How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Crash?

Category: Hard-Drives

A reader asks: 'Sometimes I hear a click-click sound from my hard drive, but it's only occasionally. Does this mean my hard drive is going to crash soon? Are there any tests I can run to check the health of my hard drive?' Read on to learn the tell-tale signs of impending hard drive doom, and some things you can do now to protect your data...

How Can I Tell If My Hard Drive Is About To Fail?

How long will your hard drive last? Is it giving you subtle signs that a data disaster is looming? How will you know when it's time to buy a new hard drive? Here are some things you can look for. (If your hard drive has already failed, don't give up hope before trying TestDisk. This powerful free tool can recover lost hard drive partitions, recover deleted files, and even rebuild scrambled file s.)

Your computer's hard drive is its permanent memory, the critical repository of all your important data, the programs and operating system that make a computer "smart". If the hard drive doesn't work, the whole computer is as useful as a brick. Human memories break down gradually, in most cases, giving ample warning that something needs to be fixed. So how can you tell if your hard drive is close to failing and needs fixing or replacement?

The bad news is that hard drives may give NO warning of imminent failures. Like a tire that runs over a nail, a hard drive most often just dies, leaving you stranded suddenly. The sudden burnout of electronic components; a bearing that blows in a second; a "head crash" in which the read/write head touches and scratches the magnetic platter; these sorts of catastrophes usually happen without warning. Fortunately, they are pretty uncommon. But don't take chances – especially if you don't have a backup plan in place.

Will my hard drive crash?

The good news is that modern hard drives last a long time. Look on your drive's label or in its technical specs and you will find a value labeled MTBF – Mean Time Between Failures. That's the average (mean) number hours a whole bunch of drives spun at full speed before something broke in each of them. An MTBF of 50,000 hours is the minimum acceptable today; 100,000 hours is not uncommon. There are about 2,000 hours in a typical employee's work-year.

Note that "average" does not mean "guaranteed minimum." An exceptional drive that runs 400,000 hours may be offset in the average calculation by one that burns out after only 5,000 hours – and that early departer could be yours. You just never know. (Did I mention that you should have a backup plan?)

Warning Signs of Hard Drive Failure

If you start getting read/write errors, i.e., "cannot write to disk" or "cannot access file," something is going wrong. It may be the drive's firmware, and downloading the latest firmware update from the manufacturer's site could fix you right up. It may also be corrupted or cross-linked files. Run CHKDSK to find and fix such errors. These are the easiest and cheapest problems to fix.

CHKDSK comes with Windows, and it's pretty good at detecting bad files and physically damaged sectors. It will lock damaged sectors so that the computer will not attempt to write to them. To run CHKDSK, open a command prompt, then type CHKDSK C: /F /R then press Enter. This tells CHKDSK to scan for bad sectors, and fix any errors found. Substitute the "C:" with another drive letter if you have multiple drives (or partitions) and want to check those as well. CHKDSK may ask if you want the scan to be done on the next boot (start up) cycle. If so, respond with Y for yes.

There are free utilities out there that run more thorough tests. One of the highly recommended utilities is Seagate SeaTools for Windows. The Hitachi Drive Fitness Test is another useful tool. Note that you don't have to have a Seagate or Hitachi brand hard drive to use these tools. They'll work with other brands, such as Samsung, Fujitsu, Western Digital, and Maxtor just as well. Another commercial alternative is Hard Disk Sentinel.

Listen to your hard drive. If you hear a clicking sound, especially during startup, that's often a sign of a damaged disk, and impending data doom. Just like you can hear when a car engine is "laboring," you can often hear when a hard drive is working too hard. That means it's wearing out faster, just like an engine that climbs steep hills every day. If you hear vague rattling noises when your hard drive is accessing data, you should run a disk cleanup and defragmentation right away. The less the read/write head must move to find, read, and write data, the longer it will last.

If noises or errors become frequent, don't hope the problem will go away -- because it won't. Back up all your data and buy a new hard drive. Move everything onto the new drive. Wipe your sensitive data from the old drive using a disk-wiping utility that overwrites every sector so it is very difficult to read what was there. Then toss the old drive; do not keep it around as an "emergency" drive and do not use it as a secondary drive. You wouldn't count on an old car with a blown engine seal in emergencies or even for backup use, would you?

Your thoughts are welcome on this topic! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Crash?"

Posted by:

Kenneth H
23 May 2022

Too late, already crashed. What would be more helpful would be knowing how to recover anything on it. Computer won't start in any mode so I don't think the recovery disks I made are worth the media they are on. I hesitate to buy a new HD and try to copy anything on it in case the old one has a virus of some sort. Is it suspicious that it died the day after I tried to get my money back from Kaspersky AV? BTW read the fine print if you have Kaspersky. They can not only charge your credit card after you try to unsubscribe, but even if it is an expired card the bank (Discover) will still honor the transaction.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See my comment regarding TESTDISK.

Posted by:

23 May 2022

I tried running CHKDSK but received a message indicating "access denied as you do not have sufficient privileges" How can I correct this apparent problem

Posted by:

23 May 2022

mmm The only hard drives I use are for my security system and those left over from 5 - 10 years ago that are amply backed up. When digital drives finally came down in price, I have no use for magnetic drives because of their unpredictable life span.

Posted by:

Steve C
23 May 2022

Craig, before you select the Command window option make-sure to right-click the icon or Command Window and select Run as Administrator, see if that takes care of the issue.

Posted by:

Jay R
24 May 2022

Steve S beat me to it. I had to restart my PC before it would run. It ran during start up and took a fairly long time. Be warned.

Posted by:

David Baker
24 May 2022

Thanks Bob!
Always enjoy Your Wisdom.

Posted by:

24 May 2022

Bob, good article but you forgot to mention SPIN-RITE as a paid hard drive utility that will do it's best to repair hard drives that others deem unfixable. Also running it every 6 months it keeps your hard drive operating smoothly & efficiently. Unfortunately, no software can fix a hard drive with a mechanical problem! Not affiliated with the developer but just a very satisfied user.

Posted by:

24 May 2022

There is a better (and foolproof) way to erase or encrypt your files on that old drive before you toss it. It involves a piece of hardware called a sledge hammer (10 lb minimum). Alternatively, a band saw will permanently erase everything on that old drive. Squeamish about such brute force solutions? Jam a screwdriver into the connector slot and vigorously twist. Voila! All your sensitive files are forever safe from prying eyes.

Posted by:

Bob K
24 May 2022

Kenneth H,

I would never use Kaspersky, regardless how good it it supposed to be, as it is the product of Russia:

Posted by:

24 May 2022

Utilities such as Speccy can read the SMART data that modern hard drives store about their performance. This includes the number of hours run, the number of power cycles and so on. One important piece item of data in the SMART table is Reported Uncorrectable Errors, showing instances where the drive is starting to fail.

Posted by:

25 May 2022

Just thought I'd mention that Testdisk also worked for me recently on a memory stick with an accidentally erased Master File Table, miraculously bringing back all the data, but only after if it was plugged in to one of the computer's original USB ports rather than a PC card or USB hub.
I found Kroll OnTrack Data Recovery recovered some files from a hard drive damaged by a power cut when others failed, but none of the programs I tried were successful with larger files containing multiple fragments.
When a drive is no longer required, wiping it in my experience is quite sufficient: physical destruction is not necessary.

Posted by:

Bruce D
26 May 2022

A few years ago I had a hard drive that would run for a few minutes after a cold boot, but would then cease to function. After some experimentation I placed the hard drive in the freezer overnight. The next morning, leaving the hard drive in the freezer, I connected it via USB cable to my laptop and managed to keep the drive running long enough to copy the entire contents to another drive. Needless to say, I was very thankful to those that passed along this unorthodox trick to save all my data.

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