First. last and always – Back up
There is no substitute for having regular and verified backups of your data. If you don’t have a backup routine, you need to establish one, ASAP.
How do I know a drive is failing?
When your hard drive is failing it can cause a variety of problems. Some of the symptoms of a drive going bad can be:
- Reading, writing and copying errors when using data on the drive
- Unusually slow performance across many programs, on the desktop, or booting
- Failure to boot up, or error messages while booting
- Random crashes or spontaneous reboots.
Keep in mind that these symptoms are not exclusive to failing hard drives, there can be other causes that mimic a bad drive. If your problems go away when you boot the computer in Safe Mode, then it is more likely a software issue.
SSD drives often don’t give much, if any, warning of failure. That makes it doubly important to maintain regular backups, and do periodic health testing as below.
Tools for testing your drive
There are a number of software tools for testing a hard drive. Some are run from the command prompt (C:> ), some from within Windows and some can be run from a boot CD or USB stick.
- Windows comes with a command line utility CHKDSK to test the hard drive, and repair some errors. Access it by opening the Command Prompt (in Windows System: Command Prompt in the Windows menu, or Search for Command Prompt). Type in CHKDSK /f and hit return. You may get a message that the volume is in use, and the check will be scheduled for the next restart. That’s fine, you can restart the machine when you are ready to run the check.
If you’re unable to boot into Windows, you can boot from a Windows CD or USB stick, and/or enter the Recovery Console, and run CHKDSK /f C: to fix errors on the C: drive (substitute the drive letter if your suspect drive is different).
- Test the SMART status of the drive (the self-testing and reporting function of the drive) with CrystalDiskInfo
- Drive manufacturers often offer free diagnostic programs, some of these only work on their own brand of drives
Hitachi/HGST: Drive Fitness Test
Western Digital: Data Lifeguard
Samsung SSDs: Samsung Magician (For older Samsung hard drives, use the Seagate SeaTools)
Toshiba: Toshiba Storage Diagnostic Tool (download from the Tools links)
- TestDisk and HDDScan are free, open-source programs to test drives and TestDisk can repair certain drive and directory errors.
If you cannot boot up Windows, you can build an Ultimate Boot CD on a working Windows machine (beware of the advertising and third party download links on that page). The Ultimate Boot CD creates a bootable CD drive or USB stick, and contains a variety of software programs for testing drives, repairing and recovering data.
When to replace the hard drive
If your drive is failing or is showing SMART errors, your best bet is to backup your data from it ASAP, and replace it more sooner than later. Drives don’t get better on their own, they will get progressively less reliable and then fail completely without notice.
In fact, our advice for mission critical machines in busy office, creative and production environments, is to replace the main hard drives on machines before they fail – on a regular scheduled rotation. It’s cheaper to budget a couple of hundred dollars every 2 to 3 years, than it is to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on lost work and emergency repairs or data recovery when they fail. By rotating in new drives, you will also benefit from larger storage and faster performance, and be continually covered by manufacturer’s warranties. The older drives in good condition after testing, can be moved to a secondary, less critical use.
Check if your drive is covered by warranty – hard drive and SSD warranties range between 1 and 5 years, you can query your serial number at the manufacturer’s website. Warranties do not cover data recovery however.
Keep in mind that if it is the original drive that came with the computer, then the warranty is with the computer manufacturer, not the drive manufacturer, and expires with the warranty expiration date of the computer. (The drive company sold the drive at a discount to the computer manufacturer in exchange for the computer manufacturer assuming responsibility.)