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March 11, 2012
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How to know if your hard disk / drive is failing

If you read this post then probably you suspect that something is wrong with your hard drive. Perhaps your computer is going slowly, or the boot time is longer than in the past or even some files don’t open and weird warning messages pop out. Then you are probably right to worry.

Disk drive failing because of bad sectors

This is very common on hard disks. If you don’t already know hard disk drives (see wikipedia article here) are having plates that spin around. These plates are divided into tracks and sectors. If you can’t open some files or the Operating System (windows, linux, mac os) isn’t booting, then probably you have bad sectors on the drive.

Bad sectors is an array of sectors that have gone bad for some reason. For faulty drive, for some tiny small dust. Anyway. The good news are that you can override these bad sectors by reformatting the hard drive. Unfortunately the data that was on these sectors is gone. You won’t be able to recover that data.

Note: If the hard drive is very old then be warned ! Other sectors may go bad in the near future too. This is why I try to convince my clients to buy another hard drive, because the old one has large probability that is going to develop other errors too.

Disk drive failing because of mechanical problem

Because the hard drive has servo motor to spin the platters and also the head is being moved by a stepper motor these two motors can go bad over time. The most common mechanical problem or rather a symptom is the clicking noise you here from the hard disk. This clicking noise is called the Click of Death. You can’t repair this, your disk is probably waisted.

It isn’t necessary your hard drive to make this clicking noise. It still can have a mechanical problem and stuck to a specific point at booting the operating system that’s the same problem.

Disk drive failing because of electronic problem

Well the hard drive except the platters and the head has also an electronic circuit which is responsible for driving the components and sending the data to the motherboard. This circuit has a wonderful reporting and analysis tool the S.M.A.R.T.

This technology provides the reports and the analysis to the operating system so you can tell if something is wrong with the disk drive or not. S.M.A.R.T. reports everything from temperatures to read / write errors. It tells you if you have bad sectors, if the disk can’t be red or written etc.

There is one little catch. S.M.A.R.T. can drop dead. Which means the circuit doesn’t work any more so the disk doesn’t work any more. In this case the only think you can do is either buy an exactly identical hard drive and replace the electronic circuit or to send the hard drive to a professional who has the tools the parts and the knowledge to do that. Both are very costly and have no sure results.

Disk drive almost failing because of old age

Yes that can happen too. If a hard drive is very old and has many years on it’s back than it can slowly decrease the read / write rates. You can understand that from the time it needs to boot the operating system, to open or save a large file or software. You can use this hard drive as long as you wish, but I recommend to buy a new one and transfer all the data there.

You can tell that the drive is not running fast by reading the data read rate. You can see that rate either from the HWInfo32 software (it’s a free hardware information software) or from the Disk Utility Palimpsest of Ubuntu by booting the live Ubuntu CD.

If the read rate is slow like below 20 MB/second (random access) then the disk’s speed is decreasing.

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Conclusion

If you see in any way that your hard drive is leaking then the best thing you can do is to transfer as quickly as possible all of your files and install the operating system to your new drive. You can use the old drive for spare storage or backups.

In our age information and data is more valuable as the pc so don’t take the risk not to replace the hard drive. It may end badly. Any way you don’t need to panic. If you see any signs you have plenty of time (unless total destruction of the drive) to take measures.

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