Hard drive failure is an expected problem for anyone who uses a computer. If you keep irreplaceable data on your hard drive, then a failure can be catastrophic. But can you recover photos, work documents or financial information that you were meaning to back up?. There is hope, so don’t give up yet on your faulty hard drive.
I will describe some warning signs of a hard drive failure, and also explain the internal components of a hard drive and why they fail. In addition, I’ll go through a few steps you can take to get back your data.
What is a Hard Drive?
A hard drive is a mechanical device with different moving components. Magnetic platters save the data itself, while a motorized spindle handles the platters. There’s a read/write arm that moves across the platters, recovering information or adding new data. This arm is moved by an actuator, and the read/write heads themselves hang from a minute distance above the platters. Also, this distance is so small that a single speck of dust can get in the way.
Hard Drive Lifespan
Some computer experts believe that hard drives tend to fail just after they’re installed or after several years of usage. The projected lifespan of a drive also differs greatly, depending on the drive and its use. The average lifespan is mostly three to five years. Meanwhile, don’t forget that plenty of drives fail unexpectedly. Ensure your back-ups are current.
Why do Hard Drives Fail?
If one of the hard drive’s mechanical components fail, the whole drive will eventually fail. The parts operate with great precision because hard drives are very fragile. The worst type of failure is called a head crash. In this type, the read/write head falls down directly on the platter and scrapes off the magnetic material. The information, in that case, is totally and permanently lost. Meanwhile, data on other unaffected parts may be retrievable, but usually, data spread around the platters, so a head crash is a bad news.
Some other mechanical failures can be both good and bad. It’s bad because it can be very difficult and expensive to find replacement parts. Also, it may be difficult to find someone who can make the repair. Meanwhile, it’s good because provided the platters aren’t damaged, the data remains there. If you get the drive up & running again, the information should be accessible.
The failure may also be non-mechanical. The computer uses a special index file structure to read all the files saved on the disk. If this index is corrupted, the computer won’t be able to view or read the data. In most cases, this can be fixed with a proper software, although it may be tricky.
Finally, hard drives connect to your computer’s motherboard via a series of interfaces. If this connection or the disk controller has failed, the symptoms may contribute to a hard drive failure.
How can I detect a Hard Drive Failure?
Most times, hard drives fail without any warning. So, don’t rely on warning signals to forecast hard drive failure. Assume that your hard drive will fail, and back up important files. Try to have a good back-up, you’ll be very happy you did.
If you spend a lot of time sitting close to your computer, you’ll be familiar with the usual sounds it makes. When you hear the hard drive making an unusual noise, its probably a sign that something is going wrong. Sometimes, these sounds can be inaudible and pretty difficult to detect.
Performance problems may include a rapid increase in the frequency of freezes and crashes. These kinds of performance issues can be symptoms of a number of computer malfunctions. From viruses, memory leaks to non-drive related hardware problems.
Troubleshooting your faulty Hard Drive
When your Hard Drive seems to be faulty, there are steps you can take to determine where the problem is. If your PC runs on Windows, firstly reboot the computer and enter the basic input/output system (BIOS). You can do this by pressing the Delete key during the boot-up sequence. BIOS has a utility that auto-detects system drives. Run it and see if the drive will show up. If it doesn’t, there may be an issue with connections between the drive and the motherboard. Check all your connections.
If the drive shows up, then run some diagnostic tests. You’ll require another functional computer to achieve these. Find the model number and the maker of your hard drive. Go to the maker’s Web site and look for the company’s diagnostic software. You’ll need to download and burn it to a CD-ROM or save it to a floppy disk. Boot the faulty computer from the diagnostic disk and run it. This should give you a clue of what the problem is, although sometimes it may find no problems, even when the drive is still not working.
Furthermore, you may also create a boot-able virus scan disk and scan the faulty drive for viruses that may be causing the problem. If your PC is infected, you may be able to use the virus disk to fix the problem.
But what if none of these troubleshooting methods works?
Then, try connecting the Hard Drive to another computer that works. This will inform you if the problem really comes from the drive itself.
Fixing the Hard Drive
The best way to fix a faulty Hard Drive is to send it to the manufacturer under warranty and replace it with your backup drive that has all your files safely stored on it.
If you’ve discovered that your drive has a mechanical problem, you may face some difficulties. The drive may be fixable and your data retrievable, but it might need a professional repair, which may be costly. Because work on the internals of a hard drive has to be done in a conducive environment. Any speck of dust on the platters can damage the drive.
You may attempt a mechanical repair by yourself. But you’ll have to find the exact replacement components from the exact model and version of the drive. You may be able to change a faulty circuit board yourself, but spindle motors and read/write actuators are pretty difficult to deal with. Also, remember that opening your hard drive’s case will void the warranty. If you do decide to do this, please remember to never touch the platters. The oil from your palm is enough to damage the drive.
Any problem with a corrupt file structure or disk index is fixed with a special software. There are utility programs, such as fdisk, built into most OS’ that can be used for this problem. You just have to be very careful. Changing partitions in a drive or formatting it may solve the problem, but you’ll lose all your data. Another solution is to use a specialized recovery utility like Disk Warrior to fix the problem. This keeps as much of your data as possible. Meanwhile, some corrupted files may not be retrievable.
There are some very odd hard drive repair options around the Internet. If your drive has a mechanical problem or a simple problem that you haven’t been able to solve, you may give it a shot.
There are some more extreme types of hard drive fixing, but it can only be properly done by professionals. A fraction of these techniques can retrieve data from drives that have been burned or melted in fires or damaged by water. Also, drives that were submerged in floods can have retrievable data on them. The process involves recovering the platters and using new mechanical components to read whatever magnetic information is still on them. Which has to be done in a conducive environment, so there’s really no viable way to do it in your own home. It may be expensive, but if you absolutely need that data, you should take it to a professional.