Common Causes of Hard Drive Failure

By Katie Nielsen
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When we have a hard drive fail, most of us have the same panicked reaction: how do I fix this? The reality is, hard drive failure isn't easy to repair, and the resulting lost data can be difficult to restore. This is why professional hard drive recovery services exist. While recovering data on your own is feasible in some cases (such as simply recovering deleted files), you often risk doing more harm than good and can ruin your chances of a successful recovery if you don't know what you're doing. There are several reasons why hard drives can fail, each with unique contributing factors. Here are the most common, along with warning signs that could be indicative of impending drive failure.

Physical Damage – Water, heat and shock all pose serious threats to internal and external hard drives. Both heat and water can cause significant physical damage to hard drives' electronic parts, which are not built to withstand either element. Hard disks are not shock resistant either, so a jarring drop or other physical impact can damage the drive's mechanical components. Hard disk shock most often results in a head crash, which occurs when the read-write head of the drive touches the magnetic platter, scratching the platter's surface and thus causing sometimes-irreparable data loss.

Warning Signs: Inadequate ventilation can lead to overheating and eventually cause drive damage. Make sure that your computer's fan (usually located on the bottom or rear of the machine) isn't blocked so that it can provide adequate ventilation; your computer should never be too hot to touch. Water and shock damage can be difficult to avoid. It typically happens quickly and without warning. Taking conscientious care of your computer is the best way to combat these risks.

Logical Failure – This refers to non-physical failure, or in other words, when damage occurs in a hard drive's file structure or software rather than the actual hardware. Many factors can contribute to logical failure, including malware infections, human error and corrupted files. Sometimes the failure can be extensive enough that the system will not boot up. In most cases of logical failure, a hard drive recovery service can successfully restore data because there is no damage to the drive's hardware.

Warning Signs: Disappearing data, disk errors and a sluggish system are all signs of impending logical hard drive failure. Other symptoms can include computer crashes and the ominous "blue screen of death." When you start to experience these symptoms, the best thing to do is back up your data if you have not done so already. If you cannot access your data, a hard disk recovery service may be able to restore it.

Mechanical Failure – While most components of a computer are electrical, the hard disk is one of the few mechanical parts. Thus, it will inevitably fail at some point. This type of failure occurs when the read-write head or other components become faulty as a result of normal wear and tear.

Warning Signs: Strange noises such as grinding, clicking or screeching likely mean that mechanical failure is imminent. Similar to logical hard drive failure, computer crashes and frequent freezing can also be symptoms.

You can avoid most causes of hard disk failure with common sense and a little planning. Furthermore, recognizing the warning signs of impending failure can help minimize the potential for concurrent catastrophic data loss.

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