Much like your car, a hard disk is a mechanical device. Most of your computer’s other components are purely electronic and can only be damaged by electronic means (such as a power surge). However, hard disks are subject to both electronic and mechanical stresses, which can each cause hard disk problems. Here’s a guide to both protecting against hard disk failure, and emergency recovery if hard disk problems have caught you off guard.

Why do hard disks fail?

Because hard disks are mechanical devices, they are subject to wearing out, even if you treat them better than your own children. Around 60% of hard drive failures occur through predictable mechanical failure, with the remaining 40% of failures occurring through misuse. Hard disk failure might occur if any of the following happens:

  • Your computer is bumped or jostled while it is running;
  • The electric motor which allows the platter to spin fails due to bad bearings or other components;
  • The filter on your air intake gets too clogged or the filter isn’t working properly;
  • Extreme heat while running causes the electronic circuit board to fail;
  • There is a sudden power failure while the disk is writing.

Types of hard drive failure

There are two main types of hard drive failure – physical and logical.

Physical failures are often due to a failure of the electric motor or the drive itself – the moving parts. They can also happen because of a major head crash (caused by your computer being dropped or jostled while it’s running).

Logical failures come from corruption in the file system. If you’ve accidentally deleted an important registry entry or formatted the drive improperly, or if you have a nasty virus, hard drive problems will occur. The BIOS will recognize the drive, but it won’t boot.

Signs of hard drive failure

All computers have problems, but you don’t need to panic about hard disk failure unless one or more of the following things are happening:

  • Clicking or grinding noises while running;
  • Files mysteriously disappear. Usually more than once;
  • Locking up during the boot process – hard disk problems are indicated if this happens frequently;
  • The computer often freezes, and when it does you are left without mouse or keyboard input and have to do a hard reset;
  • Standard file processes like saving and opening slow down interminably, even for small files;
  • Increase in the number of bad sectors noted when running chkdsk;
  • You can’t speed up computer performance even by applying optimization tricks;
  • You notice that your computer is unusually hot.

Using S.M.A.R.T.

If your hard disk is equipped with S.M.A.R.T. technology (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology), there will be log files that can be checked to predict the probability of failure in the near future. S.M.A.R.T. technology monitors a wide range of hard disk symptoms and logs the condition of the disk. It aims to provide a predictable failure date for the disk.

Can data be restored from a failed hard drive?

Usually it can be. Unfortunately, though, recovering from a failed hard drive isn’t as simple as some other computer issues that can be fixed with the help of Google and forums telling you how to speed up your computer. Professional help is definitely recommended.

In order to prevent massive data loss in the case of hard drive failure, install a program that creates a disk image quickly and easily. Use this backup system at least weekly or more often if you’re a heavy or business computer user. If you don’t take these preventative steps and need data recovery services, you know there are professionals that specialize in retrieving your potentially lost data.