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

March 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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 just a brick.  How can you tell if your hard drive is close to failing and needs fixing or replacement?

Hard drive problems often happen without warning

The bad news is that hard drives may give no warning of imminent failures. Like a car 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. Fairly uncommon but, we do see “dead drives”.

Here is an interesting bit of data. Modern hard drives last a long time. Look on a 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.

This 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. We just don’t know.

Warning Signs of Hard Drive Failure
If you start getting read/write errors, i. e., “cannot write to disk” or “cannot access file,” THIS is bad. It may be the drive’s firmware, or it may be corrupted, cross-linked files; run CHKDSK to find and fix such things. 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 (Start, Run, CMD, Enter), then type CHKDSK C: /F /R then press Enter. This tells CHKDSK to scan for bad sectors, and fix any errors found. There are free utilities out there that run more thorough tests. One of the highly recommended utilities is Seagate SeaTools for Windows.

Listen to your computer. If you hear a clicking sound, especially during startup, that’s often a sign of a damaged hard disk, and impending 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.

If you feel your hard drive is failing or if you would like to have it checked, Frankie On Call will help you. We can image your existing drive to a new drive. This will offer more space and a new healthy drive. Call or email Frankie On Call with any questions.

If noises or errors become frequent, don’t hope the problem will go away — because it won’t.

You wouldn’t count on an old car with a blown engine seal in emergencies or even for backup use, would you?