and a half old at this point purchased from Seattle area firm Puget Systems. ) But those warning signs make it so clear that you have to back everything up IMMEDIATELY. That’s why I sent the 1TB external seagate back for a free replacement. No problems… yet.

  13. I had a hard drive fail by not spinning up. I checked with a few software guys and one recommended turning the computer on and letting it warm up for a half hour even with the drive failure error. The lubricant in the drive has gotten sticky and it won’t spin up. After a half hour of warming up, restart the computer and the drive spun up and was readable. I quickly did a drive to drive copy while it was working. The heat loosened the lubricant and allowed it to spin up.

  14. Well here i am looking for answers to what i fear may be a dead drive. Just got 1T seagate cuda back in sept 08, since im such a big gamer i filled all but 150 gigs of it, i kept my old 250G seagate and split it into 2 partitions for XP and Vista and used the terabyte drive for all my game installs. yesterday i sat my headphones down in a hurry to get the phone came back and realized they were sitting on the F1 button and had endless “help” windows trying to open ultimately resulting in my entire system hanging. No biggie right, just hard reset it. Well upon restart i noticed that neither the operating sytems or the bios recognize the drive anymore. i tried everything, different sata ports, even a USB adapter, resetting cmos, hooked it up to my wifes pc, NOTHING when i hold it in my hand i can feel and hear it start up no unusual noises, seems fine just not being recognized. Anyway It was used solely for game installs and backup for those installs being it was so new and Huge it WAS my backup ya know. I still have enough room on my main 250gb seagate for all my favorite games just not every game i own.
    My main gripe is all the save game progress. Hours of fallout3, days of call of duty 4 and 5, and mods upon mods for half life 2 , doom 3 my list is endless. :[ Should i start reinstalling or does anyone have any suggestions before i send it back?

  15. I was wondering if anyone had any ideas if with the info below, is it my hard drive that is going:

    System: Dell Dimension E510
    3.0 Gig Intel Pent 4
    2.5 GB memory
    80 West Dig Hard drive (WDC WD8000JD-75MSA1)

    *When windows load, I get past the “Dell Black Screen” quickly but I get hung up on the light blue screen that usually shows “welcome” right before showing the normal windows icon desktop screen. Usually takes 1-3 minutes to get off the “welcome” screen.
    *Accessing documents, websites, email, etc. is fine, but when I try to change the location of where I want to save a file in the drop down menu at the top when you hit “save” or when I hit “save as”, the computer will go to a crawl and either show a hour glass symbol for a minute or so each time a different location is picked or it will show a green scroll bar in the middle of the screen while it is processing which I have never seen before. This box is titled “INITIALLING FOLDERS: INITIALLIZING THE ROOT FOLDERS TO DISPLAY” This usually takes a minute to three to complete.
    *Finally, when closing out of an internet page, I will get a white windows error box. The one that says “Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close.. This happens every time “x-ing” out of a website if it is the only tab open. Closing out of a site that is connected to others in the website tabs gives no issue until closing out the last site.

    I have switched the memory cars around (It has 2 1GB cards and 2 256 cards) to have just the 1 GB cards in and then just the 256 cards in to see if one of the sets was bad, but it did the same thing no matter which ones were in.

    Any help would be GREATLY appreciated! I hate to buy a new hard drive if that is not the issue. If it is not the hard drive, then I can imagine what the issue is.

    Thank you in advance,
    John

  16. John

    Your problem is not a hardware fail. This is either a software problem or the beginnings of a harddrive fail.

    One of the warning signs or an imminent fail is slow operation and odd noises from the drive. Given your system specs and the size and model of your HDD, this computer and HDD would be about 5 years old. This is a pretty good run for a hard drive, and will likely die within the next year or so.

    Firstly, you need to do backup all of your important files. Then try re-installing your browser and running a virus scan. (Malwarebytes is a good first up free check – http://download.cnet.com/Malwarebytes-Anti-Malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html?part=dl-10804572&subj=dl&tag=button).

    I suggest you look at a new system, as an upgrade every 5 years is pretty common.

    And good luck!

  17. Robert Zeller says:

    I have a Dell

    Dell Studio XPS
    Core I7 (Quadcore at about… 2.7 or whatever it is)
    12 Gigabytes DDR3 Ram
    1 Terrabyte internal hard drive

    The computer is from December 08… After one month of using the computer, the original hard drive (a few hundred gigabytes) failed. That was annoying, but its been replaced with the current 1 T hard drive… well before the old hard drive failed, I had noticed on one of my high games, x3 Terran Conflict, that the hard drive would end up exiting to desktop or crashing from time to time…. on the new hard drive, the same game has only lately developed a tendancy to show strange colors in the background until refreshed by leaving an area and coming back, and whats more today it simply shut off… I was able to turn it back on, and it didn’t seem to be particularly slow, but perhaps slightly slower (I know you guys have talked about that at length as an issue). This COULD be nothing, but I’m very paranoid after that last incident as I don’t want to replace the hard drive every few months… could this be coincidence or should I be concerned?

    I should note that on the last hard drive, when we took it apart, the plate had actually been physically damaged by the read/write head…(seriously scratched up) is that repeatable or just a manufacturing defect??

  18. Robert Zeller says:

    Oh, I should add that it crashed again… I haven’t restarted it… could this be a power supply issue? Also, its hooked up to a surge protector, could that mess with the external power level at all?(If I’m talking non-sense, feel free to mention it, I don’t know much about the inner workings of computers)

  19. Crystal says:

    Hi everyone, I need some help before I call Dell …. again ….

    I have a Dell inspiron 1525 laptop.
    Bought it new from Dell in August 2008.
    A few months later I was starting to get issues with freezing, eventually I got tired of it when it would have problems rebooting after freezing.
    Just before the 5 month mark I called Dell, they ended up sending me a new hard drive. Put that in and then a few weeks later, same thing, this time I made Dell take it in for repair.
    They put another new hard drive in it and sent it back.
    Things were “ok” (still occasional freezing) for awhile.
    Now, about 4 months after the last new hard drive was put in, its kicked the bucket again.
    Everything froze up, I tried restarting, got error messages and freezing, shut it down and then restarted, same thing, did a disk check, let it run overnight since it was SUPER slow. By morning the computer was back on the windows desktop. I figured I’d restart it, and thats when it all went bad fast!
    Now it won’t start up. It attempts to and after a while of loading up a blue screen flashes and it restarts itself, and this loop continues.
    Currently, I have pressed F12 at start up and am running diagnostics and have gotten an error:
    Error code: 0142 Msg: Error-code 2000-0142 Msg: Hard drive 1 – self test unsuccessful Status: 70

    So thats where I’m at, its still running the rest of the diagnostics but I’m fearing the worse.
    I’m hoping to find a way to get my files off it before I try sending it back to Dell or whatever they want to do.

    What I’m wondering is:
    If this has happened to 3 hard drives now, and the computer is only 9 months old, what could be causing this?
    It must be something else in the computer rather than me being unfortunate enough to get 3 defective hard drives…..
    I just want to have some sort of plan when I call Dell again, I need to know what to tell them to replace this time rather than them just sending me a new hard drive over and over again!

    Thanks!

  20. we use a software from Gibson Research and with over 50 drives lost and recovered with 100 % success I only tell you this… the beginning article is quite wrong.. software can recover the drive… give it a shot and you won’t be dissappointed… I assure you.

    http://www.grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm

  21. I love this site! It really helped me, thanks! :)

  22. Julie Munoz says:

    I have a brand new computer, but after I installed MS Office Professional 2007 I keep getting the black screen, hard drive failure notice. The software works, but every couple of hours I get the black screen?

  23. Comp was running perfect last night, woke up this morning and my hard drive failed to boot and ins’t recognised as being installed. So devostated just got it back up and running, not an old computer either. No signs, nothing.

  24. Nathan B says:

    one other thing which was not mentioned here is a RAID array.
    For instance, when using RAID 5, you can sustain loss of up to 1 drive when using the minimum of 3 drives. When a drive does fail, you can still boot the machine and use it normally, but at a slower pace as the drives are trying to find the bytes of data.

    you can have more than 3 drives in a RAID 5 array, and the more drives, mean the more drives can be lost and still have a successful boot. ie. 4 drive array can sustain loss of 2 and still boot.

    What to do when a raid array fails because of one drive lost? Simply replace the drive with an identical one. open the raid utility and rebuild the array. The rebuild process can take several hours depending on the size of the drive being replaced.

    NOTE: when using a RAID setup, all drives must be identical. For instance, 3 drives that are all 7200 RPM, 320 GB capacity, and 3.0GB/s transfer rate. if one fails you must replace it with a drive that matches specifications. you cannot replace it with a 5400 RPM 320Gb capacity and 3..0GB/s transfer.

  25. Shimafox says:

    Hi David, very nice articule, i found that very interesting, im writing to u coz i have a really weird problem:

    My pc is working slowly and sometimes crashes and restart (i have 3 OS and is the same for all) and when restarts bios not detect the HD, the only way is turning off a little time the pc and then turn on again the pc and after that work again, is a cycle lol

    Do u know if that is a comun failure?

    Additional data: sometimes is slow in the movies, some mp4 are blurred, when im copying files i cant do anything else (becomes slow) and is really slow coping usb data.

    i passed antivirus and tested some of the HD and not have bad sectors, when i tested with hd recovery only gave me a lot of “delays”.

    Oh and sometimes when i passed antivirus crashed too.

    In Vista the hd is working for a loooong time (red light turns on)

    Everything is proper temperature, cables are ok, power supply is ok too.

    Well i hope that u can help me, i only want to be sure that is the HD for sending that to warranty.

  26. Jeff T says:

    I have just recently received this error on startup when I enter setup the SATA 0 is blank and shows a 0GB capacity. My other drive is Identical 500GB capacity if I exit out of setup the computer restarts and is usually there has only been on or two times that I have had to do several restarts. eventually windows does open a check disk shows everthing to be fine. I am not experienceing any of the syptoms stated above no trouble accessing files no slow down no freeze nothing only issue on startup. Checked all connections looks fine. The only odd thing is I know when it’s starting up properly when I get the message of how I want to startup the computer (which o/s) but they list the same thing twice not sure what’s going on there. That started after I made a change to which programs opened on startup. If that is the problem I don’t remember how I got there. Please help

  27. Thanks for the information although it is a couple of years old, it matches exactly what my hard drive is doing, now i know its not the processor overheating,

    Thanks,
    Matt

  28. I have, with some success (I say “some” because I’ve had it not work also), been able to use an Ubuntu live CD to recover data from computers that have experienced Hard Drive Failure.

  29. My laptop was working perfectly fine until I booted it the next morning when I was hit with “Internal Hard Drive Disk Not Found” outta nowhere.

    Real bummer. Other than reformatting a couple weeks ago and installing Windows 7, I have no idea what happened. No signs of failure or nothin’.

  30. Catalin says:

    Also my laptop was working fine….. i get this mesage imediatly after i press power buton “your hdd faiiure sonn , you must do a back up imediatly ” for start wind. press F1
    y have 4 weaks with this eror but now i recive also in windows this erorr your hdd drive failure soon !!

  31. I think this is what has happend to my laptop, basically it has over heated far to many times and turns off. I have said before it will break the hardrive. Now I can only use it in safemode, and it won’t start in normal, it freezes before we even get to the desktop. It works fine in safe mode part from it not being the propper way to use your computer, but the data is there. If anyone has any to say on this to me, Email me [email protected] thanks x

  32. I run an on-line backup company. There is nothing more upsetting that losing all your files, I meet people everyday who have lost important files. To some it is there treasured family photos, to others it is vital documents to there business.

    Backing up regularly is so important, an I am not just saying that because of my business.

    Don’t leave it to chance!

    even a USB drive backup is better than no backup.

  33. My hard drive light keep busying for few minutes sometimes, wonder if that’s a sign also. Any ideas?

    Thanks!

  34. My HDD Failure Warning Started from April 2012 and Now It is January 18 Still it works fine. Is There Any Reason For This…………..

  35. iam building a dell 9300 up and I got all new hard were but the hard drive ok I keep looseing os after pc shuts down and reboot it nothing but black screen saying failer on interal hard drive could this be that simple or not ???? lol any ideas plz help thank you and have a great day

  36. Maria Ebbeskog says:

    When your hard drive is getting slower it is going to crash. There are different softwares for checking this like Hdd Health crystal disk info. When spin up time gets a higher number your hard disk is going to crash.

  37. I don’t believe I’ve experienced any of the symptoms stated in this article but my computer is asking me to “Replace or Repair the hard disk” I’m not sure about this. any help?

  38. My tecra m9 laptop has crashed. When I turn it on the screen is black and filled with lowercase a’s with double accent marks above each a. It recognizes a boot up cd, but will not allows a “live” disk to run. It had Win xp pro on it when it died, but I have partioned and formatted it for linux also. Have you ever heard of this? Thanks, Mary

  39. Very nicely summarised information about hard drives; but I was looking for something about how to Recover Laptop Hard Drive and found your blog which helped me learn about what steps should be taken for preventing data lose and HDD corruption.

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