Hard drive failing? 4 signs to watch out for!

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Picture this: you’ve just finished your final major assignment for the semester, when suddenly you’re confronted with the dreaded Blue Screen of Death!

Or, maybe you’ve pulled an all-nighter and prepared an amazing presentation for a business proposal you’re presenting first thing in the morning, only to have your relief and excitement ruined by a horrible screeching sound!

Either way, you don’t know what it is or what’s causing it, but you certainly know it’s not good! You might be facing the horrible prospect of a failed hard drive and potential data loss!

How can I tell if my hard drive is failing?

The most common indicators of a failing hard drive are listed below:

  1. Poor performance
  2. Corrupted data
  3. ‘Bad Sectors’
  4. Abnormal sounds

Whilst these may not directly indicate that a failure is imminent, it is a good idea to look out for them and, if you notice one happening to you, back up your important data as soon as possible! It may just save you the stress and panic of losing all that hard work you’ve put in!

We’ll take some time to explain what exactly we mean by the symptoms above, and why they’re not so nice!

  1. Poor performance

The DREADED Blue Screen of Death!

Though this may mean a million and one things (like you’re still on dial-up internet or running on a 70’s style PC like the Kenbak-1), poor performance from your computer can indicate a potential hardware problem, which could be your hard drive. By poor performance, we mean things like:

  • Taking long periods of time to boot up, shut down or run basic programs
  • Frequently freezing or hanging when in use or idling
  • BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) when being used

We definitely recommend at this point to backup, backup, backup! You don’t want to be in the position where you’re kicking yourself because you didn’t backup and now you’ve got nothing!

2. Corrupted data

Remember that assignment we spoke about at the start (the final major for the semester)? Well, imagine now that you double-click on it to do a final spell check and word count, and you see this:

File corruption!

This is a classic example of a file corruption. A file corruption is an event where a saved file (could be an imported picture, a downloaded song or, in this case, a Word document) that no longer opens properly because something has gone wrong. There are many, many explanations for the reason a file corrupts (minor system error, power outage etc), but this simple occurrence can be a symptom of a failing hard drive!

If you notice this happening more frequently than you can remember, or notice this when opening files that were saved without issues, or even if you notice that files disappear altogether, then it’s time to get out that trusty external hard drive and make some copies of your important information. Who knows what will corrupt or disappear next! Better to be safe than sorry!

3. ‘Bad Sectors’

Checking for ‘bad sectors’

A more hidden and frustrating issue is that of a bad sector. A bad sector, put simply, is a sector of the hard drive (a cluster of storage space) that no longer has the necessary integrity (reliability) to hold data. Essentially, when the hard drive spins and tries to ‘write’ data to the disk (or, in other words, stores data), it comes across these ‘bad sectors’ and rejects the request; basically the hard drive is smart enough to know that it can’t store that Word document or fantastic picture you took with your camera on to that portion of the hard drive (because it knows that it might not be there next time you try and access it), so it stops before it tries.

Occasionally, doing a scan (as shown above) can repair these sectors, through this can often times cause more frustration that it resolves. You guessed it, bad sectors can be an indication of hard drive failure! Backup as soon as possible!

4. Abnormal sounds

Hard drive surgery?

Everyone who uses a computer knows how they sound when they work; fan whirring audibly, sounds from the mouse and beeping occasionally, however very seldom would a screeching, grinding or clicking sound be good to hear (except if you’re playing racing games or watching videos of ticking clocks!)

By this point, you’ve probably noticed a bunch of the previous three symptoms, and you may have left it just a little too long! An impending complete failure may be right around the corner.

Typically, these sounds are associated with:

  • Clicking: the head is trying to read/write however is having trouble doing so
  • Grinding or Screeching: mechanical parts of the hard drive are failing

Computer World has compiled a selection of 40 common failing hard drive sounds for you to compare to. (We take no responsibility for any annoyance or headaches incurred from listening to these horrible sounds!)

At this point, it might be time for the hard drive to go ‘under the knife’ to recover data. Once the hard drive is showing these symptoms and in this state, it is generally irreparable, and most, if not all, data lost unless a data recovery technician has a look at it. A ‘donor drive’ will be required, where the specialist can ‘harvest’ parts to be ‘donated’ to the failed drive in order to recover data, which is most likely to be transferred to an additional media.

So there you have it! In no time, you’ll recognize these symptoms and know what action to take (though, touch wood that you never come across them!).

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