Data Recovery Knowledge Base

Hard Drive Failure Warning Signs & Troubleshooting Steps

Posted by
Yevgeniy Reznik
Jun 28, 2024
Reviewed by
min. read
Table of Contents

If your hard drive is beginning to fail, you may notice some telltale signs, such as strange noises, error messages, or corrupted files. Hard drives have a lifespan of four to six years, and they can suffer from physical damage, mechanical failure, data corruption, and more. 

You can troubleshoot certain issues, but others require professional help. If you’re having trouble accessing important data, contacting hard drive recovery professionals is your best chance for getting that data back. 

If you know your hard drive was physically damaged, do not attempt to power it on or troubleshoot your hard drive problems. Instead, seek professional data recovery services to ensure you get expert assistance in a clean room environment. 

This post introduces the warning signs of hard drive failure and offers troubleshooting steps so you can get back to using your device.

Hard Drive Failure Causes and Signs

HDD failure can occur for several reasons, be it logical, software, hardware, or physical issues. Because the symptoms of each can overlap, if you aren’t certain what the issue is, seek professional data recovery help to avoid impacting your data. 

Logical issues can occur from 

  • Damage to the hard drive that isn't physical, such as viruses or malware, which can overwrite data on your hard drive
  • Software issues that can lead to corrupt data and inability to access files
  • User error, such as ejecting the hard drive incorrectly or unplugging your computer without properly turning it off

Hardware or firmware issues can occur from 

  • Hard drive design flaws
  • Poor quality control or faulty hard drives
  • Outdated hard drive

Physical damage can occur from 

  • Power surges and electrical fluctuations
  • The drive being exposed to extreme temperatures
  • Water or fire damage
  • Dropping the hard drive or your computer

Common signs of hard drive failure include corrupted files, slow performance, frequent crashes and freezes, unusual noises, and general unresponsiveness. 

Signs of hard drive failure

First, Assess Your Hard Drive for Basic Issues

Just because your hard drive isn’t working doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about to fail. Sometimes the simplest things can create an issue. Before you dive into more advanced troubleshooting options, check for the basics.

  • Check the power supply. Check to make sure that all power cables are properly connected and that all non-essential drives have been removed.
  • Check the cables. Ensure that the cables are in good shape with no fraying or damage and that you’re using the right cables and ports.
  • Check for damage. Examine your device for external damage. Signs of physical damage, such as cracks and discolouration or clicking sounds and strange noises means you should stop using your computer and consult a professional data recovery specialist.
  • Check functions with another computer. If everything checks out, you can test your external hard drive on another computer by safely removing it from your device and checking File Explorer on your PC or Finder on your Mac to see that it shows up once connected to another device. If the hard drive shows up, you know the issue is with the initial device and not the hard drive.

If your hard drive is not healthy and still malfunctions, it might be failing or about to fail. Try to back up all your data and follow the steps below to troubleshoot the signs of hard drive failure.

how to check your hard drive for basic issues

How to Troubleshoot Your Hard Drive

If you’re experiencing any of the signs above but your drive has not been physically damaged, you can follow the troubleshooting steps for the issue impacting you. You should never use or try to troubleshoot physically damaged hard drives to give yourself the best chance to recover your data.

Check for Errors Using Disk Utility or CHKDSK

Here are some ways you can troubleshoot hardware or software issues that result in a corrupted hard drive or missing files, SMART (self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology) errors, error messages, or frequent crashes. 

For a Mac:

To check and see if your Mac disk is about to fail, follow these steps:

  1. Select the Disk Utility button in the Utilities folder in Applications.
  2. Click the disk you want to check.
  3. Select the Info button in the toolbar.
  4. Check the SMART status to get an idea of the general condition of your HDD. If it says “verified” your drive is fine. If it says “failing,” you need to seek professional help. Other error messages may be fixable by running First Aid.

You can run First Aid from Disk Utility:

navigating to mac disk utility
  1. Click the First Aid button.
  2. Simply click Run and follow the instructions for each volume on your device
  3. You can repeat the process for each storage device.
  4. Restart your computer.

First Aid attempts to repair your disk. If First Aid fails, you may need to reformat the hard drive which will erase all your data. Before you do that, contact our expert hard drive recovery specialists to see if your data is salvageable.

running mac run first aid

For a PC:

If you use a PC, regardless of operating system, you can check the health of your drive with these quick steps:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Storage > Disks & volumes
  2. Read through the list of drives and note if they are listed as “Healthy.” If not, your drive could have issues. You can click “Properties” next to each drive to get even more details.

You can also run a diagnostic tool, such as CrystalDiskInfo to get more information about your hard drive.

If the drive isn’t healthy, try using CHKDSK to scan and repair hard drive issues including event ID errors and bad sectors. You will need to be careful using CHKDSK, as incorrect usage could cause you to overwrite or lose your data. Here are the steps to complete CHKDSK:

  1. Close all files, then click the start button and type “cmd” to navigate to the Command Prompt.
navigating to command prompt on PC
  1. Click the command prompt and select run as administrator.
running command prompt run as administrator on PC
  1. Enter “chkdsk X:/r” but replace X with the drive letter. This command attempts to fix errors on the hard drive.

If there is an error running CHKDSK, error messages will display. Once CHKDSK finishes running, it will share the status of the disk. A 0 means that no errors were found and a 1 means that errors were found and fixed.

Update the Operating System and Drivers

If your hard drive is malfunctioning due to software issues, updating the operating system and drivers can help. New software may fix compatibility issues that cause error messages and malfunctions.

For a Mac:

  1. Click the Apple in the top left corner of your computer. Navigate to System Settings > General > Software Update.
mac system settings software update

For a PC:

  1. Navigate to Settings and then select Windows Update. From here you can allow Windows to search for and begin any necessary updates, including BIOS updates.
  2. From Windows Update, you can also click Advanced Options. Here you’ll find additional updates helpful to your drivers and settings.
how to update windows on PC
  1. Review and make available updates.
PC advanced optional updates
  1. After updating, restart your computer or remove the external hard drive and put it back in.

If that doesn’t work, you will need to talk to a professional data recovery specialist. 

Scan for Malware

If you’re afraid that malware is causing the issue, you can scan the hard drive with tools like Malwarebytes. You’ll need to run this scan in safe mode on your Mac or PC to be sure your drive is healthy. 

For a Mac

There are two types of Macs, intel-based and chip-based. Select the Apple logo in the upper left corner, click About This Mac, and then check processor type to see which Mac you have. 

If you have an intel-based Mac: 

  1. Restart your Mac and hold the shift key until you see a login window.
  2. If this doesn’t happen, you might need to try again a second time.
  3. On the first or second login, you should notice the “Safe Boot” button in the login window.

If you use a chip-based Mac:

  1. Go to the Apple Menu to completely shut down your Mac. The screen should be completely black with no lights on.
  2. Hold down the power button until you see “loading startup options.”
  3. When those options have loaded, click the drive and hold down the Shift key until you see a “Continue in Safe Mode” prompt.
  4. Click that and check to see if the words “Safe Mode” appear on the login screen.

For a PC

You can boot in safe mode from the sign-in screen by following these steps: 

  1. Hold the Shift key while pressing the power button, then click Restart.
  2. An options screen should appear, and you’ll want to choose Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart.
  3. You can then choose 4 or F4 to start your PC safely.
  4. You can also try using AdwCleaner to remove remaining threats if you still have issues.

Check System Permissions

Continual read and write errors are a sign of hard disk failure. However, read/write failures can also be due to permission issues. Running Disk Utility on a Mac should identify permissions issues.

For a PC

If you’re experiencing read/write head errors on your PC, it could be that you need to set certain permissions on your hard drive. 

  1. Make sure your account has the Full Control option selected, which you can do by editing Permissions for Drive C.
  2. Once you have the Full Control option picked, you need to complete the permissions. You can do this by navigating to your Settings and then the Windows Update and Advanced Options mentioned above.
  3. Select the change button and type in “everyone.”
  4. After this, you can restart your device and hopefully begin editing and saving new files again.

Boot in Safe Mode

If your screen is blank or you experience the blue screen of death (BSOD) you can try to troubleshoot in Safe Mode. Error codes on Windows will help you determine what the issue is. The NTFS_FILE_SYSTEM error typically indicates that there is an issue with your hard drive. 

For a Mac:

Begin by restarting your device in safe mode, following these steps:

If you have an intel-based Mac:

  1. When starting or restarting your Mac, press and hold down Shift until the login window appears.
  2. You can then log in, but you may be asked to log in a second time. In the first or second log in, you should see “Safe Boot” listed in the menu bar.
  3. If the safe boot is successful, restart normally by going to the Apple menu.
  4. Use the Disk Utility application to repair your startup disk.
  5. Then, you’ll need to back up your disk and reinstall the macOS program.

If you have a chip-based Mac:

  1. Shut down your Mac from the Apple menu.
  2. Press and hold the power button until you see “Loading startup options” and then select the applicable volume.
  3. Press and hold down Shift and then continue into Safe Mode.

For a PC: 

To restart your PC in safe mode, follow these steps:

  1. Press the logo key and R.
  2. In the empty space next to “Open:” type misconfig.
  3. Select the tab listed as “Boot.”
  4. Clear the checkbox for “Safe boot.”
  5. You should also consider downloading the latest update of Windows after the safe mode restarts just to be safe.

How to Reduce the Chance of Hard Drive Failure

If you’re worried that you might have a failing hard drive or if you’re worried about potential data loss in the future, here are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of hard drive failure and data loss. 

Regular Software Updates

Keeping your operating system up-to-date helps prevent software-related issues that could impact hard drive performance. The steps are outlined below for software updates for both Mac and PC users. 

For a Mac

You can update software on your Mac by going into your General Settings and selecting the Software Update tab. If the software is downloaded from the App Store, you can toggle to the Apple Menu and choose the updates needed, which will show next to the App Store icon. 

You can even make your Mac update automatically. You simply go to General Settings and choose the Software Update tab, then click the info button. You will see several options that will allow you to check for updates automatically or download updates without asking. 

For a PC

Windows 10 and 11 will update for you automatically once the updates are released. To check what updates have been released, select Settings and go to your Windows Update section. All necessary updates are located in this section, and we cover this in the first troubleshooting section above. Windows updates will not affect your external hard drive, giving you peace of mind as your PC automatically updates. 

Back Up Your Hard Drive

Another way to keep your hard drive healthy and prevent data loss is by performing regular backups of your hard drive. The steps for backup are listed below for both Macs and PCs. 

For a Mac

The best way to back up your Mac is to set up a storage device as your backup disk. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to General Settings, then click Time Machine.
  2. You can click Add Back-up Disk or simply the + button.
  3. Then, you can set up your storage device by connecting it to your Mac and clicking Set Up Disk to begin the process.
  4. You can also back up immediately by going to the Time Machine tab and then clicking Back Up Now. Or, you can choose to wait for an automatic backup.
navigating to mac time machine

For a PC

To back up files on your PC, you will want to use your file history. You can do this by clicking Start > Settings > Update & Security > Backup > Add a Drive. The Add a Drive tab allows you to choose another network location or external drive to save your files to. You can also use File History to restore a file that you lost. All you need to do is click on Restore your files with File History, then find the version of the file you need and save it in the location it used to be in. 

Safely Eject and Handle the Hard Drive 

Another easy way to preserve your hard drive is by safely ejecting and handling your hard drive. By being careful, you can avoid data loss or corruption. Follow the steps below for handling either a PC or Mac hard drive.

For a Mac 

On your Mac, choose one of two ways:

  1. Find and select what needs to be ejected, then click File>Eject.
  2. You can also eject a drive through the Finder sidebar by clicking the button labelled “Eject” next to the file you need. Once the drive is ejected, you can take it out.
  3. how to properly eject drive on mac

For a PC

On your PC, you can utilise the Safely Remove Hardware button. By navigating to Windows Explorer, you can select the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media button. Click the three vertical dots and select Remove Device. You can then carefully grab your hard drive. 

Check Your Hard Drive’s Health

You can also keep yourself updated on your hard drive’s health, which will allow you to see if your hard drive is beginning to fail. See the earlier sections to check the various ways to evaluate your hard drive’s health. For instance, on your Mac, you can do this through Disk Utility. For your PC, you can run diskmgmt.msc. Both programs will keep you updated on how your hard drive is doing.

Restore Your Lost Data

If you lost your data or your important data was corrupted thanks to a faulty hard disk drive, you should get help from Secure Data Recovery. When your hard drive is physically damaged, you will want professional help to recover your data. We operate under a “No data, no recovery fee” guarantee. If we can’t recover your data, you don't have to pay any fees.

Yevgeniy Reznik

Lab Manager

Yevgeniy Reznik is Laboratory Operations Manager at Secure Data Recovery Services in Cleveland, Ohio, and has more than a decade of experience as a data recovery engineer. He graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in computer science and spent 15 years as an IT entrepreneur and small business owner before joining the company.