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

HardDriveLifetime02   5 Signs Your Hard Drive Lifetime is Ending & What To DoEvery 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.

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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.

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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.

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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].

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

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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.

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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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24 Comments -

0 votes

Mango Wodzak

so what’s the most reliable form of drive to backup ones data? are there any disks out there that have a lifetime of a decade or more? Will DVDs last longer if kept in a case and unmoved, or will they fail over time too? Are modern 2 and 3 terrabyte drives more reliable than older drives, or do they all have this limitation?

0 votes

dustin

Its a debatable discussion. I don’t really worry about the media as much as i do how i backup. For example, my primary os drive is an SSD drive that except for a few files i do not keep backed up. My second drive is a 200 gig storage drive that holds temporary stuff, program files i don’t need on my ssd drive, and an acronis image of my primary storage which brings me to my 3rd drive.

Technically, its two, set up in a raid mirror. I also keep a small external drive i back that up to.

I think, with any backup solution you will eventually face data degergation in some form after some time – even cheap dvd’s, so my advice is, despite whatever media you use, keep multiple backups of your backups if its important. This will minimalize data degergation and the risk of loosing your only backup.

0 votes

Tina

There is no real reliable way of backing data up any one way. The only way is to keep multiple copies, i.e. backups of your data.

High quality (I think gold based) DVDs have a pretty long lifetime (30 to 50 years?), but in the end they degrade as well. Early CDs from the 80s were said to have a lifetime of about 20 to 30 years. Newer CDs are said to have less than that (10 to 15 years), but generally longer than a hard drive.

0 votes

Anonymous

Unfortunately, I have a dead hard drive with hundreds of my two kids baby pictures.  Told myself time and again to back them up, but never did.

0 votes

Tina

Let it sit for a few years. If you can ever afford it, have the data recovered. If you can never afford it, try the drive again sometime.

A drive I thought was dead suddenly worked when I gave it a ‘last chance’ two years after is failed. I could rescue all my photos. I totally didn’t expect it to come back to life because it sounded horrible when it failed and only made strange sounds afterwards. Now it sounds ok actually still works, some four years after failing. I obviously haven’t used it for storing important data.

0 votes

Sony Lindberg

You can change the circuitboard of the hdd with one from a identical HDD (the same size, manufacturer and model).
And, is the drive external or internal?
If it’s an external drive the IDE/SATA to Usb/firewire circuit might have failed (pretty common). You can try to open the case and install it in your computer, that might just work.

0 votes

Lee

Just thought of this, and I don’t really know much about exactly how hard drives work, but if a part of your drive fails, couldn’t you take another part from a different hard drive and replace it? Obviously it wouldn’t work for the platters but what if it was the read head that failed? Could you replace it with a different read head just to recover the data?

0 votes

dustin

yes, but its a very tedious, and even touchier process. If a read head failed, keep in mind these things hover no more than the height of a piece of paper above the drive platters, it takes the patience of a brain surgeon. outside of mechanical failures, however, one of the biggest killers of hard drives is the circut board. you can usually find a circut board from the exact model drive of another one thats died and replace it, although im not sure of the process behind any of it.

0 votes

Tina

As Dustin said, it is possible and it does requires a lot of skill, precision, and a dust free environment. There are professional data recovery labs that physically recover data by fixing broken parts of the hard drive.

0 votes

Mango Wodzak

I’m pretty sure that for most failed harddrives, the data is still recoverable. There are centres around that will recover the data for you at a cost.. (doing exactly what you suggest Lee) here in australia, it’d cost around $1000 I’m told. So EdinJ, I wouldn’t throw away the disk. maybe when you can afford it, you could sent it off for recovery..

I’m wondering whether disks are deliberately not designed to last, as I’m sure that technologically it must be possible to create a disk that’d last a lifetime. Likely the short life of disks is all part of the consumer, money thing.. keep people buying new things.. Sad state really.

0 votes

Tina

Unfortunately, you’re right. But it’s not a conspiracy. :)

I think the problem is hardware manufacturers can not afford to put in the amount of development or quality of hardware required to make devices last longer. If they did, the product would be more expensive and the amount of consumers willing to pay that price may be too small. So yes, money is the issue, the margin would be too slim.

A different model would be to sell the service rather than the hardware. Let hardware manufacturers sell storage space rather than hard drives. They could provide a guarantee of keeping data save. This model would be an incentive for them to manufacture long life hardware.

0 votes

Cicas

I agree with Tina:) 
Think about buying 500GB hard drive, which could last for, say, 50 years. But after just 10 years, what will 500GB be? Nothing. You will put this in to your phone as a card. I can imagine someone saying something like “500GB? What is it for? I can put ther just one movie and an year old game! Tsss..” Remember floppy disc? :D

0 votes

Tina

Good point, Cicas.

0 votes

Tim bain

If you have an external enclosure and the software you can usually recover files with cheap or free software, Recovermyfiles isn’t bad. Hardrivehealth is a nice little app thats free and shows problems developing (HDDhealth).

0 votes

Cell Travis

I’ve had 2 hard drives fail in the last 10 years, and on both occasions there was data on them that could not be recovered. Since then, I’ve been maintaining multiple backups both on a physical external drive and online, in cloud storage.

0 votes

Tom

To recover data on failed hard drives download a copy of Puppy OS. Burn it to a CD and boot with it. It will display any data on most problem CDs. It is Linux software and actually runs in your ram.

0 votes

Tina

When the hard drive is the issue and not the operating system, then not even Linux can save your neck, but it sure is worth a try!

0 votes

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).
 

0 votes

Tina

Yes, backup is a must.

0 votes

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 ….

0 votes

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!

0 votes

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

0 votes

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.