Hard Drives 2: Failure Warning Signs

Hard Drives 2: Failure Warning Signs

October 5

My last post talked about the lifespan of hard drives and the benefits of SSDs vs. HDDs, but there is still another question to answer. How do I know if my hard drive is failing?

I doubt I’m alone in saying that I’ve had a hard drive fail. Well, two actually. On both occasions, it was completely unexpected and more than a little frustrating. I wondered what I could’ve done to stop it, and what sort of warning signs I could’ve looked for.

What to look for:

The sad answer is that once your hard drive is on the way out, there is little you can do but make sure it’s backed up and keep it cool and comfortable for its final moments. An article on makeuseof.com gives us a list of a few warning signs we can look for, here’s a rundown:

Slow computer, freezing, and blue screen

These things can be caused by all sorts of issues, but once you see this, check that you have a current backup or make a new one. Try running in safe mode or reinstalling windows. If you still have problems, you’re probably looking at hardware problems, possibly your hard drive.

Data corruption

You might start finding files that were saved with no trouble, but fail to open, or suddenly disappear. There are a lot of things that cause this, but it’s most likely an early sign of hard drive failure.

Bad sectors

Sectors that go bad are areas that don’t maintain data integrity. The OS will mask these, making them hard to identify, but if you encounter one, it’s probably a bad thing. You can run a disk check to search for errors Windows hasn’t spotted. Click Start>Computer and right click the disk or partition you want to check. Click Select>Properties>Tools>Check now and check the boxes that scan for bad sectors, and auto fix file system errors.


If you hear odd noises coming from your hard drive, something’s probably amiss. Hard drives are precise instruments and any odd noises should alert you to a problem. A repetitive clicking sound (click of death) probably means the head is trying to write data, and then recovering from an error each time. Other strange sounds could occur from any number of small parts failing.

S.M.A.R.T. Data

Luckily, there is a tool that can help you predict hard drive failure by reading the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) data that the OS records, though sadly the failure often occurs before S.M.A.R.T. can warn you. Here’s an article that explains in greater detail certain tools you can use to effectively predict a hard drive failure.


Ultimately, it’s not often that a hard drive will give you fair warning before its untimely death. Keeping plenty of up-to-date backups is really the best measure you can take. Hard drives don’t last forever, and can die suddenly. It’s important to prepare for their failure, and have replacement options ready.