How often do you take offline backups of your important files? Once a month? Once a year? I have another question for you. How often do you check that those backups are still working? I decided to do just this recently. And when I connected my external drive to my laptop, up popped an I/O device error.
I couldn’t immediately access the drive. My heart sank. Nearly ten years’ worth of photos were lost. But I was sure of a fix — and lo, there is. So, here are five ways to fix an I/O device error, without losing any files in the process.
What Is an I/O Device Error?
Input/Output device errors are quite common. We usually attribute them to hardware issues, such as an errant cable, a glitch with input or output storage device, or a misconfigured driver. With that in mind, there are more than a few different methods for trying to fix an I/O device error. Better still, most of these fixes only take a few moments to try, as well as being very easy to do.
Before we begin, I have one piece of advice. Restart your system, then try again. If you still have an error, carry on.
The first thing to do, before worrying, is to simply adjust the cables. Reseat the cables connecting your external drive to your computer. Do this at both ends. If you’re using a USB flash drive, try disconnecting and reinserting, then trying again.
Family: How are you so good at fixing computers?
Me: …Uh, I literally just unplug and replug things until it solves the problem?
— OrcishLibrarian (@BibliovoreOrc) January 14, 2018
If it doesn’t work, use a different USB cable, and try again. Unsure if the cable is good or not? Connect the cable to a different external device and connect it to your system. If it works, you know that the cable is good.
2. USB Port
If the cable is good, but you still have no luck, try an alternative USB port. Most modern systems have more than one USB port as so many devices rely on a USB connection. Furthermore, check your USB ports are clean. If it is dusty or dirty, give it a gentle blow to remove any lingering lint and then try again.
Another basic but easily overlooked I/O device error fix is to update the drivers on your system. Windows 10 should update all of your drivers, all the time. The issue of constant upgrades was an extremely sore point for many users when Microsoft released Windows 10. In theory, a system that constantly updates drivers is excellent. You should never have a Windows 10 driver issue.
But the theory is great, and reality is, well, reality. It doesn’t always correlate, and sometimes the constant update system just doesn’t work. That’s where a program like IOBit Driver Booster steps in. Download and install Driver Booster (ensuring you uncheck the McAfee Antivirus bundle install button), then let it quickly scan your system for any out of date drivers.
Don’t be surprised if it turns up a lot of drivers that are out of date. In many cases related applications and services still work fine. It just so happens that there is a more recent driver version. Update your drivers and retry your external drive.
While I/O device errors predominantly relate to hardware, we can attempt to use an integrated system tool to fix the issue. The chkdsk tool verifies file systems and fixes file system errors.
Press Windows Key + X to open the Quick Access menu, then select Command Prompt (admin). If the Command Prompt option is no longer there (replaced by PowerShell), don’t worry. Just complete a Start Menu search for Command Prompt, then right-click and select Run as administrator.
Next, type chkdsk /f /r /x [your drive letter here] and press Enter. The scan could take a while, especially if there are multiple sectors requiring repair.
Please note that this will not fix certain types of broken drive sectors.
5. Use Speccy to Check Drive Health
If the two easy fixes don’t work, we can check the overall health of the hard drive using free system specification program, Speccy. Download and install Speccy. In the left-hand column, select Storage, and scroll down to find the corresponding drive. They’re normally well labeled.
Underneath the drive technical specifications is the S.M.A.R.T dropdown attribute table. This is what we need.
SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. The in-built hard drive monitoring system reports on various hard drive health attributes. As you can see, Speccy gives each monitoring metric a rating. We’re particularly interested in the following metrics:
- 05: Reallocated Sectors Count
- 0A: Spin Retry Account
- C4: Reallocation Event Count
- C5: Current Pending Sector Count
- C6: Uncorrectable Sector Count
Want a startling fact? A Google study found that in the 60 days following the first uncorrectable drive error, the drive was on average 39 times more likely to fail than a similar drive without errors.
To be fair, the Google study also concludes that SMART ratings are of limited usefulness in predicting impending drive failures — but can still give a good general indication of drive health. With this in mind, if any of the metrics above show errors (or multiple errors across multiple metrics), I would seriously consider backing everything up and replace the drive.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily immediately solve your I/O device input error. But it might indicate what is going on.
Want a second drive health opinion? Give HD Tune Pro a try.
No More I/O Device Error!
I hope your I/O device error is done with and you’ve accessed your drive. An I/O device error isn’t always the end of the line for a hard drive. It is, however, a good indicator that something is afoot. And in many cases, it simply isn’t worth waiting around to find out if the error is the beginning of something more sinister.
Have you experienced an I/O device error? What did you do to fix it? Was it the end of the road for your drive? Or did you manage to rescue your important files first?