Hard Drive Failure & Recovery

The most basic and fastest storage system in any computer – mobile or desktop – is its internal storage. In computer language, it is termed Hard Disk and comprises of a number of disks – each with its own memory reader/writer head. As with electronics, even Hard Drives have a limited life but sometimes they just crash. That is what we will talk about in this article. We will cover how to recover data from a failed hard drive after discussing why a hard disk fails much earlier than its estimated life span. We also discuss how to know if a hard drive is failing.

Hard Drive Failure

Hard Drive Failure

Working Of Hard Drives & Design

There can be ‘n’ number of reasons why a hard drives fails much before its estimated life span. The structure of hard disk is a delicate one – even though it looks tough from outside. Inside, it is a number of thin magnetic plates aligned in parallel to each other. For each plate, there is minimum one head for reading from and writing to that plate. If the hard disk drive (HDD) supports both side write, expect two heads for each plate. Again, these heads are positioned in a way that they do not disturb the alignment of plates plus heads. The following figure of Hard Disk Drive shows how the plates and heads are aligned inside the tough jacket it wears for better protection.

Fig 1 - How Hard Disk Work

If due to any reason, the alignment is spoiled – one or more plates go unreadable. In some cases, if the File Allocation Table is destroyed, entire HDD will be unreadable without usage Hard disk recovery tools. The following figure shows you how an improper alignment can create friction among two or more plates.

Fig 1 - Why Hard Disk Fails

The most common reason for hard disk failure is improper alignment that makes one plate touch the other – thereby destroying data on the other or both plates. And the most common reason for improper alignment is mishandling of the Hard Drive Disk. Do not go by the tough jacket of HDD. It does protect from small shocks but the disks are still vulnerable and a little disturbance can destroy entire hard disk.

Among other reasons why hard disk drives fail are improper venting. The disks inside the HDD keep on spinning and the heads are constantly reading them. This creates a certain amount of heat due to friction. If the vents of Hard Disk Drive are clogged or if the HDD is used roughly without breaks – over time, they may spoil the plates and/or the heads – leading to HDD crash!

Read: How to create Mirrored Volume for Instant Hard Drive Backup in Windows 10.

How To Know If Hard Drive Is Failing?

In most cases, you can sense it. Like with driving a car, if you have to exert a little extra power for gas, you know one of your tires needs air. Similarly, a failing hard disk can give away warnings. Look for the following:

  1. Sounds from the machine – or the click of death anthem.
  2. Heat just above and around the place where your HDD is seated

The above are just hints that need to be verified that your hard disk drive is failing. There are some free tools that help you check the hard disk for possible problems. Some of them even offer solutions if they think you can yourself solve the issue of hard disk failing. Read our article on freeware to monitor hard disk drive for details on the topic.

Hard Drive Recovery

If you can access parts of your hard disk, you can probably run CHKDSK to scan and recover corrupt partitions. Read about using CHKDSK in Windows operating system.

There are some free and paid tools too. The free ones are good if your hard disk drive is not damaged much. If it is heavily crushed, you might have to call a professional who’ll analyze each plate of your hard disk using their own methods. But that is recommended only after you tried on your own – using software and not manually – to recover data from the damaged disk. For more details, read our article on freeware to recover data from damaged hard disks.

Hard Drive Maintenance Tips

Hard disks will fail eventually – someday or the other. Every electronic device fails at some point of time. The best method is to keep making backup copies. There are plenty of free services such as Mozy, SkyDrive and Google Drive that allow you to back up to the cloud. You may also back up to an external hard disk – depending upon your budget and other preferences.

Anyway, hard disk maintenance is not a tough task. A few simple tasks will make sure your hard disk lives longer and works smoothly.

1. The first thing is – HANDLE WITH CARE. This applies to all types of electronics. Your hard disk drive may be rugged thereby reducing chances of damage upon falling. But why take risk? Make sure you are carrying your laptops and tablets in cases that are easy to hold on. Keep them out of reach of children and away from heat and humidity.

2. Save on the number of rotations required to locate and retrieve data as well as to write data. This can be achieved by regular defragmentation. As with most of us, we often tend to forget important computer maintenance tasks. I would suggest either an auto-defrag program such as SmartDefrag or better still, if you are using Windows Vista and later – add ‘defrag c: /x /h‘ to Task Scheduler without the quotes. I recommend defragmentation at least once a month.

3. Using Power Options in Windows Operating System shut down the hard disk drives if you are leaving the computer for a while. In my case, it is 20 minutes. If I am not using the computer for 20 minutes, the hard disks are turned off automatically.

4. Keep eyes on HDD temperature using one of the freeware such as Acronis. If you get an alert saying the HDD is hotter than it should be. Check  to see if the vents are open properly and fans etc. are working.

5. Check up Hard Disk Health natively in Windows 10/8/7 using WMIC or Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line.

This concludes why hard disks fail and how to recover data from damaged hard disk drives. If you have any hard disk maintenance tips I did not cover here, please share with us.

Posted by on , in Category General with Tags
Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN