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Hard Drive Failure Do's and Dont's

Because hard drives have mechanical components, they eventually fail, even when computer users follow the best possible maintenance practices. In many cases, hard drive failures result in permanent data loss, leaving many individuals in a tough situation.

The following tips will improve your chances of a successful result, and perhaps more importantly, prevent you from accidentally taking actions that could exacerbate the damage.

What to do when hard drive fails

What to Do When a Hard Drive Fails

Taking prompt action will improve your chances of a successful recovery. Do take the following steps when addressing hard drive issues:

Step 1

Turn off the drive if it physically malfunctions.

This will prevent the read/write heads, platters, spindle and other components from sustaining serious damage. Know the signs of physical hard drive damage and take immediate action -disconnect the power if you hear unusual noises such as clicking or whirring sounds. Missing files, garbled file names and excessively slow operation can also indicate physical damage.

Step 2

Logical Issues? Unplug the computer directly from the wall.

If you lose data due to file deletion, accidental formatting or another logical error, unplug the computer directly from the wall. Do not worry about following proper shutdown procedures.

Shutdown processes are helpful on a healthy computer, but can overwrite data in some circumstances, and the safest course of action is to immediately disconnect the computer's power source to prevent it from accessing its hard drive.

Step 3

Check for other issues that could be preventing normal access.

Hard drive problems can prevent you from using your computer normally, but so can a variety of other hardware and software issues. If you recently installed software or computer peripherals (including sound cards, graphics cards and USB-powered accessories), try reversing your last few steps and see if the computer becomes accessible again.

Step 4

Follow proper grounding procedures.

Follow proper grounding procedures if you remove the hard drive from the computer. You may decide to remove your hard drive if you intend to pursue data recovery or if you simply want to replace it with a functional HDD.

To prevent static damage from harming printed circuit boards inside your computer, be sure to ground yourself properly before touching any components. Shut the computer completely off and unplug its power source before attempting to remove the drive. Remember that computer power supplies have capacitors, and they can still hold an electrical charge (even when unplugged).

Step 5

Set up a data backup strategy.

If your hard drive does not contain important files, replace it and take steps to prevent failures from affecting your files in the future.

Keep a regular backup of all important files on your computer to prevent hard drive failures from causing data loss. The best backup strategies are consistent, automatic and redundant, with at least one off-site backup to protect against fires and environmental disasters.

What Not to do when hard drive fails

What Not to Do When a Hard Drive Fails

Do not take steps that could cause additional damage or reduce your likelihood of a successful recovery, these include:

What not to do in Hard Drive Failure

What NOT to do in hard drive failure:

  • Never operate a hard drive that makes unusual noises. As mentioned above, this can cause serious damage, so immediately shut down your computer if it makes strange sounds.

  • Don't install new software or hardware without an up-to-date data backup. Get into the practice of backing up before making major changes to your system, regardless of how easy the installation process may seem.

  • Never operate a hard drive after you've accidentally deleted files. Operating the computer will write data, even if you are not actively using it. When a computer deletes a file, it removes relevant entries in the file tables, but it does not actually overwrite the data until it needs the space. Leaving your computer on or using it in any way will limit your chances of a successful data recovery.

  • Do not install data recovery software if you have trouble diagnosing the cause of the failure. Data recovery software can be an effective option for logical issues such as deleted files or minor file corruption, but it is not an appropriate tool for treating physical hard drive damage. If you are not sure why your HDD will not respond to commands, turn it off.

  • Never use a hard drive's entire capacity. Your hard drive should always have some free space to allow for normal operation. Most experts recommend reserving about 15 percent of the total capacity of the hard drive as free space, and this practice can significantly extend the operating life of your hardware.

  • Do not attempt to repair physical issues outside of a certified Cleanroom. Hard drive components are extremely precise and cannot be serviced by home computer users. Opening your hard drive will expose sensitive components to contamination and damage.

  • Likewise, you should never attempt to fix physical issues by lowering or raising the temperature of the hard drive, hitting the hard drive or replacing the drive's electronics. These actions will almost certainly reduce your likelihood of a successful case outcome.

Important Reminder

Important Reminder

You can avoid serious file loss by regularly backing up your hard drive, but if you do not have a backup schedule in place or if you miss important files, you may need help from a professional data recovery services.

If your hard drive fails, try not to panic. Data recovery is usually a viable option, especially if you take appropriate actions at the first signs of a failure. Look for a credentialed company and leave your computer off (preferably with the power unplugged) until you can speak with an expert.