Is My Hard Drive Going To Crash?

Category: Hard-Drives

Most hard drive crashes give some early warning signs, providing you time to backup your data and, in some cases, correct the problem(s) before the hard drive fails completely. Pay attention to your hard drive's behavior and avoid the calamity of a hard drive crash. Here's what to watch for...

Hard Drive Crashed

Heading For a Hard Drive Crash?

A hard drive may crash, literally, in a high-speed collision between moving mechanical parts within the drive. Inside a typical consumer hard drive, you have a stack of magnetic platters spinning at 5600 or 7200 rpms. Between the platters, needle-like read-write heads twitch from one sector of a platter to another faster than the eye can see. If head meets platter, both can be severely damaged.

Sudden shocks, such as falling a few feet, can cause a head to crash into a platter. So can electrical malfunctions that cause the head to drop suddenly onto the platter. If a speck of dust gets into the hard drive case through a filtered air-intake port, the head may crash into it because heads hover just a fraction of a millimeter above the rapidly spinning platters.

Of course, modern hard drives are designed with shock-absorbing materials and other technologies to minimize the occurrences of physical crashes. Laptops, especially, are heavily protected against shock or head displacement due to sudden movement. Physical crashes happen randomly and with no warning, except sometimes for the "electrical malfunctions."

Signs of growing electrical malfunctions preceding a crash include slow or erratic read/write times; odd noises coming from the drive intermittently; or unusual delays in the drive's power-up cycle. You should be sensitive to such signals of an impending hard drive crash.

A more common cause of hard drive crashes is simple wear and tear on the electromechanical parts of the drive. The metal bearings upon which platters spin and the read/write head moves may burn out. Metal fatigue may cause a part of the read/write head mechanism to snap. Intermittent grating noises may or may not precede such failures.

That's why I always emphasize the importance of backing up the files on your hard drive. See my related articles dealing with Backup Storage Devices and Backup Software for help getting started with a backup plan. You may also want to consider Online Backup Services for secure offsite backups.

Hard Drive Maintenance Is Important

Defragmenting and optimizing the data files stored on a hard drive can extend the life of electromechanical parts. When a file is fragmented, with parts of it stored on different areas of the drive, the read/write head must move around excessively to collect all of its pieces. Corrupted files make the head work harder, too. So run your favorite disk optimizer utility, such as Advanced System Care Pro, at least once a week to prolong your hard drive's life.

Software glitches can also cause hard drive crashes. Software guides and commands the read/write head, telling it exactly where to write data. If there's a bug in the software some data may be written a bit "off track," not where it's supposed to go. Then it's unreadable; the place where it is written becomes a "bad sector," a spot on the hard drive that cannot be used. Microsoft Windows and other operating systems have built-in utilities that can test an entire hard drive for bad sectors and label them "do not use." Also, modern hard drives come with extra sectors that are activated for use when bad sectors are labeled off-limits.

So it's a lot like taking care of a car. Routine preventive maintenance will help to extend the life of your drive, and attentive listening for any signs of trouble will help you avoid any losses.

Have you suffered a hard drive crash? Got some words of wisdom for avoiding one? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is My Hard Drive Going To Crash?"

Posted by:

24 Aug 2010

Also, the hard drive seems to mechanically slow down. I replaced my 5 year old drive before the old one died. The new one is also 7200 and is much faster. That would mean looking for lots of delays. I maintained both of them with defragging At work, a laptop kept running CHKDDSK/.f at startup, when I did not ask it to. 10k in bad sectors. I no longer have access to that laptop, it is not mine.

Posted by:

Roger Wilkerson
24 Aug 2010

Bob, I currently have 3 sata internal hard drives in my desktop. I also have three versions of windows that I'm running in different partitions located on one of the drives. As we know, whichever version of windows loads, that partition becomes the "c" drive. I wish to use one of the drives for storage of all of my documents. I want it to have the same drive letter regardless of which windows version is running. How do I do this?


Posted by:

Dave Ruedeman
25 Aug 2010

It's not a bad idea to run a program that reads the SMART information in your hard drive. SMART is a good way to see if a HD failure is imminent. For the PC HDTUNE is the most famous.

Also Spinrite will also diagnose hard drives. However, it was written for DOS so it doesn't work for all drives.

Unfortunately both programs you need to pay for. On a Linux system you can look at the smart characteristics for free

Posted by:

25 Aug 2010

Can't a person rely on S.M.A.R.T. to determine hard drive failure?

Posted by:

08 Sep 2010

In response to Roger:

Why not simply add an external USB 2.0 hard drive (either purchase a complete solution, or buy an external case, and put the HD of your choice inside)

That drive *should* show up as the same drive letter no matter what flavor of Windows you are running.

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