How Can I Check for Hard Drive Damage?

Category: Hard-Drives

How can you tell if your hard drive is damaged before it completely crashes? It's important to detect hard drive damage before it grows into a catastrophic failure. Here's how to check under the hood of your hard drive for signs of damage...

Is My Hard Drive Damaged?

A completely "dead" hard drive will have to be sent to a data recovery specialist, and they don't come cheap. The other alternative is to kiss the data on that hard drive goodbye. (If you didn't make a backup recently, see my related articles about Online Backup and Backup Software.) But it needn't come that traumatic point if you check for hard drive damage regularly.

Physical damage to a hard drive often starts with bad sectors - small segments of the magnetic disk that can no longer be read, written to, or even found by the operating system. One bad sector tends to give rise to many others because it disrupts the read/write processes. Bad sectors also cause excessive wear of read/write heads. So your first line of defense is to check for hard drive damage at the sector level.
Hard Drive Damage

Every operating system can check a hard drive for bad sectors. In versions of Windows prior to XP, the DOS utility CHKDSK was used at the command line level. Later versions of Windows use this procedure:

  • Open the Start Menu and click on My Computer
  • Right-click on the icon representing the hard drive in question and select Properties
  • On the Tools tab, click the Check Now button under "Error-checking"
  • On the following popup window, check the box labeled "automatically fix errors" and "scan for and attempt to repair bad sectors"
  • Click OK

You will have to restart Windows because the error-checking utility cannot run while Windows is running. The tests and repairs will take a significant amount of time on a large hard drive; go to lunch or happy hour. When the tests for hard drive damage end, Windows will restart automatically. A report will be available after the error-checker does its job.

Mac OS X users need their Mac installation CDs to check for bad sectors. The install disk you use must correspond to the version of Mac OS that you are running. Additionally, Mac users should run a cache-clearing utility such as Cocktail or Yasu before they check for hard drive errors. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Start the Mac from the install disk
  • After the Installer window opens, open the Disk Utility
  • Select your Mac OS X boot drive from the list of drives that appears
  • If you do not see "Verified" in the S.M.A.R.T. field, you have some hard drive damage.
  • Click the First Aid tab in the Disk Utility window
  • Click the Repair Disk button

If Repair Disk found and fixed errors, it will tell you so. If it finds other problems such as a damaged volume record, follow its instructions to attempt to repair the problem.

Sometimes problems with hard drives originate outside of the hard drive itself. If you are experiencing intermittent read/write failures, check the cable connections between your hard drive and motherboard, and between the hard drive and its power supply. Expansion and contraction during on/off cycles can cause connectors to loosen. Read Is My Hard Drive Going to Crash? for more telltale signs of impending hard drive doom.

Hard drives are not expensive to replace these days. You can recover almost 100% of your data onto a new hard drive if you stick to a regular backup schedule. Do you have something to say about checking for hard drive damage? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 30 Aug 2010


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Most recent comments on "How Can I Check for Hard Drive Damage?"

Posted by:

Stephen
31 Aug 2010

try software to check drives
http://www.hdsentinel.com/
or
CrystalDiskInfo from
http://download.cnet.com/CrystalDiskInfo/3000-2086_4-10832082.html


Posted by:

ken
31 Aug 2010

I'm getting an sound like scratching or extreme reading and writing to the hard drive. This noise is new. Does it indicate impending doom?


Posted by:

gene
31 Aug 2010

Spinrite is an excellent hard drive recovery program, by Steve Gibson.


Posted by:

Jason
01 Sep 2010

What happens if your data is corrupted somehow either by a hard drive that is failing or a program error and a backup program grabs that corrupt file. Is there any way of knowing or getting a warning when a hard drive isn't writing the data to the drive that it should be or if that data is corrupt. I'm thinking here of specific files.

Also, what do you think about Spinrite for extending lives of drives? I've heard some say it's snake oil and some who say it works by re-writing data where its magnetic imprint is failing.


Posted by:

Karon Strickland
01 Sep 2010

I have been so lucky to be able to ask Bob Rankin ?s about my computer problems and will stick with his knowledge as I get my answers. I think this is one of the best articles yet. I have done alot of reading on hard drives and what to look for when I think I am having problems. Well, 2 nights ago I was attempting to work with photos and I got the dreaded screen that pops up and tells you, you may have hard disk problems, tells you to restart your computer and then offers 4 things for you to try. It was at this point I remember reading one of Bob's articles on hard drives indicating an external hard drive to back up everything, went out, purchased one and started working for several hours. This article on "How Can I Check for Hard Drive Damage" just confirms everything I have been reading and what I did last night to back everything up. I would like to make a booklet out of Bob's articles to be able to share with others in the family as they have ?s but I think I will just introduce them to Bob's articles of help.


Posted by:

D. W. Whitlock
01 Sep 2010

Seagate has a cool free app that will provide a comprehensive diagnostic scan your HDD and advise you of any potential problems or potential failures of your hard drive. Its called Sea Tools. Its easy to use, works great and its free. Can be had at www.seagate.com


Posted by:

Ben
01 Sep 2010

Bob -

From the article: "The tests and repairs will take a significant amount of time on a large hard drive; go to lunch or happy hour. When the tests for hard drive damage end, Windows will restart automatically."

If the machine is configured to go into hibernation or sleep mode, do these settings have to be disabled for chkdsk to run all the way through?


Posted by:

Jeff Irgens
01 Sep 2010

Great article!
Along the same vein of bad drive / crashed drive, maybe you could cover some of the free HD /data recovery SW out there that you could personally recommend in a future article? There are SO many it would be nice to be able to know which one to go to in that time of need.
Thanks.


Posted by:

Jay
01 Sep 2010

SpinRite (available at www.grc.com) software that can check your existing hard drive and/or recover most of the time from a crash. I've used it a few times on my system and while it might take up to 24 hours to recover data it is a big bang for your buck.

The author, Steve Gibson, used his newsgroups to test it prior to publishing it; I know as I was among 200 people testing. Covers all most every conceivable hard drive and I believe it is still only $69.95 with full tech support.

Best,

Jay


Posted by:

Tom Crews
02 Sep 2010

After checking on the integrity of From what I recallmy hard drive, how do I view the report?

EDITOR'S NOTE: From what I recall, after the scan runs, there is a button that says "View Report" or something similar.


Posted by:

Fred
02 Sep 2010

I ran the Hard Drive check you recommended and it took quite a while to check the hard drive and then
after all that, I did not get a report.
Is there a place that I can check to see what the results of the check were??

Thanks for everything.
Fred


Posted by:

Terry
04 Sep 2010

Bob,
I am so thankful for your time with the newsletter and posting for Macs, too! Thankyou again and again 'cause I love learning and trusting from you!!


Posted by:

Ihor
08 Sep 2010

Hello everyone:

Probably the biggest user of hard drives is Google. They use A LOT of standard, off-the-shelf drives.

Back in 2007 they wrote a research paper on their experience with disk failures. If you've got nothing to do on a rainy afternoon, go to:

http://labs.google.com/papers/disk_failures.pdf

It's a bit technical in some spots but you can just skip over these.

Surprisingly, they found that temperature and activity levels were much less correlated with drive failures than previously reported.

Regards,
Ihor


Posted by:

Brian
08 Sep 2010

I've used Spinrite on a few older drives I which had Windows Me and XP on them and it worked well but the latest version of Spinrite (6.0) seems to have a 500 GB size HD limit before it runs into an unrecoverable error. It is also unable to work on any solid state device rendering it obsolete for the new generation of data storage. I hope Steve Gibson is in the process of updating his software.


Posted by:

Dana
28 Jul 2012

Hi,

I'm trying to do some research on how to salvage my 650GB hard drive. I bought the computer used from ebay and it ran fine for a while but then it crashed a few times. I ran ckdisk and it seemed to fix the problem. Then, the last time I went to the 'dell website to run a diagnostic and sure enough, I guess I must have some bad sectors.

I don't know a lot about computers but I'm hoping I can isolate those bad sectors to their own partition or something like similar so I won't lose the whole thing.

I've already done a back up so I'm not concerned with losing data, I do hope you have some advise for me to save the hard drive and keep as much of it as possible. Your articles have been the most helpful, by the way.

Thanks,

D Baker


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