Whether you use a solid state drive, hard drive, or a combination of both, drive failure remains a constant concern. It can be caused by a variety of factors, but most notably age, physical damage, and heat. The latter two factors affect SSDs to a much smaller extent than they do hard drives, but age can cause both to eventually fail. Thankfully, symptoms and warning signs typically precede catastrophic SSD / hard drive failure. We take a look at the symptoms and offer options for saving data in both pre- and post-failure scenarios.
Solid State Drive / Hard Drive Failure Symptoms
Signs of future HDD failure can manifest in several ways. If your hard drive begins to display the following warning signs, you should prepare to backup or transfer data. Failure can be gradual but do not wait for the symptoms to worsen before taking action.
- Slowing data transfer rates – If your file transfer operations (copying or writing files) begin to slow down, hard drive failure is not guaranteed but it may be an early warning sign—it could be an issue related to failure or other hardware, such as RAM. However, if performance begins to noticeably slow and other symptoms pop up, then it may be wise to start backing up data.
- Corrupted data – Files that can’t open or go missing are another sign that your hard drive may be reaching end of life.
- Increasing number of bad sectors – A subsection of the physical disc on a hard driver platter or flash memory chip, a sector goes “bad” when it can no longer respond to read/write operations. It can be a result of physical damage or software errors. When the number of bad sectors increases, it can be a sign of future drive failure. If the bad sectors are a result of software issues, you can attempt a fix in Windows. See below for more information.
- Strange noises (HDD only) – Unlike SSDs, hard drives do not operate silently—they tap and whirr in normal operation. However, loud and irregular noises such as clicks and clacks serve as an indication of drive health. If you start hearing loud noises and notice degrading performance, failure is imminent.
- HDD Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) metrics – S.M.A.R.T. is a technology built-into hard drives and solid state drives that reports on several metrics used to determine overall health. For sudden drive failure, S.M.A.R.T. may not be the most useful tool, but it will help track gradually declining performance. To fetch your drive’s S.M.A.R.T. metrics, use a free tool such as SpeedFan.
Options Pre-Drive Failure
- Fix bad sectors – You can attempt to fix bad sectors caused by software errors. Unfortunately bad sectors caused by physical damage likely will not be recovered.
- In Windows 7, click Start and then Computer.
- Right click on the hard drive, and click Properties.
- Click on the Tools tab.
- Click Check now… to begin the process.
- Be sure to check the “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors” and click press the Start button.
- In Windows 7, click Start and then Computer.
- Disk imaging – If your drive begins to exhibit the symptoms above, consider making a backup of the drive. For details on how to make a complete disk image, see our previous HardBoiled article on the subject. The advantage of backing up data via disk image include: a) all data—including hidden files/folders—is included, b) the program registry is saved, c) all your Windows settings and users remain intact.
- Transfer data – But if performance has significantly degraded, a complete disk backup may be too time-consuming. In which case, consider backing up only the most essential of files. Drag and drop them to whatever medium you have. Network attached storage, cloud storage, or an external hard drive. Quicker than making a complete disk image, but not as inclusive.
Options post-drive failure
Unfortunately, recovering data from a failed drive can be difficult and may require you to pay a small fee. Below, we’ve included the most common methods.
- Software recovery – If your drive has failed due to a software issue, the data may be recoverable with software. SSD/HDD failure caused by physical damage unfortunately may not be recoverable via software. Plug the drive into another computer and try some of the programs below for recovery. One such program is TestDisk, a free program that can recover lost partitions and repair boot files.
- Send back to the manufacturer – If the hard drive or solid state drive fails while under warranty, you may be able to request the manufacturer recover the data and issue a replacement drive for free. For drives out of warranty, there likely will be a small fee. Seagate for example, has a data recovery service available.
- Third party recovery service – Aside from the SSD/HDD manufacturer, also consider third party recovery services such as DriveSavers. Such services do cost money, but they can recover data from seriously damaged drives, including fire and water damaged drives.
If a hard drive is exhibiting the problems mentioned above, act quickly to safeguard your data. Otherwise, you may be stuck having to send your drive to be repaired. Only in rare cases can a hard drive be recovered via software, and those typically only happen if software is at the root cause of the issues. Let us know if you have experienced hard drive or solid state drive failure before and was able to fix it.