What you can do if your Hard Drive is failing

If your hard drive is going bad, chances are strange things are happening and you’re a little panicked. It’s where you put your digital memories, your household files and maybe that thesis you’ve been working on for months. As far as you’re concerned, that hard drive IS the computer and failure is not an option. Perhaps it was overheated, knocked around or came from the factory with a flaw.

Sorry to say, but eventually all hard drives will fail, even external hard drives and USB flash drives. So how do you know if it’s definitely the drive and what should you do?

Start by watching for these signs:

Your computer slowing down: Because most hard drives contain moving parts, the slower it gets, the slower your computer gets. It’s a bit like a record player, with spinning plates and a needle whipping from side to side. Your hard drive may eventually take longer to spin up and longer to retrieve files, which will have an impact on everything from booting up to playing games.

Blue screen of death: A classic Windows error, this is when your computer locks up to only show a blue screen with an error code, which while it does mean something specific has gone wrong, can always be translated loosely to ‘nope, not today’. The more often your computer does this, the more severe the problem is.

Not booting up: During the initial bootup stage, your computer is loading a program stored on the hard drive – it’s your operating system. If some of the files have a problem or can’t be found, Windows won’t boot. Errors vary, but the outcome is the same.

Corrupted files: Sometimes a file won’t open because the computer says it is corrupted. Some essential pieces of the file are missing, and unlike a book where a missing page is only inconvenient, it’s a deal breaker for computer files.

Noises: You’re familiar with the normal noises your computer makes, but as the hard drive fails the noises can change. You might hear clicking, grinding or even a sci-fi phaser noise. Noises will get louder or speed up during heavy file access.

What do you do?

Whenever something is clearly wrong, the key is to stop and turn your computer off. Continued use or attempts to start the computer can result in more data loss. Even if you don’t have a backup yet, turn it off now because the large task of backing up can cause extra strain on an already delicate hard drive. It’s tempting to hurry and try to get a quick copy of your files, but in these cases, it’s not about time – it’s about the extra spinning, scratching, warping and electrical charge, all dissolving your precious data with each access.

Is this preventable?

In short, no. Like I said earlier, all hard drives eventually fail. BUT, you can do a few things to help prolong the life of your hard drive.

–Keep your computer cool. Heat is the #1 killer of electronics. So, keep the computer dusted out and the vents clear to allow adequate airflow to the components in question.

–Minimize mechanical shock to your computer. Like I described earlier, a mechanical hard drive is like a very fast and delicate record player. Like a record, it will skip and potentially damage the disk if it gets bumped. So, if you are using a desktop, take care not to kick it or knock over the tower. If it is a laptop, make sure to handle the computer gently and turn it off or put it to sleep when carrying it around.

-Don’t fill it up. The more packed full a hard drive is, the more it has to work to read and write information and perform maintenance on itself. We always recommend keeping a hard drive at least 20% free. If you find yourself bumping up against that limit, it is time to upgrade to a larger drive.

-Keep an eye on it. The mysterious inner-workings of a hard drive may be invisible to the end user, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the dark! There are many free software solutions available for home users to monitor the health of their hard drives and be alerted to an issue before it becomes a problem. The one we recommend for home users is Crystal Disk Info available HERE. After installation, go to the ‘Function’ menu and select the ‘resident’ and ‘startup’ options to keep the program running in the background and monitoring your hard drive continuously. If you want to go one step further, there is a paid-for residentially licensed version of the software we use in our shop called HD Sentinel available HERE.

-Have a backup of everything important to you. Eventually, your hard drive will fail, and even though you have taken all precautions reasonable, you may lose some data. All a backup really is is a second copy of your data for when the original copy disappears. Local backups, cloud backups, image backups, etc…there is enough here for a whole separate article. For now, just remember the only way to completely prevent data loss is to have another copy!

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