Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, "Confident Computing", for more solutions you can use to make your life easier. Click here.

Will a failing hard drive have warning symptoms?

//
My last hard drive yesterday gave me a blue screen of death while I was online. After that, my computer wouldn’t even recognize that the hard drive was plugged in. The thing was about 2 ½ years old and it was a replacement for the original drive that was making noises, but still works. This was my first total failure before I could get a complete backup. I have backups, but they were a week or two old. What would cause this if you had to guess? Like a sector zero problem? Shouldn’t I have a gotten a read failure (the drive shows up in the BIOS)? Or a grinding noise? I’m not sure, but I did not hear the thing spin anymore. I don’t know what the symptoms of a sector zero failure are. I’ve never experienced it. Of course, that would leave circuit board failure (with unknown symptoms.) The old drive was a PATA. The replacement is SATA.  I’ve tried several PATA cables and got the same results.

Ultimately, a drive can fail in so many ways that it’s not at all surprising that you didn’t get any warning – other than the failure itself.

It sounds like you’re expecting symptoms associated with a failure. While some do have signs (and I’ll go through a few that indicate that your hard drive is failing), you don’t ever want to rely on these absolutely.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Some common failure symptoms

Surface defects can accumulate over time. You may end up getting warnings or CRC errors from the operating system as it has trouble reading specific areas of the disk.

The hardware itself could slowly fail. Things like the grinding that you’ve experienced in the past could be the result. The problem is that some slow failures could also be very, very silent. They could result in only poor performance or overheating.

Some failures could be sudden. The circuit board might fail abruptly. Or there could be a physical disaster to the disk.

Think about it: you’ve got metal platters that are spinning at up to 10000 rpm. That’s fast!

And the little pieces of hardware that are flying over the disks to read the information are really small. If something gets loose suddenly and it starts flying around inside the disk, that could cause massive, irrecoverable damage.

Your Disk is on Fire!What you do need to realize

Disk failures happen. That’s something that I think everybody really needs to realize. Perhaps more importantly there is simply no guarantee of a warning.

Sometimes, it can be slow. You may get some warning or they could be completely instantaneous as you’ve experienced here. The only way to be prepared for something like this is to back up.

A two-week old backup is great, but as you’ve noted, it would have been nice to have something more recent. That’s why I often recommend daily backups if the computer has any kind of important or heavy use.

4 comments on “Will a failing hard drive have warning symptoms?”

  1. When one of my external USB disks failed, it spent at least a month corrupting files before rendering itself untouchable. I found out by hunting backwards through backups until I found a backup with enough uncorrupted files to make it worth restoring. It is annoying to tell Word to open a Very Important Document and have the program report that the file is not a Word document. The drive corrupted files regardless of access, i.e. files I did not open, and some I hadn’t opened for as long as two years.
    We need a tool that will verify every file it can find, and complain about files it doesn’t like. (Business opportunity!)

    • In a way, that’s what chkdsk does when you choose the surface scan, only it reports bad sectors, not bad files. A file by file check might be useful for the less technically inclined. One problem with the file checker would that if a file is corrupted but the media isn’t damaged, it wouldn’t be able to determine that without trying to open it with the associated program.

  2. Yes, you’re right to say about backing up. BUT, this is not the answer for this question.

    *Over Heating : How can we monitor our HDD heat, what ranges are OK, but over what degrees dangereous?

    *Software Tools : What are the good HDD tools to test & analyse the disk surface for it’s health?

    *Blue Screens : What BSoD codes means HDD failures ara coming?

    *S.M.A.R.T : What is SMART and how can we use it in BIOS? How can we activate it in BIOS?

    I think these types of answer would be much appriciated for the question’s owner.

  3. A program I used to use a lot, called SpeedFan, gave you access to all the S.M.A.R.T. data, as well as any temperature readouts and fan readouts and sometimes voltages of your system.
    If your system allows it, you can alter some of these values to better control the temperature of your system, or to keep a close eye on potential failures.

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.