How to know if a computer hard drive is about to fail.
The feeling of knowing you’ve lost potentially months or years worth of documents, music, photos, and data in a split second is probably one of the worst feelings a computer user can experience. In a computer’s lifetime a hard drive failure is almost imminent at some point during the computer’s usable life.
The best protection against hard drive failure is to make regular backups of your hard drive to an external hard drive so that when the drive dies you can rest easy knowing a backup of your valuable data is available. And while it can seemingly happen out of the blue, there are some signs that your hard drive might be headed for an unrecoverable crash. There may be both software signs and physical signs the hard drive is dying.
Changes in computer file access behavior
If your documents or files seem to be taking longer to load, applications seem to take longer to start, or you get errors when trying to save files you may want to prepare for a hard drive failure. Disk errors and messages appearing that files can’t be saved or accessed can also be signs of imminent failure. Sluggish not due to fragmentation or too many programs running at once is also a sign your hard drive may be on its last days.
Disk detection errors
If on start up or during regular use your computer can’t “find” the hard drive or reports difficulty reading the drive or mounting the drive there is a chance the hard drive is slowly dying.
Random restarts and crashes
If the screen goes blank and the computer restarts randomly or crashes out of nowhere this could be a hard drive problem. Freezing up while trying to access files can also be a symptom of damage to the drive.
Vibrations or excessive heat
This may be more noticeable on laptops but if you feel vibrations, shaking, or jarring coming from the area of the hard drive compartment, the drive may be damaged. Also if you feel excessive heat from the hard drive area not due to intensive reading/writing tasks (such as copying massive amounts of data between drives) the drive may be overheating.
Unusual noises and sounds
Some minor noises such as whirring and mild grinding like noises can be signs of normal operation. You might also here a motorized movement noise which is the hard drive reader arm moving into position to read the disk. (This component retracts away from the disk during sleep, times the computer is off, or a fall is detected (on computers with sudden motion sensors) to protect the disk from scratching due to jarring movements).
But if there are louder versions of the above noises there may be a problem. Sounds like buzzing, popping, creaking, ticking, or a sound that makes it seem like something is stuck are all signs of a dying hard drive. Any of these sounds in any part of your computer are a sign of possible trouble, but these sounds near where the hard drive is located are likely signs of hard drive failure.
Obviously things like a flashing question mark or folder, or “drive not found,” can be clear signs that the hard drive has already died. While hard drives can be unpredictable you can care for your hard drive by allowing the computer to put the hard drives to sleep during periods of non-use , enabling the laptop sudden motion sensor if equipped, and avoiding sharp quick movements of the laptop while the hard drive is active.
You can also download a variety of programs that allow you to scan the hard drive for read/write errors, bad sectors, and fragmentation. This can help alert you to a problem before a failure occurs because in some cases there are no warning signs until it is too late.