More often than not, hard drive failure is unpredictable. It’s a devastating occurrence that strikes without warning and prevents you from accessing all of your important data.

But, even though it may appear grim, there are still some options available to you if you want to get your data back. This article will take an in-depth look at hard drive failure and how you can bounce back from it.

What Is Hard Drive Failure?

There’s a huge difference between a hard drive failure and an operating system crash. The infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) that shows whenever a computer running Windows experiences a fatal system error is an example of the latter. Failures like this are bothersome, but they usually don’t affect files on your hard drive in any way.

They commonly are a consequence of a poorly optimized driver or a badly written application executed as the system administrator. The latest version of Windows handles crashes like this quite well, typically automatically solving the problem after a system reboot. To avoid BSOD and other software problems, you should only use certified hardware with well-optimized drivers. Manufacturers of less central computer components, such as sound cards and video capture cards, are known for abandoning their older products and leaving their customers with software drivers.

A hard drive failure can occur as a consequence of either physical or logical damage. Common causes of physical damage include excessive heat, moisture, dust, shocks, and compression. This type of damage physically prevents the affected disk from working, leaving you with very limited recovery options. Logical damage, on the other hand, affects only your ability to boot into the operating system, not the health of the hard drive.

Causes of logical failures range from viruses and malware to human errors and driver conflicts. Unlike an operating system crash, a logical failure can seldom be solved without a specialized data recovery program. Attempts to solve the problem with built-in system tools often make the problem even worse. It’s important to realize that, after a logical failure, all data are exactly where they were before the crash happened. The operating system simply doesn’t know about them, or your computer may not even know about the presence of an operating system.

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Hard Drive Failure?

Sometimes HDD failure can be predicted, you just have to know what to look out for. Here are a few common bad hard drive symptoms and signs that could mean your hard drive is nearing its end:

  • 🐌 Degraded performance – If your computer is no longer performing at the same speeds as it used to (especially in Safe Mode or after a fresh install), this almost certainly points towards a hardware failure.
  • ❌ Bad sectors – A bad sector is a portion of your hard drive that cannot store data. If the hard drive begins to fail, you may notice an uptick in bad sectors that can render your data corrupted.
  • 👎 Clicking or scratching noises – The read/write head used to scan the hard drive platters can sometimes make contact with the disks when errors occur, causing a clicking or scratching noise. This often results from physical damage.
  • 💥 Crashes – Operating system crashes, like the BSOD, can be attributed to hard drive failure. The applications you use may also experience random crashes.

These are just general symptoms that a failing hard drive may present. The next section will touch on ways you can check the health of your drive.

How to Tell If Your Hard Drive Is Failing on Windows

Here are a few ways you can tell if your hard drive is failing on Windows.

Check S.M.A.R.T. Using Command Prompt

Possibly the fastest (and easiest) way to check the status of your drive on Windows is through a Command Prompt or PowerShell window. By checking the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) data, you can get a quick heads up of your drive’s health. Follow these instructions to do so:

  1. Right-click Start and select Windows PowerShell (Admin).Opening Windows PowerShell.
  2. Type wmic diskdrive get status and press Enter.Running the wmic command.

If Command Prompt or PowerShell returns OK, it means there is nothing wrong with your drive at present. If it reads Pre Fail instead, Windows has detected something wrong with your drive and it’s recommended that you move your data to a healthy drive as soon as possible.

Check Using CheckDisk / Error Checking

CheckDisk will check for file system-related errors, corrupted files, and bad sectors. Moreover, it will actually try to fix any issues it finds automatically. Here’s how you can easily run CheckDisk on your drive:

  1. Open File Explorer and go to This PC.Opening This PC.
  2. Right-click your drive, then click Properties.Checking the drive properties.
  3. In the Tools tab, click Check.Selecting error checking.
  4. Click Scan drive.Scanning the drive for errors.

Check Using CrystalDiskInfo

CrystalDiskInfo is a free hard drive and solid-state drive utility that can check the health status of your drive. It can also be used for actively monitoring the health of your drive and alerting you to things such as alarmingly high operating temperatures.

CrystalDiskInfo screen.

To use the utility, you don’t need to install it. All you need to do is download the application and open it. It will immediately scan your drives and give you a detailed overview of the S.M.A.R.T. data relating to each drive.

How to Tell If Your Hard Drive Is Failing on Mac

You can also check if your hard drive is failing on your Mac. These methods will tell you if your Mac’s hard drive is failing.

Check Disk Utility

The Disk Utility included with macOS allows you to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your drives. Follow these instructions to do so:

  1. Go to Applications. Click on Utilities, then Disk Utility.
  2. Select your drive from the left pane. Click the Info button.
  3. Make note of the S.M.A.R.T. status.

If the S.M.A.R.T. status of your drive is Verified, it means that your drive is healthy and functioning properly. If it reads Failing, the integrity of your drive cannot be trusted and you should back up your data immediately.

Check Using Terminal

Information pertaining to your drive, including its S.M.A.R.T. status, can be pulled using the Terminal. To obtain information about your disk drives in your Mac, follow these instructions:

  1. Open Terminal.
  2. Type diskutil info disk1|grep SMART. Replace disk1 with your own disk number. Press Return.
  3. Make note of the S.M.A.R.T. status.

This method uses the same information shown in Disk Utility, so your SMART Status should read Verified or Failing (or Not Supported if it’s not compatible).

List of Best Free Hard Drive Testing Tools

Staying on top of your hard drive’s health is imperative for keeping your data safe. If you want to know how to check if your hard drive is failing, you should use a hard drive testing tool. Here are our favorite hard drive testing tools.

#1 Disk Drill

Disk Drill showing SMART data.

Disk Drill is primarily a data recovery tool, but it includes much more than just that. It comes with a useful set of features that are great for managing your computer and any devices attached to it. The feature we’ll be focusing on in particular is its ability to give you a comprehensive overview of your S.M.A.R.T. data. Enabling S.M.A.R.T. disk monitoring will allow Disk Drill to run in the background and alert you to any issues with your hard drive as they arise.

Disk Drill
Data recovery for free
Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery

#2 Hard Disk Sentinel

Hard Disk Sentinel screen.

Hard Disk Sentinel is an industry favorite for monitoring the health and temperature of your hard drive. It gives you a full view of all your drives and allows you to set up configurable alerts for when something goes wrong. Alerts are displayed with a simple on-screen notification, but they can also be set up to email you or shut down your whole computer to avoid further damage. While is it a paid application, you can download the trial to test out the software for up to 30 days.

#3 Victoria for Windows

Victoria screen.

Victoria is a free diagnostic utility for Windows. It’s useful for testing and repairing drives, even allowing its users to access raw drive data. As a hard drive utility tool, it’s no surprise that it can also read your drive’s S.M.A.R.T. data and give you an indication of its overall health and performance.

#4 DriveDx

DriveDx download page.

DriveDx is a paid health diagnostic and monitoring tool for Mac. It tracks S.M.A.R.T. indicators to give you a heads up if anything starts to go wrong. It also gives you an easy-to-read display of your hard drive and several performance indicators. Like Hard Disk Sentinel, it can also be configured to send automatic email reports.

#5 Manufacturers Software

Samsung Magician showing SSD info.

The manufacturer of your computer or hard drive may have proprietary software that can help you get the most out of your drive. For example, Samsung Magician is Samsung’s own tool for hard drive and solid-state drive monitoring. Since it’s designed to interface directly with your hardware, it’s often the best choice as it may offer additional features that other software cannot.

How to Fix Your Hard Drive and Recover Data:

If your hard drive has already experienced some sort of failure, you need to act quickly in order to save your data. Here are some methods you can use to fix your hard drive and recover the data on it.

Recover Data Using Disk Drill

To recover files from a failed hard drive, you should always use specialized data recovery software. Such software should be able to restore all file formats that you wish to recover, and it should support both your operating system and the file system used on the damaged disk. Moreover, you shouldn’t have to spend hours reading a complicated user manual just to know how to use it.

Disk Drill meets all these requirements and even adds several extra features (one of which we’ll look at shortly). Follow these steps to perform data recovery from a hard drive using Disk Drill:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Select the failing (or failed) drive from the device list. Click Search for lost data.Searching for data on the failing drive.
  3. When the scan is finished, click Review found items.
  4. Reviewing the data found on the failing disk.Mark what files you want to recover. The Recovery chances column will give you an indication of your chances for recovering that file. Click Recover when ready.Recovering the marked data.
  5. Choose an output location that’s not on the same drive you’re recovering from. Click OK to confirm recovery.Finalizing the recovery.

Hard drive recovery with Disk Drill is simple but very effective. The application was designed with modern principles of usability in mind, making it equally suited for amateurs and professionals alike. Disk Drill can be downloaded for free and used to recover data from all common storage devices. It supports over 200 different file formats and combines several powerful scanning algorithms to probe the internal structure of the storage device, looking for small fragments of files.

Recover Data Using a Data Recovery Service

If data recovery software cannot detect your drive, you should consult a professional data recovery service instead. A data recovery service employs data recovery specialists who understand the delicate hardware inside your drive. They work in a controlled environment to scan and recovery any recoverable data remaining on the drive with more precision than any software.

Simply complete a work order with all your information, send it away, and wait for your data to be returned to you.

Bonus Tip: Back up Your Hard Drive

The only guaranteed way of keeping your data safe in a data loss situation is a regular backup schedule. Using a data recovery service does increase your chance of recovery, but there’s never a 100% guarantee. Therefore, you should make regular backups and store them somewhere safe.

We recommend Disk Drill’s Drive Backup feature. It’s free and it allows you to take an entire byte-to-byte backup of your drive. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Open Disk Drill and go to Drive Backup.Accessing the Drive Backup section.
  2. Select the drive you want to back up, then click Byte-to-byte Backup.Creating a byte-to-byte backup.
  3. Give the backup a name and specify where you want to store it. Click OK to create it.Creating the backup.

Conclusion

Hard drives don’t last forever. Not even solid-state drives last forever. Therefore, you should prepare yourself accordingly by actively monitoring the health of your drives. However, even if you pay close attention to the health of your drive, sometimes failure can still occur unexpectedly. To combat this, make sure you make regular backups of your drive to keep your data safe.

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Jordan Jamieson-Mane

Jordan Jamieson-Mane is a freelance content writer with a passionate interest in technology. Starting from a young age, this interest gradually turned into a career, with Jordan studying in the field of IT and moving into...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.