Is Your Hard Drive Going to Crash?
A reader asks: 'Sometimes I hear a clicking 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, and you came looking for help with that, see my article on Hard Drive Data Recovery.)
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 -- if you don't have a backup plan in place, I strongly advise you to read my article Hard Drives Are Not Forever and get some tips on backing up your hard drive.
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 clean-up and defragmentation right away. The less the read/write head must move to find, read, and write data, the longer it will last. See my article How to Clean Up Your Hard Drive.
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. (See Completely Erase Your Hard Drive for help with that.) 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?
Do you have comments or questions about hard drive failure? Post your thoughts below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Feb 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Your Hard Drive Going to Crash? (Posted: 19 Feb 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved