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Hard Drive Failure Symptoms

When hard drives fail, they usually do so while exhibiting some warning signs over time. So what are the most common symptoms?


Hard drives contain a lot of moving parts, so they occasionally fail and lose data. Unfortunately, many computer users don't recognize the symptoms of a failing hard drive right away and continue to operate their drive, which greatly increases the chances of permanent data loss.

Whether you occasionally operate an office desktop computer or you're in charge of the company RAID array, you should know to immediately recognize some of the symptoms of a physical hard drive failure, including:

Unusual Noises - Most hard drive failures present with unusual noises such as whirring or clicking sounds. Our clients often say that their drives sound like running fans. HDDs might also sound like they're trying to reset, depending on the severity of the issue.

Any unusual noise indicates a serious problem with a hard drive's internal components. Turn off a noisy hard drive as soon as you can.

Error Messages - If your hard drive stops working, it will typically present some type of error message. Some common error messages that indicate a physical hard drive failure include "file not found," "code 7" and "file is corrupt" errors, although your exact error messages will vary depending on your operating system and the program you're using when the hard drive fails.

If you cannot access an important file for any reason and you don't have a backup, immediately contact a data recovery engineer. Never run data recovery software unless you're absolutely positive that an error message indicates a logical (non-physical) issue, and for the best possible chance of a full recovery, contact a trained data recovery engineer before taking any steps to recover your own data.

Feeling a Drive for Vibration - If your computer will not recognize your hard drive--the HDD is plugged in, but the computer doesn't detect it--you can touch the drive to see whether its platters are spinning and its read/write heads are moving back and forth to read information. Make sure to ground yourself properly before handling any hard drive.

If the drive is not vibrating or if you cannot tell whether its internal components are moving normally, there's a good chance that it has either a physical or electronic issue. Spindle failures, PCB failures and other issues can cause a drive to stop operating entirely. Some drives also have fail safes that prevent them from operating after a read/write head failure.

Smells - As strange as it might seem, many of our clients report unusual smells coming from their hard drives. If an electronics board overheats, this could be the smell of burning electrical components or melting solder.

Usually, unusual smells have something to do with electronics and don't indicate a head failure. Hard drive heads and platters cannot cause odors, since hard drives have miniature filters that would prevent any particles from escaping the drive enclosure. Nevertheless, any unusual odor coming from a hard drive is certainly a serious warning sign that requires immediate attention.

Remember to play it safe. If you think that your hard drive is breaking or that it has a physical issue, turn it off. Call a qualified data recovery company immediately.

Hard drives spin at 5400-7200 RPM on average, so even if a drive operates for only a few seconds after a failure, it can take on permanent damage very quickly. By calling the professionals at Secure Data Recovery Services, you'll improve your chances of a successful recovery and a fast completion time while limiting your costs.

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