Computer hard disks, also known as HDDs or hard drives, are second in importance only to the computer’s processor or CPU. It is important to distinguish between the traditional hard disk and the newer Solid State Disks (SSD) which does not have any moving parts and therefore is far less susceptible to crashing. This article focuses only on the traditional hard disk.

Basic Knowledge

TurntableTo understand a bit about why hard drives crash or fail the basics of hard disk operation should be mentioned. If you have ever seen a vinyl phonograph player or DJ turntable you have a pretty good idea of what a hard drive looks like. Instead of a single platter that spins, your hard drive likely has more than one. The more hard disk storage space you have, the more likely it is you have multiple platters. Like the turntable, the data is accessed through a read-write head but instead of the head coming into contact with the platter it hovers ever so slightly above it. The data on the platter is read electronically.

With both the platter and read-write head moving at very fast speeds at the same time, it really is amazing how hard drives do not fail more often. But as you can imagine, because this is a mechanical process, the possibility of something going wrong is always there. Statistically, your hard drive has about a 5 percent chance of failing the first 18 months you have a new computer, and after 3 years that possibility increases to more than 11 percent.

Basic Reasons

There are two basic reasons hard drives fail. The first has already been mentioned – mechanical failure due to simple wear and tear or manufacturer defect. The second reason is mote technical – what is called logical failure. Logical failure is often the result of corrupted data stored on the hard disk or can be the result of a virus or malware infection.

It should not surprise you that it is possible to simply get a defective hard disk with your new computer. Thousands of hard disks are manufactured every week, and despite the best inspection and verification processes a bad disk will slip through. What may surprise you is that if you get a new computer with a defective hard disk it can be the best thing that happened to you. Why? Because it is better to fail on you immediately (or within a few days or weeks) than to store a year of data on it and then have it fail. What you have to make sure of is that the replacement hard drive is new and not refurbished. Ask, and then demand, for a new one to be installed. Pay extra if necessary because you do not want to end up with two failures.

As for logical failures, know that the platters are spinning very fast, generally in the range of 5400 to 7200 revolutions per minute. The read-write head is also moving to various locations on the platter as it is spinning to read, write, or modify the data. This is going on whether you are running a program or opening or saving a file to the disk. If the file or data that is being read has become corrupted for any number of reasons, the computer just keeps on doing its read-write process, unaware the data it is sending to the CPU is bad.

Basic Symptoms

There can be 100 different reason your hard drive crashes, but when it happens you really could care less. Many people panic, which is normal and natural, but there are things you can do to start preparing for the inevitable. Not every computer will start showing the same signs, but there are some obvious ones people tell their techs about. That is where we will start.

1.Clicking or grinding noises

Modern technology makes hard disks that operate very quietly. In fact, it is almost impossible to pay attention to your hard disk working unless you are really paying attention to it. But like a child, if you hear a noise coming from it there is usually a problem to be dealt with immediately. The best idea is to treat the noise immediately.

In general, two pieces of metal that together create an unexpected grinding sound is usually very bad. Think of your car. Remember that the read-write head does not touch the platter during normal operation. That click or grind you hear may be a meeting of the metal.

2.Your computer is unusually hot

This is also a huge red flag, but you have to be careful that it is the hard disk that is the issue and not something else. For example, a high speed processor such as an Intel i7 will create a lot of heat during its normal operation. This type of warm or hot computer needs to have adequate ventilation and a cool room temperature to safely run but it is not a hard disk failure issue. Likewise, if there is not adequate room for the computer fan to blow out the heat generated by normal operation, your computer will feel hotter. So check these obvious issues before presuming the hard disk is the issue.

An unusually hot new computer is almost always a symptom of a hard disk failure issue. This is especially true if the new computer is bought “off the rack” at a Best Buy or general retail store. These types of computers are produced en masse, so the salesperson has no idea if the unit you are being sold has gone through the necessary rigorous testing. The best way to avoid this problem is (if you have the time) order a computer that is customized in one way or another. Customized systems will generally go through a separate integrity check, reducing the possibility of you getting a bad hard disk. The more you spend for a computer, the more you should find a way to customize it in one way or another.

3.File operations such as save and open take a long time

Of the top three most common reasons for hard disk failure, this is the sole logical failure reason. The best way to imagine this is to think of yourself working on building the foundation of a house. In order to lay the foundation, the cement must be made of the right ingredients. If anything is missing the foundation will eventually crack and collapse, bringing the whole house down. This can occur at any time during the construction.

Now think of the millions of pieces of data being accessed by your computer every day. Each piece is essential to a number of operations, from opening up an application to saving a document. When basic processes such as saving and reading a file slow down to a crawl, something is wrong with the foundation. You may still be able to read and save files, but the problem is still there.

Basic Symptoms – Level 2

This group has some similarities to the top 3 but the cause can be for a number of different reasons. So before panicking, be sure to eliminate any other possibilities.

1.Files thought to be saved are no longer there

There are a number of possible reasons that have to do with human error than computer problems. If more than one person has access to the computer, they may have accidently erased files unknowingly. File names are sometimes automatically assigned by a program, so the mysterious disappearance of a file may actually be saved under a different file name. A possibility on the outer realm is you saved the file to an external device rather than the hard drive.

Once you are reasonably sure these possibilities have been resolved, you can then begin to look at hard disk failure as a possibility. This is a logical error on the disk drive, and the problem can be more widespread than a single file or two. In some ways this has the potential to be a more insidious problem because you could be losing files every day without knowing it.

2.The computer has difficulty booting up either through a cold boot or a warm boot

A cold boot is when you completely power down your system. A warm boot can be done through waking it up from sleeping or doing a menu selected restart.

There are a number of hardware and software processes that are involved in starting up your computer. There is the CMOS which gets things going, and then the BIOS which loads the essential files to begin loading the operating system. After that, there is the operating system, which may or may not be on the hard disk. Lesser problems are the room temperature is too high or the computer has had physical damage to it (dropped or banged).

Before suspecting a hard disk problem, there are support services available that can try starting up your computer remotely. They can access your computer screen (with your permission) and do some diagnostics to determine if any of the above is the problem. This is an important step because if you replace your hard drive and the problem is found to be somewhere else, you have spent money on a new hard drive but the problem still exists.

3.The computer freezes or you get the “Blue Screen of Death”It is called the Blue Screen of Death for a reason – something in your system has caused it to die. For you, the goal is to determine what exactly caused the problem. Unless you have a technical background, all those hexadecimal codes and messages will be useless to you. Many people simply turn off their computer, restart it, and all is well. The freeze could have been caused by a hardware or software problem.

But therein lies the danger. Because you don’t know what the problem is, it could indeed be the hard disk. This Level 2 symptom is towards the bottom because you should first check to see if any or all of the problems listed above are present. All you have to do is to add up the evidence and then determine if the possible reason for the freezing is the hard disk.

Basic Symptoms – Level 3

The last two reasons are trying to determine if technical analysis or solutions you try fail. They are more of a logical reason for hard disk failure made relevant by self-analysis. Because not everyone is technically astute, people who are not familiar with the technical aspects of computer hardware should not place much weight on these symptoms.

1.An increase in the number of bad sectors using the CHKDSK command

CHKDSK is a DOS command that checks the disk for file integrity and in some cases can repair the damage. Bad sectors, areas of the hard disk that cannot reliably store data, are marked by the computer so as not to be used.

First, most people will not use CHKDSK, and if they do it is not likely they will keep a record or print out a report of the CHKDSK results. Second, if you are running CHKDSK regularly, there is probably something going on that likely will fall into one of the other levels. Unless you can narrow down the possible reasons for CHKDSK irregularities, you should look for other causes.

2.Your computer continues to run slow or have problems after using system optimization software or other tools

When using any software tool to analyze your system, it is important to know what exactly the software does rather than what you want it to do. If you choose to ignore this, you are likely to read into the information generated rather than limiting the information to the specific function it was supposed to perform. Clicking on a button and watching graphics being displayed about the progress of operations is not a guarantee that the underlying problem is either being identified or repaired.

Basic Backups

Sine we know that hard disk failures are both inevitable and unexpected, there is a general rule that has existed since computers have made it into the average home and business:

[su_quote]Back up early and often[/su_quote]

Because people depend more and more on computers for everything from budgeting to video storage, there are some specific rules to follow:[su_list icon=”icon: hand-o-right” icon_color=”#242968″]

  • If it is important, back it up immediately
  • If you think it is important, back it up immediately
  • If you are not sure it is important, back it up immediately
  • The more you use your computer, the more you should back it up. If you use it every day, back it up every day.



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