5 Signs Your Hard Drive Lifetime is Ending & What To Do

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failing hard driveEvery one of us owns precious files like personal documents, photos, videos, or audio files, and we typically store them on hard drives. Few people realize that most electronic storage devices, including hard drives, have a rather limited lifetime when compared to the ancient ways of storing information, such as stone, papyrus, paper, or old school records. The average lifetime of a stationary hard drive today is around 5 – 10 years, depending on the type and manufacturer, and it rapidly declines if the drive is subject to strong variations in temperature, humidity, and motion as in not being stationary.

Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 – 5 years. This is an extremely short time to reliably store important data. In the best of cases, hard drives fail gradually, giving you the chance to react, get a copy of your data, and replace the storage device before facing a fatal failure. There are a host of signs that hint to a gradual failure of your hard drive. If you are unsure how much life is left on your hard drive, read this article to find out what signs may reveal an approaching failure.

1. Slowing Down Computer, Frequent Freezes, Blue Screen Of Death

These are very unspecific signs that can be caused by a million different things. However, regardless of what the issue behind these symptoms is, it is recommended that you immediately make a backup. If these problems occur after a fresh installations or in Windows Safe Mode, it is almost certain that it is due to bad hardware, and possibly a failing hard drive.

failing hard drive

2. Corrupted Data

If you’re beginning to find files that fail to open and are corrupted even though they saved without errors or if files suddenly disappear, you should get worried. While again this could be due to a multitude of issues, it is also a typical sign for a gradual hard drive failure.

hard drive failure

3. Accumulation Of Bad Sectors

Bad sectors are areas of the hard drive that do not maintain data integrity. They are automatically masked by the operating system and thus hard to identify, especially if large amounts of the disk are currently in use. If you actually run into bad sectors, however, that certainly is a bad sign.

You can run a manual disk check to identify errors that Windows has not spotted, yet. In Windows 7, go to > Start > Computer and right-click on the disk or partition you wish to check. Select > Properties, in the window that opens switch to the > Tools tab and click > Check now… In the Checking Disk window place a checkmark next to > Automatically fix file system errors and > Scan for an attempt recovery of bad sectors.

hard drive failure

Windows will also check for bad sectors, when you perform a full format or chkdsk command. See this article – The Difference Between Windows Full Format & Quick Format [Technology Explained].

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4. Strange Sounds

When you hear strange noises coming from your hard drive, it may be too late already. A repetitive sound also known as the click of death is caused by the head as it is trying to write data and recovers from errors in doing so. Grinding or screeching noises indicate that parts of the hardware, for example the bearings or spindle motor, are failing.

5. S.M.A.R.T. Data

There are tools that aim to predict hard drive failure by reading the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) data that is recorded by the operating system. Unfortunately, like most other methods listed above, S.M.A.R.T. is notoriously unreliable in predicting hard drive failure and the catastrophe will often happen before the warning of S.M.A.R.T. kicks in. If you have a working hard drive, however, and would like to have a look at its S.M.A.R.T. data, check out this article – 4 Tools To Predict and Prevent Hard Drive Failure

hard drive failure

I Think My Hard Drive Is Failing, What Shall I Do?

So you are worried that a hard drive failure is just around the corner? The truth is, even if you are not worried, it is! The only thing you can do is always keep backups of your data on a second hard drive. The likelihood that both drives will fail simultaneously are very rare. An exception would be natural disasters like floods or fires. For these cases, I recommend to keep a copy of your most important data in a different physical location, for example at work or with a friend, or possibly on a remote server, for example by using an online backup solution.

failing hard drive

For more information how to back up data, read my PDF manual Stuff Happens: The Backup & Restore Guide.

Conclusion

Do not rely on signs or software to tell you whether you have a failing hard drive. It is more likely than not that it will fail unexpectedly and without any warning signs whatsoever. Rather than trying to forecast something that is even less predictable than the weather, you should rely on backups.

What is your worst hardware failure nightmare, did it ever happen to you, and did you actually lose any data?

Image credits: Anyka, malost, lucadp, Matthias Pahl

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Comments (25)
  • Anonymous

    What should i do when my computer freezes and went blue screen??!

  • Springfield

    Two tips:
    1) A trick I learned from a PC repair guy to recover data from a dying drive: Put it in the freezer.  In a baggie for about an hour.  Then put it back in the computer, boot up, and be ready to copy the data to a DVD if it works.
    2) An old software utility called Spinrite can be used to refresh formatting and even recover corrupt data if it’s not too far gone.  Many times the drive hardware is OK, but after 3-5 years the magnetic marks that tell the heads where the data is (low level formatting) begin to fade.  Spinrite re-writes the low level formatting with the data in place.  Can make an old drive like new.

    HTH
    -Springfield from NBR

    • Tina

      Thanks for the tips, Springfield!

      I also tried the freezer one and later heard it was a myth. Didn’t work for me at the time. To my luck, however, the drive miraculously did work again after lying on a cupboard for two years.

  • John5247

    My friend at colllege had the best data security. Every week he sent a DVD home to mom of his current essays. If he fell into a party one weekend and forgot, mon would call and nag him to send it …. simple!

  • John5247

    All Hard drives fail as sure as death and taxes. Until the recent floods in Thailand drives had never been cheaper. When they get back down “normal” price again – what was it? 50 dollars a Terrabyte!  Promise yourself you’ll buy 4 and a NAS box and set up 2 RAID arrays.
    Put the NAS box as far away as you can from your computer – preferably in the next State or at least in your Grandma’s house. Only now you can ease up on the paranoia ….

  • Daniel Aniegbuna

    There are many ways we can lose information on a computer – a destructive virus, a power surge, lightning, floods, a big magnet, or sometimes equipment just fails. Customer experience shows that data backup is one of the least things a computer user wants to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Generally, most PC users consider data backup a necessity immediately after they have experienced PC disasters, such as hard drive failures! Data recovery can be expensive, unfortunately, since we can neither prevent natural disasters nor certain PC disasters, we should at least be ready for them. Technically, one sure way to be ready for PC disasters is by backing up data regularly and keeping multiple backup copies onsite (using preferred external media drives) and offsite (via remote storage).
     

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.