What does it mean when your computer tells you that it is imminent that your hard drive is going to need to be replaced? What will happen? I have made all the required recovery discs (I hope). Why would this happen? I bought my computer recently and don’t do that much with it yet. Basically, I’m just getting up-to-speed and doing some e-mails, also a little surfing. I’m very careful going on websites. Both the McAfee and Microsoft tell me I’m protected. All diagnostic tests show things are A-ok.
I’m going to resist the urge to dwell on what most would consider the obvious: your hard drive is failing, and it may need to be replaced.
In part, I’m not going to dwell on that because it might not be true (though it probably is).
Let’s look at the source of this message, and what you should do.
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Almost all hard drives include self-monitoring circuitry built into the drive’s electronics. This allows the drive to keep track of its own health and well being. This technology even has a standard and a name: “S.M.A.R.T.” for “Self- Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology”.
Essentially what’s happened to generate the warning you see is that your hard drive has, itself, determined that the error rate of data being written to and read from the drive has exceeded an acceptable threshold. Too many errors, and the drive thinks that it’s in danger of failing. The SMART technology allows it to report that back to Windows (via the hard disk’s drivers), and Windows passes the warning on to you.
“Errors?” you say, “What errors? I don’t see any errors?”
All hard disks these days have errors writing to and reading from their magnetic media. Sometimes lots of errors, depending on the quality and size of the drive and the density of the information on the media. You don’t normally see these errors because the drives also include error correction technology that actually expects and allows for a certain error rate. All this happens within the drive and is totally transparent. Even the operating system and other test utilities may not see these self-corrected errors.
In fact, you won’t see a disk error until the drive runs into something so broken that it can’t correct it.
So your drive is, whether you realize it or not, pretty much constantly experiencing, and recovering from, read and write errors internally.
When the rate of errors gets to be too high, as defined by that drive’s manufacturer, the warning results. The assumption is that the drive is failing.
What could happen is pretty simple: in the worst case, complete and total data loss.
What to do?
First, Backup! If that “complete and total data loss” didn’t sink in, think about it again. Imagine everything on that hard disk gone. Back it up, if you haven’t already, so that if that happens you’ll simply be inconvenienced and not much more.
In your case you mention that the machine is relatively new. If that’s so, I’d absolutely contact whomever you purchased it from and see about getting the drive replaced. While it might be recoverable, as we’ll see in a moment, these are steps and issues you simply shouldn’t have to deal with on a new machine.
Consider SpinRite. SpinRite is a hard disk maintenance and recovery utility that is the only tool I’m aware of that will operate on the hard drive at a level that may (I have to stress may) actually reduce the number of errors being seen internally. It performs what can be called a “conditioning” pass to write and rewrite the data to the hard drive in ways that can refresh the media and perhaps resolve some of the issues. SpinRite is not free, which brings me to my last point…
Replace the drive. Drives are cheap, and running with what might be a known imminent risk of drive failure just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The downside here is that you must somehow transfer your information – be it using an imaging program to copy from the old hard disk to the new, restoring from your backup, or simply installing everything from scratch, somehow you’ll need to setup the replacement drive for use.
But don’t ignore the warning.