Hard Drive Failure: Warning Signs And How To Recover Your Data

All hard drives eventually fail and if you’re storing important files on yours, you’ll want to be able to recover them. Before we look at how to recover files from a crashed hard drive, here are some common warning signs that your hard drive is about to fail and what you can do to extend the life of it.

Hard Drive Internals
Image Credit: hadescom/ shutterstock.com

Warning signs of hard drive failure

  • Corrupted data. Are files disappearing, corrupted or failing to open? These are all typical signs that your hard drive is gradually failing.
  • Strange noises. Whether you’re hearing a repetitive clicking sound or screeching and grinding noises, it’s indicative of a mechanical failure with your hard drive.
  • Drive no longer recognised. If you find your computer stops recognising your drive, there’s likely to be a problem with your hard drive, rather than your PC. Double check by testing it in a different computer. If it’s still not recognised, you’ll know the issue is your hard drive.
  • Blue-screen and reboots. If your computer regularly crashes, suddenly reboots or blue-screens when trying to access files, there may be a problem with your hard drive.
  • SSDs. Unlike with mechanical hard drives, you won’t experience component failure with your SSD but you should still be cautious of its electronic components. Unfortunately, you won’t receive much warning of SSD failure – it either works or it doesn’t.

Ways to extend the life of your hard drive

Although you should keep in mind that your hard drive will eventually fail, it’s possible to prolong its life:

  • Run chkdsk. Hard drives can contain many errors, from software issues to physical problems. Run the Windows chkdsk program to identify and tackle issues including lost clusters, file errors or bad sectors. Type chkdsk X:/f (with X being the name of your hard drive) when you next boot up your computer. You’ll be prompted that the disk is locked. Select Y to run chkdsk when the system next restarts.
  • Cooling. Make sure your PC is well-ventilated to prevent it from overheating and shortening the life of your hard drive and other components. Ensure the air flow is unrestricted (by keeping the cables inside the case tidy and making sure the case is not clogged with dust). Additional cooling such as case fans will keep temperatures in check.
  • Install a hard drive monitoring tool. Acronis Drive Monitor is free and is a useful tool for monitoring the temperature of your hard drive, the amount of free space and more. What’s great about it is that you can set up email alerts in the event of hard drive errors.
  • Defragment your hard drive. Keep your hard drive in its most efficient state by setting up a weekly automatic defrag. This will give a more compact file structure, so the read heads won’t need to move as frequently.
    1. Click Start then type Disk Defragmenter in the search box and click on it.
    2. Select the disk to be defragmented under Current status then click Analyze disk.
    3. Look at the percentage in the Last Run column. If it’s over 10%, click Defragment disk.
    4. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to complete but you can still use your computer in the meantime.
      Disk Defragmenter
      Disk Defragmenter


  • Back-up your data. Be prepared for your hard drive to fail eventually by regularly backing-up your important data. Then, when it does fail, you won’t risk losing anything vital.

SSD-specific tips

The best way to extend the life of your SSD is to write to it as infrequently as you can:

  • Disable indexing. Windows indexing is a great way to improve the search function as it keeps a list of all the files on your computer. For SSDs this is an issue because the constant updates to the database whenever files are edited cause gradual degradation. Turn off indexing to prevent this.
    1. Click Start then open Computer.
    2. Right-click on your SSD drive and click Properties.
    3. Uncheck Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties at the bottom of the window, then click OK.

      Disk Properties
      Disk Properties
  • Disable disk defragmentation in Windows. Defragging a mechanical hard drive helps to speed up performance but it does the opposite for an SSD, which only allows a limited number of sector rewrites. Instead, defragmentation will only contribute to the failure of your SSD.
    1. Click Start and type dfrgui into the search box.
    2. Select your SSD and click Configure schedule…
      Disk Degragmenter
      Disk Degragmenter


    3. Uncheck Run on a schedule then click OK.
      Disk Defragmenter: Modify Schedule
      Disk Defragmenter: Modify Schedule


What happens when my hard drive fails and I want to recover data?

Of course, you can only extend the life of your hard drive so far, and when it does fail, you may need to recover lost data. If your hard drive is still under warranty, you may be in luck as most manufacturers will always try to recover any lost data if it fails. If you’re out of warranty, try the following:

  • Connect to another computer. Remove your hard drive from your computer and use a USB to IDE/SATA adapter to connect it to a different machine (as a secondary drive).
  • Try to copy data. It could simply be a problem with your operating system, and your data may still be fine. Check by browsing the files on the drive and try to copy those you want to recover.
  • Free data recovery software. If manual copying doesn’t work, take advantage of free data recovery software – but remember not to install this on the failed drive as it may overwrite the files you’re trying to recover.
    1. Recuva – free tool for Windows operating systems. Run the basic scan to attempt to recover your lost files. If that fails, there’s also a deep scan. Simple to use, the wizard will take you through each step – choose the file type you want to recover, its location, and then start the scan.
    2. TestDisk – free and compatible with iOS, Windows and Linux. Use to recover data quickly without doing unnecessary writes to your drive.
    3. Disk Drill – the basic edition is free for Mac OS X. Select the recovery option, choose your drive and then either run the quick scan option to detect deleted files or the deep scan to retrieve lost data. It will display a list of the recoverable files. If the ones you need are detected, go ahead and purchase the pro edition to recover them.chart
  • Software doesn’t always help. If the issue is a mechanical failure, software is unlikely to help much with data recovery.
  • Ask an expert!
  • If data recovery software hasn’t worked, or your drive has been overwritten or is physically damaged, it’s time to call in the experts. Before you do so, it’s up to you to decide whether your lost data is worth the extra money as this option can be expensive. If you absolutely must retrieve that lost data, a data recovery expert can help recover it from a physically damaged, formatted or overwritten hard drive.

Remember that over time, hard drives gradually go through wear and tear and eventually fail. You can avoid the risk of losing important data and save money on calling in an expert by regularly backing-up your files.

What’s your experience with hard drive recovery? Do you have any additional tips? Get in touch with us today!

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