Common Types of Hard Drive Failure
Whether through general wear and tear, human error, software bugs or malware, or unforeseen damages caused by accidents, hard drive failures can happen for any number of reasons. But regardless of the cause, hard drive failures guarantee one thing: a major headache for those involved, especially if there is no data recovery initiative in place.
A hard disk drive works like the brain of a computer and without it, a computer is nothing more than a shell of plastic, electrical circuit boards, and miscellaneous parts. Both the physical area where the computer’s information is stored and the area where the directions for the computer’s operations originate, a hard drive is essential to the computer’s functionality. When hard drives fail, it is possible to perform a hard drive recovery, but that is no guarantee that all of the data and important information—personal files, family photos, records of business transactions, tax information, etc.—can ever be fully retrieved.
While hard drive failures can happen to anyone, there are certain ways to protect against them, and sometimes, detection is the key to prevention. There are also a few different types of hard drive failures, and knowing the common types and their causes also can help users to take preventative measures. Many of the common types of hard drive failure can be prevented through routine maintenance and computer protection. If you find yourself in a position where you think you might have a mechanical hard drive failure, you should enquire the services of a professional data recovery service to assist you in recovering your data safely.
Signs of Hard Drive Failure
Hard drives are susceptible to failure in a number of ways, so the symptoms of a failing hard disk can vary. It should be noted that some of the symptoms below can also be signs of other problems, and are not necessarily indicative of a hard drive failure. In cases of uncertainty, it is best to take in the computer for a professional assessment by a data recovery technician.
Some of the most common signs of failing hard drives include:
- Unusual or excessive heating
- Repeated read or write disk errors
- Frequent computer crashes or freezing
- Folders and files cannot be accessed
- Disappearing data
- Hard drive is powered but cannot perform routine functions
- Hard drive is powered but misrecognized by computer or displays nonsensical characters
- Hard drive can be accessed but lags or appears to “hang”
- Motor working but hard drive not recognised by computer
- Hard disk freezes during booting
- No sounds due to motor freeze
- Computer notification/error log reads Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) errors
- Unusual noises, including unexplainable clicking, screeching or grinding
Types of Hard Drive Failure
Mechanical failure—Hard drives are one of the few mechanical components of a computer, so as with any mechanical device, they are prone to the effects of wear and tear, although mechanical failure can also be caused by hard impact. For especially older hard disk drives, mechanical failure is a strong possibility, with failures of essential functions like the read / write head and motors. Frequent computer crashes or freezing and unusual noises can be signs of mechanical failure. Mechanical failures can also result in a head crash, which entails physical and irreversible damage caused by a read/write drive head falling on the rotating platter.
Electrical failure—A hard drive uses electricity to communicate, so any failures of the electronic circuitry of the read-write head and the printed circuit board (PCB) can lead to loss of access to data. Power voltage surges, caused by damaged power lines or lightning strikes, can cause electrical failure. If the hard disk is powered but cannot perform routine functions, then an electrical failure may be the source of the problem.
Logical failure—Any non-physical failure of the hard disk’s software systems can result in logical hard drive failure. Logical failures can result from any number of corruptions to the hard drive data, including malware, corrupted files, software viruses, improperly closing a program, accidental computer shutdown, accidental deletion of files essential to hard disk functions, human error, and more. Signs of logical failure can vary, from disappearing data and files that cannot be accessed, to repeated disk errors, frequent crashes or freezing, the hard disk being unable to perform routine functions, misrecognition of the hard drive, hard disk lags, and many other issues related to the data on the hard disk. Why not read our blog post explaining the difference between logical and physical hard drive failure.
Bad sector failure—Hard drives read magnetic data on the rotating platter, but because the magnetic alignment on the platter is not failproof, any misalignment of the magnetic media can result in a sector of the platter becoming inaccessible. Bad sectors are common to most hard drives and are difficult to eliminate, but they can usually be contained in the drive service area. However, over a long period of time, additional bad sectors can develop and lead to the dreaded head crash. Symptoms that may help to detect bad sectors include lagging or hanging hard disk operations, inaccessible files, or frequent Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) errors.
Firmware failure—The firmware of a computer is a type of software that performs the disk checking and maintenance functions on a hard drive. It is what allows the hard disk to communicate with the computer. Typically located on the PCB board as well as on data platters, any corruption to the firmware can result in a breakdown of communication, even when all mechanical and electrical functions are operational. Firmware failure can happen due to damage to the area of the platter on which the firmware is located. Signs of a firmware failure can include the hard drive powering up but being unrecognised or misrecognized by the computer, or the disk freezing during the bootup process.
Complex failure—There is also the possibility of multiple issues stacking up and instigating a series of cause-and-effect failures that culminate in a massive headache and hard drive failure. For example, a logical failure due to malware can result in multiple bad sector failures, which can lead to data corruption and a head crash.
Most Common Causes of Hard Drive Failure
The various types of hard drive failure can sometimes occur due to general wear and tear, manufacturer defects, human error, malware, and viruses, or freak accidents. The most common causes of hard drive failure are briefly listed below:
- Power surges from lightning strikes, power failures or damaged power lines
- Hardware overheating as a result of inadequate cooling or ventilation systems
- Water damage from flooding, spilt liquids or moisture seeping into the hard disk case
- Physical damage caused by dropping the hard drive, or bumping into or hitting it
- Corrupted files due to accidentally and unexpectedly shutting down a computer, improperly closing programs, or installing infected software
- Malware, viruses, and software bugs
- Human error, which can result from tampering with files essential to the hard disk and includes accidentally deleting files necessary for the disk to function
How to Prevent Hard Drive Failure
Depending on the cause, there are times when it is not possible to prevent hard drive failures, but many of the common types of hard drive failures can be prevented through routine maintenance.
Proper ventilation and cooling of the computer is one of the best ways to protect the hard drive. Any fans or ventilation grids on the computer should not be blocked, and if there is any excessive overheating, then the computer should be turned off and allowed to cool down. If the excessive overheating persists, then the computer should be taken in and serviced by an experienced computer repairs tech.
To prevent dangerous power surges from damaging the hard disk, one should unplug the computer when it is not in use. If the computer tends to be used frequently and throughout the day, and unplugging it after each use is inconvenient, then it is preferable to use a surge protector when keeping the computer plugged in.
Computers and the surrounding areas should also be routinely cleaned. The case surrounding a hard disk is never completely impenetrable, and if a small speck of dust enters the casing and obstructs the read-write head, it can cause a head crash.
Installing malware and virus scanners can also protect a computer and prevent it from downloading files or programs that can be detrimental to the hard drive. With so many different types of antivirus protection available, it can be hard to choose which one to go with. Read our comparison of the best antivirus software for more information.
Aside from these general preventative measures, it is also recommended to perform routine checks and computer scans to make sure that all the disks are running correctly and storage files are defragmented. While these maintenance scans may not prevent a hard drive failure, they can safeguard against irreparable damage by bringing system errors to light.
What to Do and What NOT to Do
Depending on the extent of the hard drive failure, there are many methods of data recovery that users can take and others that should be left for professional services. If the system is only starting to lag and there is ambiguity as to whether it is because of a hard drive failure, then any important files should be backed up right away before they become inaccessible for data retrieval. Even before signs of hard drive failure, it is a good idea to regularly back up a computer because even the best computer data recovery software or professional data recovery lab cannot always recover all the important files.
If the computer is making any unusual noises or the hard drive is inaccessible or inoperable in any way, then do NOT restart, hard boot or reboot or force shut down the computer. The best advice in such a situation is to call a professional to set up an appointment for hard drive recovery.