Signs of a Failing Hard Drive

By Tony Breedlove

Your hard drive is the single most important component of your computer system. If RAM (Random Access Memory) fails, you can buy new RAM, and even if the motherboard dies, you can replace it. But if your hard drive fails, you can lose irreplaceable data.

Hard-Drive Major Components

Modern hard drives are designed to last years. But the older they get, the greater the likelihood of a failure. This is because hard drives are mechanical devices with many moving parts. The platters (metal disks the data is stored on) spin at 5400 to 7200 RPM. The heads (tiny electrical components that read and write the data on the platters) move very rapidly just above the platters.

Why Hard Drives Fail

Most drives fail because a mechanical malfunction. Bearings wear out and heads can impact the platter surface, causing "head crash." Head crash is usually caused because the computer was dropped or knocked over while it was on. While there is no early warning for head crash, bearings naturally wear out over time, and often they will give signs.

Signs of Failure

If your hard drive is making a clicking, buzzing or whining noise, this is a sure sign it is about to fail. Corrupted files, disappearing files or missing files are also signs of a hard-drive failure or a virus. Error messages when moving or copying files are signs of impending failure, as is continual rebooting.

What to do if You are Seeing Signs

Depending on your budget and the value of your data, you may want to turn the computer off immediately and have a data-recovery procedure done on it. However, these procedures can cost more than $1,000. If that is not an option, back up your hard drive immediately, then buy a new hard drive. Hard drives are relatively inexpensive, 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) replacement hard drives can be found online for less than $100. Once the hard drive is installed, simply restore your data to the new hard drive.

Failure Prevention

On a new hard drive, files are stored in blocks, so the file is in one physical location. After awhile, files can get split up and scattered across several locations on your drive; this is called file fragmentation. and it causes your hard drive to have to look in many different places to find the complete file. To reduce this fragmentation, periodically defragment your hard drive. Not only will this improve system performance, it will reduce the strain on your hard drive. Also, keep your computer in a clean, cool environment, and if you have a laptop, do not move it around while it is on.